The Pearl Ch. 14byThistlethorn©
The Pearl Part 2: Whore Spider
Edited by PennLady
This is a copyrighted work of fiction. All rights reserved.
The moment Sebastian appeared, Chad launched himself in the air. The experience cemented a conclusion he'd been coming to for awhile. Hawks, being diurnal, made piss poor forms for night flying. He could make out enough to fly fairly straight and that was about it. Fortunately, he didn't need to see the Jorogumo to find her. He could sense her, like a foul blight, and that guided his flight.
Chad could feel the air currents across his wing feathers and adjusted for them without thinking. Except for the eyesight issue, he found flying enjoyable. The differences between being a goldfinch and being a hawk were staggering. For one thing, he knew he wasn't trapped in this form indefinitely; for another, the sense of strength and freedom he had now were nothing like his experience as a little songbird. Too soon he came upon the Jorogumo's lair and the import of what he was doing weighed on him, tempering his new-found joy.
He circled over the building then took a fly through. She had fled. He thought he caught the movement of the spiders, but couldn't be sure in the shadowed darkness of the place. However, he was certain she was no longer there. He wasn't surprised; whatever else she might be, she wasn't dumb.
He picked up her trail and continued following. Before long, he was riding the winds above her. She hurried to a small grove of stunted trees and over-growth. She secreted herself in the underbrush and appeared to be weaving something out of her webbing. Chad couldn't make out what. He landed in the nearest tree he could and settled in to wait. He couldn't see the building from where he was, but hoped he would see Qiang when he came. He wondered if Qiang would allow him to be a hawk--temporarily of course-- at some point when he could more enjoy the experience.
Once she received Qiang's all clear, Dakota made her way over to Sebastian. He responded to her immediately. He perked up and smiled, although when he lifted his head out of the water, it was an effort
"Dakota," he said happily. "I'm so happy to see you."
Seeing him strain, Dakota sat down on the bank and patted the area next to her. He laid his head next to her and Dakota stretched herself out on his head. Her legs were still on the bank, her butt and torso across his snout and her head rested between his antlers. She pillowed one arm under her head as the other hand stroked his mane. Sebastian began to purr weakly.
He was aware something had happened, but didn't know what. He had nebulous memories of the past day. It had all seemed much clearer until Qiang took his pearl and dropped it into the river. Why had he done that, anyway? Given how hard he'd tried to get it before, handing it off to the river, which would just give it back, made no sense.
And Dakota felt...different. He could sense the river in her, and had to wonder just how that came about, but that wasn't all of it. She seemed more vibrant, though she looked as exhausted as he felt. But that wasn't quite right either. He felt far more aware of her than before. Maybe that was it. He could sense her better, the puzzle piece at last making a whole picture. The sense of her laying against him filled him with more contentment than he'd ever imagined possible. He brought the ruff of his tail around, shook the water from it, and laid it across her back.
Qiang watched the two of them, immersed in their own world, and said nothing. Let the young lovers have their moment, even if it kept him from the Jorogumo for that moment longer. He studied them both. Sebastian was free of the Jorogumo's poison and bile, though still weakened. As he looked over Dakota, he could see she had somehow claimed a piece of Sebastian into herself, perhaps in the calling. So be it.
While Sebastian was foolish enough to fall in love with his favorite, at least he showed wisdom in his choice of favorite. She was resourceful and brave, and on the whole probably the cleverer of the two. Qiang had to admit, they made a good match.
The pearl bobbed up in the water next to Sebastian. He reached out with his claw and grabbed it, absorbing it back into his body. With a wild joyousness the river crashed into him. He had to smile, though he was a bit confused by the river's elation at his being there. More and more, he was coming to the conclusion he had missed something vital.
As Qiang finished his examination he said, "Things appear stable here. I must finish this matter, I've waited too long already." At Sebastian's confused expression Qiang added, "Dakota will explain."
"Be careful," Dakota said, her worry evident.
"I will be." He then rose into the air and disappeared over the trees.
So, what did I miss?
"Are you sure you're strong enough to do that?"
