The Pearl Ch. 15byThistlethorn©
Edited by PennLady
This is a copyrighted work of fiction. All rights reserved.
Qiang pushed his head through the tunnel opening. The webbing snagged on his antlers and stuck to his mane. He shook his head and pushed further in. The web should have broken down under his force, but instead tangled around him. He shuddered. This was not working.
He focused heat against the webbing and it melted away, but it stopped melting when it was off him. His choices appeared to be creating a larger entranceway or becoming smaller. Smaller meant more easily trapped. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't be concerned about escaping a Jorogumo web. These were far from normal circumstances. But the energy required to melt his way through would be a tremendous drain. He condensed himself down to seven feet and made his way through.
The webbing under his feet was slimy and the whole of the web smelled a bit of stagnant water. The base web provided purchase, but tended to become stuck to his feet and claws. The further he pressed in, the more slimy it became. The water seemed to at least cancel out some of the natural properties of the web. Qiang smiled. At least she hadn't managed to completely integrate the two energies yet. It did, however, make for treacherous footing. One misstep found Qiang skidding down an incline. Qiang was careful not to flounder for a hold and further lose control, so it was in a somewhat controlled slide that he exited the tunnel into the main web, and into deep water.
Qiang flailed as the water closed over his head. He spun around, but could not see the tunnel entrance. He stilled himself; while he could hold his breath for a long time, fire required oxygen and so did he. He oriented himself as best he could and looked around. As he did, every angle was through shadowed water. At the far side he thought he could see the web.
He traced what he could of the web's design with his gaze. It appeared to be a dome shape that encompassed the water. The fluid itself was stagnant and diseased, much like the Jorogumo herself, and cut through with inky darkness and shadows. As he more closely examined his surroundings he realized the Jorogumo had built not only a web but a lair, not unlike his own. She may not have fully integrated Sebastian's power, but she was certainly making good use of what she had. He also had to wonder where she was. Jorogumo hunted primarily through trickery and ambush. As he was aware of her tricks, that would leave ambush as her prime hunting method. He would have to be careful.
He reviewed his options, up or down. The best hope of up would be to break surface for air. He doubted there would be a surface to break. Down might afford some means of slipping out of the web at its mooring points. Down it was.
Qiang propelled himself downward with several powerful thrusts of his tail and felt something brush him in the water. He jerked his tail in the other direction and the movement forced him off course. As he tried to right himself something again moved past him in the water and he felt legs scuttle against his tail. Again his tail lurched away almost involuntarily, throwing him further off course.
He recognized the game and refused to play it. He pushed forward and ignored it when she began to graze his tail. Her movements against his tail became more pronounced, and always against different areas. He managed to flick her aside a few times before she came in near the base of his tail. He was about to slap her with the end of it when he felt her latch on and bite deeply into his tail.
Qiang bit down on the roar before it escaped him, but he still lost some breath in the process. He rolled around to see the Jorogumo clamped onto him. He was about to reach around and pull her off his tail when the burning that was beginning in his lungs gave him an idea. Fire may not burn in water, but heat still conducted through it quite well.
He closed his eyes and focused on not only the fire, but the heat of it. He stoked it until he burned nearly white hot just below his scales. Then he released it into the water. He opened his eyes to steam and bubbles as the water around him started to boil. With a scream, the Jorogumo released her hold. He continued to pump the heat into the water, hoping to boil the Jorogumo alive if need be. The Jorogumo did not oblige. The water vanished from the web leaving Qiang hanging mid-air and unprepared for the sudden pull of gravity. He hit bottom, hard. The slam into the ground forced the rest of the breath from him, but he was able to gasp in breaths from damp air around him. He stood up and looked for the Jorogumo. He spotted her, high in the dome of the web. He could see scald marks and burns on her human torso. He noticed something else. Scutes, like on the underside of a dragon, were beginning to form on her lower human abdomen and down the underside of the spider body. He had to wonder what other changes might be taking place. While he wasn't pleased with the implications, he tried to find a way to turn it to his advantage.
