Rescuing Layna Ch. 02byinkytaur©
The southeast side of the Pirudan Mountains rose gently from rolling hills below, but Layna had left him on the northwest slope with only treacherous, steep rock walls to keep him company. Two days, two long days climbing down to the square valley below, and finally Rohn had found a village. This was part of the Kingdom of Fergat, and though his Fergese was poor, he was able to buy meager provisions and a place to sleep.
She was just as he remembered her from so long ago, that yellow hair like a waving field of wheat, those sharp, piercing blue eyes, and that impossible body, monstrous, yet so graceful. All of that was still up there somewhere on the mountain, hidden high among the rocks, and now that he had found her, he would not be deterred: She would be rescued. It was his duty, his solemn oath — and it was personal.
Another day now, buying passage on a boat traveling the river through this valley, and then to the Pass of Amar. And another day, back up over the mountains to Namet, the city where he was born. But there was nothing here for him: His friends and family had all died in the wars, and only a cousin yet remained, a shopkeeper in far off Regalia.
Then upriver on this side; and at last he came to the Castle of Cirudan at the base of the mountain, where he gave his report to the great white wizard, and gathered supplies once again, food, clothing, rope, a lantern.
And so it was that seven days after Layna had left Rohn on that cliff on the mountainside, he came to stand once again outside the entrance to the great caves. It looked little different than it had a week before, a simple round hole in the side of the mountain, twice the height of a man and the same in breadth, a dark and foreboding entrance to endless winding tunnels.
He took a deep breath, and went back inside.
Down them he went now, turning left here, right there, through this gallery and beyond that cavern, retracing the path that he knew would lead him to her.
And then he stopped.
There was a stream here, whispering gently as it trickled through a great silk-coated cavern, but there was another louder noise ahead, a strange slurping and clacking sound that echoed off the walls. Rohn raised the lantern high — and she was there, a mere five yards away in the darkness.
Layna stood stock-still for a moment in the light of the lantern, her skin pale in the dim light. Between her hands and forelegs she held the body of what was once a deer, white sticky thread still wrapped around its body, some of the thread stained red. Blood dripped from her lips, and pieces of its muscle and sinew hung from her hands.
"You came back," she said, her voice a whisper.
"I had to," he said.
"I know what this must look like," she said.
"I — eat food raw," she said, still unmoving. "I am sorry that you had to see this."
"It's all right," he said.
"No, it isn't," she said. "But it's what I do now. And I must finish. My body needs this; it demands more food than when I was human. I would invite you to turn around so as not to watch."
He shook his head. "I am not a weakling," he said. "I will not chafe at the sight of blood."
"I once did," she said.
"Go ahead and eat, if you must. I will wait."
Layna returned to devouring the deer now, quickly and expertly, sucking every last iota of flesh and blood from its body. One by one, its bones clattered to the silk-covered floor, barren and clean, and then she laid the empty bundle of webbing beside them and then licked off her fingers and hands with a tongue that was far longer than he'd expected. Finally, she knelt down beside the stream and washed herself clean, the last remnants of the red blood trickling away into the darkness beyond.
She picked up a small cloth that lay beside her and rose back to her feet. She began to dry herself off, then took a deep breath.
"So what would you do?" she said, not looking at him. "What would you do with me now that you have found me?"
"I would take you to Cirudan," said Rohn. "And the Great White Wizard will then seek to restore you to your rightful form."
"And what would that be?" she said, running the towel over her face and chest to catch the last of the water.
"Human," said Rohn. "You would again be the girl you once were."
She snorted. "I will never again be the girl I once was, even if by some means the Mages were to make me look like her."
"I know that it will be hard," said Rohn, "but they can give you your life back."
She glared at him over her shoulder for a moment.
She turned away. "Come on," she said. "Let's at least not talk in darkness. I may be a monster now but that does not mean I like living in the dark."
"But you were eating in — "
"I do not like living in the dark," she said, "but also I do not like looking at what I must now eat. I do not like the sight of blood, even though it is now critical to my survival."
Rohn could not argue that.
He began following her now through the caves, the only light his torch, and in short order, they once again entered her cozy silk-lined home. The fire was low now, having burned down in her absence, and she knelt down and rekindled it, blowing gently with pursed red lips while her hand held her hair away from the embers.
Rohn found a small rock to sit on, and waited for her. The fire began to burn, and she picked up a couple of logs with her forelegs and tossed them in.
She looked back over her shoulder at him. "So it would seem that if I deposit you outside, you will come back," she said. "But it buys me several days of quiet. I can play this game more readily than you can, I think."
"If I must return with soldiers and mages to capture you, I will," said Rohn.
"No doubt you would," she said.
She picked up an old kettle. It had some heft to it, and there was likely water inside.
"I still like tea," she said, hanging the kettle over the fire. "I always did. That, the deer, and the firewood are the only reason I ever leave this place. There's a rich house in the nearest town, and once every few months I sneak into the larder at night and steal as much as I can carry."