Actually, it's kinda coming easier. 'Sides, I think it might be a bit of a challenge, talking with how you're sitting.
"Well, I can move, you goof." Dakota started to push herself upright when she felt Sebastian's tail gently push her down.
No, please stay. This really is nice. It's like having you here proves to me I'm still alive. I've missed you, but I don't know why. I can't remember you being gone or anything.
With a deep breath Dakota related the story, as far as she knew it, of what happened. She omitted the part with the bakemono and her house burning down. She knew he'd have to be told, but it didn't seem like the right time. It could wait until later.
Sebastian was still for a moment. Wow. I'm sorry you guys had to go through all that. I really am.
Dakota continued to stroke his mane. "Don't worry about it," she said softly. "I'd do it all again."
Though the sense of the river was fading she felt a tickle as it shifted inside of her, gladdened by her remark and Sebastian's purr deepened. She felt the rumble all the way to her core and smiled. When the river jiggled and shimmered to the vibration, she giggled. It felt as though the river were playing.
What? She felt Sebastian's curiosity as much as she heard the question.
"The river. It's fading, but it's still pretty active. Almost like it's playing before it goes."
When Sebastian focused, he could feel the river's movements and its delight. She was right, there was something playful about it. The river was quite pleased with itself.
The river likes it there.
Dakota's free hand went to her abdomen after a particularly forceful spike of the river. "It's a little disconcerting that the river is playing in me. And enjoying it."
Welcome to my world. Sebastian chuckled. It's the river's nature, it wants to get into things. And you, obviously. But the hold is fading, I can tell. Though I'll tell you now, the river would love to get back in.
Dakota wasn't surprised by what Sebastian had said. She could sense some of that herself. It was a question for another time, however. She was far too spent to give anything serious consideration. The fact that she didn't automatically reject the notion caused the river to gambol about some more. Sebastian felt Dakota squirm and chuckled again.
Yep, definitely likes it there a lot. Not that I can blame it. I like it there, too. Sebastian reached out for the piece of his energy and found it completely interwoven into Dakota. He could still find it, still sense it, but it was fully a part of Dakota now. Then it hit him, that was what had changed. That was why Dakota seemed so much more in focus and why the communication was coming so much easier. He had a direct connection to Dakota. He was dumbfounded for a moment. Dakota could sense him searching and thought she could guess at his sudden stupor.
"I'm sorry. It was what I had to do to pull you away from the Jorogumo. Nothing else seemed to work."
Why are you apologizing? You saved my life. Well, OK, you and Qiang, as odd as that is to say. Sebastian felt a jab from the river, reminding him of its part. And the river. All right, it was a group effort. The point being, you're apologizing for saving me. It's me who should be apologizing to you for putting you in that situation.
"It's all right. It's not like Chang didn't warn us this could happen. I just wish it hadn't been so haphazardly done. But needs must when the devil drives."
Dakota smiled. "It's an old expression. It means the needs of the moment drove the actions. Or at least, that's how I was using it."
Sebastian started to nod his head, then stopped. I can see that. But really, I don't think it's a bad thing. He paused again, uncertain he wanted to ask the next question, but really wanting to know the answer. Do you?
"No. Like I said, I would do it all over again. I just wish we'd been able to plan a little better."
Sebastian released his held breath in relieved sigh. I'm glad. There was still the question of the companion piece of her, but that was also a question for another time. As Dakota resumed stroking Sebastian's mane and the river enjoyed its remaining time with Dakota, Sebastian curled the ruff of his tail tighter around Dakota and basked in the tenderness of the moment.
Qiang arrived at the location he pulled from Chad's mind. The building was web-draped and appeared empty. He landed and entered cautiously. He could smell the Jorogumo's magic, depraved and corrupt. He took a few steps in and felt his hide writhe as the foul webbing slid across him. He snarled and the webbing flared up in flames. In the sudden illumination he saw hundreds of spiders, their attention focused solely on him with hateful malice in their multi-eyed gaze.