He returned his attention to the ground and the mooring of the web. It was secured to the trees and several large rocks. The trees were water-soaked and useless, but even wet the rocks would conduct heat. He started to head over when he realized his tail was becoming dead weight. Looking back, he could see where the poison was seeping into his skin and scales. There was little pain, but black lines of contamination penetrated down into his flesh, blighting it. The flesh itself was turning dull as the scales began to whither, soon to drop off. With a snarl, Qiang went back to the rocks. He started to heat them and melt away the webbing. But his fire was ebbing low, dangerously low. He managed to detach a sizable section of webbing before he had to rest. He looked back up to the Jorogumo. She watched, waiting for the poison to weaken him further.
Qiang returned to his normal size. The large web accommodated him as he took up much more room. More importantly, the poison had much further to travel now. He was still weakened, and far away from a place to heal.
He reviewed his options. He could flee, return to his lair, heal up and take up the hunt for the Jorogumo later, but he rejected it. There was too much of a chance he would never find the Jorogumo again. Or he could continue; they were both weakened and damaged, though, more and more that option looked like mutually assured destruction. He sighed. So be it.
Qiang lunged at her. His claws carved deep furrows into her spider half and he noticed the feel of scales amidst the fur when he struck. He couldn't quite get a grip on her, and she danced from his grasp as a thick tendril of webbing seized him around the chest and drug him back down. He lay there, panting.
The Jorogumo examined her wound. It was deep and ichor was oozing out the two furrows the dragon had left. She glared down at him. She attached a guide line and lowered herself closer to the dragon until she was dangling above him, but still out of reach.
"You can just flee. I know you can," she said
Qiang said nothing.
She cocked her head at him. He was an impressive dragon and quite handsome. But from the looks of it, he was starting to die. She could only feed off live prey, and she knew he wouldn't let her get close enough to try to feed off what was expiring. She tried again to get him to leave.
"What is the point, laying here and dying?"
"That I might watch you die also."
She looked at the wound. It was very ugly. "I suppose I might yet." She looked back. "But I might not and if you don't get the strength to break out you will die."
Qiang laid his head down and closed his eyes.
"Fine," she snapped. "A death that serves nothing is wasteful. But if that's what you want, so be it."
So intent on her conversation with the dragon she didn't sense when a small form entered the tunnel of her web. It helped that the compact flyer was careful not to brush or nick any of the webbing he flew through. The first indication either combatant knew of the new-comer was the shriek of the Jorogumo as the sharp claws of a hawk raked along her soft spider body. She felt two claws drag down her body and when they stopped at where the human back merged into the spider back, additional claws closed around the flesh, mooring the hawk in place. With a sharp cry the Jorogumo remembered only too well from their first meeting, the hawk began to tear into the flesh of her back with its beak and buffet her with its wings.
If it hadn't been her the hawk was tearing into, the Jorogumo would have been impressed with its cleverness. The hawk chose as the attack point a spot the Jorogumo normally would have a hard time reaching. As it was, the pain of a hawk tearing her back to pieces was sufficient for her not to have many thoughts past "get it off." She lost her guide line and they plummeted to the ground.
Qiang watched what happened with amazement. That boy doesn't stop for anything. He began to struggle out of the webbing as the boy and the Jorogumo hit the ground.
The Jorogumo lurched to her feet as soon as they struck. She turned and reached behind her, desperate to remove the still attacking hawk. She didn't notice how her body bent and stretched to accommodate the move, or felt as scutes worked their way up her body. She didn't notice, but Qiang did. He also thought he might have a means to turn this to his advantage.
The Jorogumo grabbed Chad by a wing and pulled him in front of her, catching his other wing in her other hand. She spread the wings as far as they would go, hanging Chad spread-hawk in her grasp. "You!" she seethed. His head snapped forward, lunging for her face with his bloodied beak and the Jorogumo was forced to extend out her arms to get him away from her face.
"I'm going to pull your wings off!" she shrieked. "I'm going to break your beak in two! I'm going to cut off your legs, and pluck every single feather off your wretched body! I'm going to..."