"Don't get me wrong," she said. "I would buy it, if I could earn money, and if the merchants would take my money. I do not wish to be a thief."
"In any case, tea?" she said. "I find it rather soothing." She laughed nervously.
"Certainly," he said.
The kettle warmed for a moment, and she watched the orange flames flicker in its reflection.
"I wish — I wish you would just leave me alone," she said, not looking at him.
"I can't do that," he said.
"Why?" said Layna. "I am harming no-one! I'm affecting no-one! You could just leave me be, and no-one would ever know I'm down here."
"I swore an oath," he said.
"To Cirudan? He would let me be," she said.
"He would, but that is not the oath I swore," said Rohn.
"What then?" She turned to face him, her arms tightly crossed over her chest.
"I swore that if I could find you, I would take you to Namet, to a little restaurant on the water, and I would buy you dinner there, and I would talk with you to get to know you as I always wished I could."
She took a deep breath and looked away from him. "You — know I can't do that," she said.
"Maybe," he said. "Maybe not. Come with me to Cirudan and see."
She turned back to the fire, and adjusted it with a poker.
"Do you know what I was like as a little girl?" said Layna. "I was small. And pale. And sickly. I had magic, but I could not walk a mile on my own."
"Rothmory did this," she said. "It was his spell."
She turned back to face Rohn. "He had plenty of Apprentices. He asked for a volunteer to try a new spell on. He said it would make them strong — make me strong. I volunteered."
Rohn opened his mouth, but her foreleg lifted to touch his lips.
"I volunteered," she said. "And lest you think I didn't know what I was getting into, Rothmory told me part of the spell. He said he did not know how much spider I would become, but I knew that I would gain some spider's blood in my veins. He lied, of course: This body was his exact goal. And becoming this monstrous form was a wretched, awful nightmare, more painful than you can imagine. But I let him do it. It was, at the first, my decision."
"But — "
"And do you know what else?" she said. "When they did this to me, they cast a love spell, of sorts, to make me accept it. I spent a month in love with my new body. I was not human; I was better than human.
"That love spell wore off years ago," she continued. "But the damage was done. They wanted me to hate anything that wasn't drider, but instead I ended up loving driders. You have to understand. I can't be human again now, even if it was possible. I was weak and useless, and I became strong and capable. I may be a monster now, but by their wretched spell, I am no longer that small, frail, weak little thing I once was. I can't let you or anyone else change me back."
The kettle began to boil, and Layna turned to tend to it.
Rohn took a deep breath. "I know that you think you want this — "
"You won't change me back," she insisted. "Even if I can't make you leave my home. I don't think I want this. I want this. I am a drider, and I love being a drider.
"And that's why I can't go back out there. That's why I made you leave before. That's why the mages must be told 'no.' There is no city, town, village, or single house in the world that will accept me in this form. I gained it through mistakes, evil lies, and treachery — but I will not give it up."
"Layna, I know that you think — "
She whirled, and suddenly he was up against the wall again, held in place by her hands and forelegs, her face inches from his.
"Every single night," she whispered, "every single night, I pleasure myself to sleep dreaming of giant spiders and driders making hot, delicious love to me. Every single night, I love this body with every one of my hands and legs until I am exhausted and I fall asleep. I did not choose this body, and I am a monster, but I will not give it up. I have explored hundreds of miles of these caves. Somewhere out there, there must be other driders hiding — there must be other driders! — and someday when I find them, I will join them."
Rohn's face was warm and had turned bright red. She slowly lowered him to the floor, and then turned away from him. She breathed for a few moments, trying to calm down.
"I — can pour you the tea now," she said, "if you still want it."
"That's — okay," said Rohn.
"I'm sorry," she said, turning back to face him. "I didn't mean to frighten you."
"You — didn't," said Rohn, his face still red.
"Is something wrong?"
"I'm, uh, just trying not to imagine you, um, at night," he said.
Layna's pale skin turned a little pink. "Well — a monster girl has to do what a monster girl has to do," she said. "And I'm sure you've never satisfied yourself. Back when I was human, one of the other Apprentice girls said men do it all the time."
Rohn said nothing.
"I thought so," said Layna. "Don't judge me for my one happiness, and I won't judge you for yours."
She began to pour tea from the kettle into a small ceramic cup. "So, anyway, you can stay for tea if you like. But please take this message back to your master: I won't change back — not for you, not for him, not for anything."
Rohn nodded and stood up. "I will tell him. But I would like to come back and see you again," he said. "I can come alone."
"I think — I could allow that," said Layna, "if you were alone. It's been a long time since I had a friend, and if I haven't scared you off by now, maybe you could fit that role."
"I could," said Rohn. "And I would like that."
And he turned, casting one last glance at the pretty spider girl, and climbed back up through the caves toward daylight.