Well, this isn't good, he thought as the surrounding area was plunged back into darkness. He felt hundreds of legs crawl over him, and as his eyes adjusted he saw the mass of spiders moving as a solid wave to crash over and drown him in their raw numbers. He could feel pin prick bites, but only a few pierced his scales. Their poison was weak, but their ability to do even that small amount of harm marked them as future Jorogumo. They had to be destroyed. His fury stoked by the obscenity of the place, he tightened his focus to the flame he carried inside and released it. Flames roiled over his body, incinerating the spiders closest to his scales and spreading the purification through the mass.
He saw the spiders on the far end of the wave reverse direction and break apart to scurry and hide in the myriad nooks and bolt holes the place afforded. He growled so deeply the floor shook with it. The building was masonry, so the flame had little purchase, and unlike the spiders in Dakota's home, these spiders had a different common link.
The spiders that escaped from the bakemono had been linked by it. When Qiang destroyed the husk, he was able to connect the fire to the spiders that escaped it. These spiders were linked by the Jorogumo and would use themselves to keep him from her; hence he had to burn out every single spider. The smoke and acrid smell of burnt flesh and fur hung thick in the air. It took time, but he was fairly certain none escaped. Unfortunately he didn't have a signal, as he had in the bakemono's spirit, to judge if all of them were destroyed. That and the fact that the Jorogumo was nowhere to be found fueled his frustration. He loosed an infuriated, deafening roar to the Heavens as a fire ball exploded into the sky.
He shook his head, annoyed with himself. He was only wasting energy; something the Jorogumo was too good at getting him to do. He centered himself with deep breaths and felt his rage subside. It was part of the downside of fire as an element; it sometimes controlled him as much as he controlled it.
In the calm he heard a noise. He concentrated and listened to see if it repeated. It did; once again he heard the shrill screaming cry of a red tail hawk. She's here.
Qiang smiled. Heaven bless you, boy. You are thorough.
Chad had watched while waiting for Qiang's return, his eyes at least somewhat adjusted to the darkness. The Jorogumo continued with whatever it was doing. Chad could sense the magic in the place as a discomforting sensation running along the edge of his feathers. It made him want to take flight, but he maintained his post. Then he thought he saw the faint glow of fire in the distance. He couldn't be sure until Qiang's roar tore through the night. Chad felt the force of the roar as much as he heard it. The enormous fireball indicated just how angry Qiang was.
Chad heard the soft, tittering laughter of the Jorogumo below him. It was surprisingly feminine, almost pleasant. He looked down and couldn't see her at first. She had managed to hide herself well. He cocked his head and studied the area. With a combination of the hawk's sharp-eyed vision and his own innate senses he located the Jorogumo. He had an almost overwhelming urge to dive for her with claws extended, to hunt as the hawk, but managed to stop himself. The screeching call rose out of him before he realized it. Then he dumped as much strength and volume into it as he could.
The Jorogumo was aware of Qiang's rampage through her abandoned den. She could feel it as he destroyed her precious spiderlings. However, there wasn't much she could do about it. If they weren't smart enough to get out of the way of an enraged dragon, or thought they were strong enough to take the creature, it was in this way such stupidity was self-correcting.
She was angry, to be certain, at the loss and would love the opportunity to avenge herself on the dragon. But she was aware how much more powerful this dragon was compared to both her and Sebastian, and she was not stupid. She settled deeper into the undergrowth and continued weaving her web, and laughed. She laughed at the thought of escaping the dragon, laughed at how angry he had became, and laughed about what harm could be wrought on him in the future. She cheered herself up, pondering her grim fantasies.
Then she heard the unmistakable cry of a hawk ring out in the night. She looked up and saw the hawk, perched on a branch above her, crying out for all it was worth.
Now what the hell, she thought. While she was no expert on the behavior of natural animals, she was fairly certain hawks were not night dwelling birds. As the cries continued to echo into the night, a thought occurred to the Jorogumo. That wretched fire-dragon had dogged her every move; in fact, at times it appeared almost prescient. Most dragons were blessed with good fortune, it was part of the mandate of Heaven. Even so, the fire-dragon was an insufferably lucky bastard. Now she wondered if perhaps there hadn't been another player in the game she had been unaware of.