The Jorogumo's rant stopped as she felt the dragon's body glide around her spider half and tighten, trapping her. His head came into view.
"Do what?" Qiang asked.
She twisted her torso away from the dragon's face, still holding the hawk at arm's length, and looked over her shoulder to the dragon.
"Not so weak as you put on? No matter. I still have your pet hawk. Even try to crush me in your coils and his wings come off."
He moved his attention to Chad. He was unsurprised to be instructed by Chad to ignore his predicament and destroy the Jorogumo. That boy had a one-track mind. While he might not appreciate Qiang's next move, at least he would still have limbs at the end of it.
The Jorogumo watched Qiang, on high alert for anything the dragon might do to her. She wasn't expecting him to do something to the hawk. So when his wings disappeared from her hands, she snapped her head back to her hands to see what happened.
Both the Jorogumo and Chad were nonplussed at the change of the hawk to a goldfinch, but Chad recovered first. He zipped out of the Jorogumo's range just as she slapped her hands together to capture him. She opened her hands, but was unsurprised to find them empty.
"Well played," she conceded as she lowered her arms. "So is this where you feed on me, to teach me what it is like?"
A look of disgust crossed Qiang's muzzle. "As if I would pollute myself with your flesh."
She crossed her arms. "So what are you going to do then?" The dragon made no answer.
The Jorogumo looked at where the dragon had her captured. He was twisted around her, but the last coil stopped at the junction of where her torso met the spider. He laid on his side, with his tail laying out straight and his upper body well out of bite reach. She could feel his energy surrounding her and didn't like it.
She ran through the spells she knew. All required webbing and the dragon had her away from her web and her spinnerets tightly coiled. She thought about biting the first coil, but she already had poison in this dragon that was taking its time working. She doubted even a second dose would stop the dragon before he finished whatever it was he was doing. That left the dragon magic she had taken from Sebastian. It was unpredictable, and not entirely under her control, but better than nothing. She prepared to call it when the dragon energy twisted, but not at her calling. She froze.
The dragon smiled. "That's what I'm looking for."
She snarled at the dragon, "What are you doing?"
Qiang smirked and closed his eyes, leaving the Jorogumo to wonder what would happen next. She didn't have to wonder long. She felt discomfort at her spinnerets, then watched in horror as her abdomen elongated out into a serpentine tail; her spinnerets were gone. She squirmed in desperation, but Qiang held her fast. She felt the energy she'd so recently taken from Sebastian moving through her on its own accord. No, she realized, not its own. At the will of the hateful dragon holding her.
Her rear four legs merged into two as her body continued to lengthen. Qiang looped another coil around the growing tail to maintain control. She felt the energy surge upward, and the flesh underneath hardened. The vagina on her human torso, and her primary means of feeding, was swallowed up and changed by these scales as they continued their path up her torso stopping at the top of the human abdomen.
She continued to thrash as she felt smaller scales replace her fur, her last spider legs shrink down into a more reptilian shape, and her internal organs rearrange themselves into a new configuration. Her vision blurred as extra eyes disappeared. Finally, the last little bits of the energy were extinguished as she felt her mandibles dissolve, her second mouth melt closed into her face, and something heavy burst out of her skull. All was still for a moment, and she realized the changes were done. All of the energy she had gathered, all of her strength and power, were exhausted. She had neither the powers attendant a Jorogumo nor the delicious dragon energy she was just beginning to enjoy. Qiang released her and they both looked over the results
The torso was still human, though the skin was now pale white. But instead of a spider, the lower body that spilled out from under her was a dragon's. Her beautiful black fur, glossy and perfect, had been replaced by a dull black scaled hide on top and scutes underneath. The dragon body wasn't long, perhaps five feet from chest to tail tip, and was topped by thick ruff of white fur that ran down the human back, along the dragon back, and ended in the tail ruff all Chinese dragons had. The hair on her human head had gone white as well, and when she reached up to feel her face she discovered she did have but one mouth, one set of eyes, and what felt like antlers growing from top of her head. As if these outer humiliations weren't enough, she could find nothing of the spider within either. She was empty, devoid, barren.
She ran her hands down her front, along her sides, and grasped her tail, disbelieving. She looked at the dragon in horror; he looked back, pleased with himself.
"What did you do to me?" she asked in a hoarse whisper. "And how?" she further questioned, her voice rising. "You were spent not moments ago."
Qiang shrugged, his smug smile infuriating the Jorogumo. "I actually did very little. The dragon you fed off, Sebastian, had not always been a dragon."
"So? He appeared as a dragon to me."
"He is a dragon, now. However, the pearl he carries was designed to make the recipient into a dragon. And that's what you took into yourself. So it did to you what it was designed to do. All I did was direct it." After a pause he added, "And ensure it ran itself out in those changes. You see, you didn't take in the pearl, or even its full energy. So I guided it to make all the changes it could, enough to eliminate the Jorogumo, but not enough to make a full dragon."
The full impact of his words settled unto her. Not only was she no longer a Jorogumo, she would never be a complete dragon. Not that she really wanted to be a dragon, but as it was she was without a means to power. She could not command magic in the way of a Jorogumo or in the way of a dragon, and she had no option for getting a means to do so. Her legs collapsed from under her in defeat.
"A fine victory, dragon," she spat. "So, you've had your fun. You've punished me for overreaching and going after your precious fledgling. Kill me, already."
Qiang rose to his feet and shook himself off. He could feel the poison traveling, but slowly. He had to get back to his lair, and soon, and had much more work to do before he could rest. Still, there was a vindictive aspect to his nature and he wasn't quite done here. A few more words, then he would go.
"Kill you? Well, why ever would I do that?" he asked, his feigned innocence barely concealing his amusement. Or his contempt.
"I am an aberration!" she shrieked, jumping to her feet. "A grotesque with no proper place in this world or any other! You can't leave me like this!"
Qiang glowered into her face, his rage and contempt no longer hidden. "I can and I will. A clean death is honorable. To free you from what you yourself set into motion would be merciful. You have attacked a child, raised the dead in the form of a monster to prey on another child. What would have become of the bakemono had it succeeded? You would have left it to wander, causing whatever mayhem it pleased. You have done nothing to deserve honor or mercy. Stay here and rot."
With that, Qiang turned away from the creature that was no longer a Jorogumo, but was not fully any other creature. He pushed his way out of the gap he had created in the web and walked out into the night followed closely by a goldfinch. Once the goldfinch reclaimed his now familiar perch in Qiang's antlers they both vanished from the scene.
Qiang appeared in his lair and collapsed among the pillows, grateful to be home. Chad flitted from Qiang's antler to the bed and chirped at him. Qiang rolled his head so that he was facing the goldfinch. He focused on the fuming bird and he was again human, sitting on the bed with his legs dangling. The look on Chad's face was not pleasant.
"Don't start with me," Qiang growled in warning. "She would have happily ripped your wings off. At the least."
"I don't care about that. You can't be actually planning on leaving that thing alive."
"Oh, come on, hero, give it a rest. You've seen it through. The Jorogumo is destroyed." Qiang laid his head down on a pillow.
"Um, except for the dragon centaur thing back there cursing the day you were born."
"Her cursing, no matter how heart felt, is impotent. Did you not listen? She is without power or a means to power. She has no pearl, and no means to bond with an element."
"That's not the point," Chad snapped, exasperated. He leaned forward in emphasis of his words. "She's still out there, she's still a threat. Only turn your back on the broken or the dead. I guarantee you she's neither."
Qiang regarded Chad. "You know," he said after a pause, "if you're going to sit here and disturb my peace, could you move that brazier over there to my tail?" Qiang indicated with a nod of his head a brazier over by the bed Chad was sitting on. It was a small metal bowl on a low stand that held it perhaps three feet above the floor. With a sigh, Chad got up from the bed, made a path through the pillows, and pushed the brazier and stand across the floor next to Qiang.
"While you're up, please go to the book shelf and pull down the light green ointment."
Chad shook his head, but headed to where he was directed. "Do you mean that goo you used on Dakota and Mingzhu earlier?"