A scowl settled onto her features. While she had no proof this hawk had anything to do with the dragon, it wasn't impossible, and the bird made a handy target for her frustration. The Jorogumo picked up a large rock and took aim. The hawk's white underside stood out in the dark. She let fly with her weapon. It struck true and she sneered as the hawk's cry was cut off mid-breath. She frowned again when the bird managed to keep to its perch.
A sudden, sharp pain robbed Chad of his breath. The force of the blow threatened to knock him off his perch. He beat his wings to keep balance and nearly overcompensated when he tried to flutter the wings in the manner of the goldfinch. He managed to figure it out and with a few powerful beats he was back upright, calling out again. He wasn't surprised by the next volley and braced himself for it.
When the hawk remained where it was through two successful strikes and continued its call, the Jorogumo knew she was right. Any natural bird would have flown off. She considered her next move carefully.
She was tempted to run up the tree and throttle the blasted thing herself, but that would expose her to the no-doubt approaching dragon. She was almost done with the charm she was weaving and regarded it with frustration. Spells of this nature did better when strengthened by time and she did not have it. No matter; need was calling the tune now, and she had no choice but to dance to it. She needed to distract the dragon a few more moments.
She hurriedly wove a snare out of webbing and focused on the hawk. He hadn't moved and his white feathers practically glowed against the night sky. She caught him in the web, then threw him with all her might away. With luck, the dragon would at least go to see whether his pet lived or died, buying her much-needed time.
Qiang flinched when he heard the call skip, and was relieved when it started back up. It wasn't hard to imagine what the Jorogumo would do if she got her hands on the boy. He quickened his pace. He had the boy in sight and was nearly upon him when the webbing net ensnared him. Qiang snarled and put on a burst of speed only to see the whole bundle chucked hard in the opposite direction. A stalling tactic, to be sure, and one he could not ignore. He doubled back, got under the hawk and caught it as it was falling. He landed and carefully removed the webbing without hurting the fragile hawk form caught up in it. Once it was removed, Chad puffed out his feathers and shook himself.
"Show me where she is," said Qiang.
Chad thought Qiang might have meant mentally, but he chose to misunderstand the request. He took off into the air, shrieking the instruction to follow.
"That's not exactly what I meant," Qiang muttered, leaping into the air after him.
Chad led Qiang back to the area and circled in the air. The tree he'd perched in earlier, in fact the entire little grove, was blanketed with a giant spider web. It glistened in the light of the stars and appeared as a translucent but solid mass in the way it hung from the trees and caught up in the bushes of the undergrowth. The only clear entrance was a dark and shadowed tunnel that led inward. Qiang landed and studied the web with a scowl on his muzzle. Chad perched again in his antlers, though as a hawk he was forced to spread his stance between two tines. He screeched his question down to Qiang.
"She used magic to erect the web." He looked away from the web and glanced up to Chad. "Take a sense of it, what do you feel?"
Chad cocked his head, then did as directed. At first he could only detect the energies of the Jorogumo, and his feathers again twitched with the urge to fly. Then, as an undercurrent, he could sense dragon energy. He recognized it as Sebastian's. It was hard to tell without looking as it was subsumed into the Jorogumo's energy. The more he studied it, the more Chad realized the Jorogumo's energy wasn't the same as before. The dragon energy had been absorbed into her and her magic. In truth, it was neither dragon nor Jorogumo, but a synthesis of both. He looked down to Qiang and squawked out another question.
"No, I haven't seen anything like this before. I've never heard tell of a Jorogumo that captured a dragon in its web. Clearly, she fed well from him." He paused before adding, "Damn, this will no doubt make it all the harder."
He shook his head, dislodging the hawk, which took to the sky. Qiang directed him to land. Where a hawk landed, a human stood. Chad stumbled from the sudden change in perspective and body design. Qiang steeped closer, giving Chad something to lean against. Once he gathered his bearings he turned to Qiang.
"How do you want to play this?"
"Alone. There is something else I need you to do." Before Chad could protest, Qiang continued. "I need you to go back to my lair. Please have Mingzhu gather up food for Sebastian and a jacket and blanket for Dakota and take her to where they are on the river."