Thank you for reading! Me and my coauthor Darinost are gradually combining forces and blogs, so the joint comment section for our stories is currently located on discord! Come on in and let us know what you thought, we don’t bite.
Los Angeles, United States of America
People always thought that nothing big, nothing secret, nothing supernatural could exist because, if it did, people would see it. People thought that if something big were to happen in the middle of a big city – say, Los Angeles – there would be an impossible number of witnesses that saw everything. That it would be impossible to hide.
Those people were wrong. Dead wrong, and there were a few good reasons for that.
People were stupid… and they were terrible at remembering things, even things they had witnessed themselves. Especially things they had witnessed themselves. No one really remembered what they saw a few minutes later, and memories were so easily polluted by consensus and gossip and hearsay. No matter how important and dramatic the event, no matter how certain a person can be that they “saw what they saw,” it only takes hearing from a few people that they were wrong to begin to doubt themselves, to yield to a sense of groupthink. Not everyone saw the same details, and people would quickly settle on the most “believable” version of events, even if that version was patently ridiculous… because everyone knew the alternative was possible.
The second reason, though, was far more insidious. That despite how awful humans were at acting when they saw something, they were far worse when they didn’t… and cities were full of reasons people couldn’t see. Walls blocked line of sight. Buildings cut people off from the truth. Seeing was believing, after all… if you don’t see something, it’s easier to not get involved. If they don’t see something happening, it isn’t as real. Tragedies become statistics unless someone gets to stand in the ruins themselves. Sure, almost everyone saw or heard or felt something they couldn’t explain before they were twenty, but by the time they checked there was nothing there… and they hadn’t seen clearly. It had been dark, or late, or there had been walls in the way. It was easier for people to tell themselves that a TV was too loud, or those gunshots were fireworks… until they saw. Until someone really saw, until they had forced themselves to see the supernatural was real… no one wanted to see.
People who had just freshly learned about the existence of the supernatural always thought there was some huge conspiracy to hide the monsters in the dark from humanity. There wasn’t. Humanity just didn’t want to know. That was why Jasper was able to watch the party below through the scope of his sniper rifle, moving to follow the action as a group of monsters had their fun with a dozen captives on the roof of a damned hotel right in the middle of Los Angeles.
Jasper had been hiding atop his building for hours before the sun ever went down, and it had been hours more besides by the time the vampires showed up, a full two dozen of them with thirteen kitsune brought along. The pool on the top of the hotel wasn’t really the focus here, but more than a few vampires were in it… and when they were, they usually weren’t alone. The bound, shackled foxes were the party favors here… bound, raped, and bled dry while the vampires played, socializing with one another, playing with their captives, and generally putting on a show. Jasper knew it wasn’t common for them to get together like this… to his understanding, this was nearly every vampire on the planet. All but one of them were male, but the female, Anastasia, was as cruel as any of the boys, even though she focused all her attention on his Primary Objective rather than on one of the foxes.
Foxes. Jasper winced, fingers clutching at his chest in useless reflex against the most-remembered pain. Gods damned, Inari-blighted foxes. It wasn’t like there was an injury there anymore, after all… it had healed completely weeks ago, he was pretty sure. That was frustratingly slow… slow even for this damned mortal body he was still wearing. Damned nogitsune bitch… who used a sword these days? Bullet holes were easy to close, gaping slice wounds much less so. Why couldn’t she have murdered him like a civilized woman?
He wanted to finally leave this body behind, even if it meant returning to that pit… a prison was a prison, and at least that one didn’t always smell of rotting meat, and he wasn’t always hungry or tired or needing to shit. He wanted nothing more than to leave and go back to where things were normal… but he still had obligations here.
And he always fulfilled his Mistress’s bargains.
Jasper waited patiently while the vampires played until the Secondary Objective, the First Vampire, emerged from one of the doors and stepped into the open. Mordred was naked as he stepped up to the raised platform, sinking down into the hot tub that overlooked the party below. That was good. That was the plan. It was as close to a balanced situation as it was possible to be. Naked and in the open, they could be certain the vampire at least didn’t have any weapons to attack with… meanwhile, he could effortlessly escape if necessary. It made it more likely that his Mistress would get what she wanted, which was his only goal here.
Jasper clicked the microphone against his ears. “He is in place.”
At no sign that Jasper could see, the reaction was immediate. Almost all of the vampires perked up instantly, turning, craning their heads and raising up in unison. It would have been comical if their gazes were any less intense. Jasper followed their gaze to the edge of the roof as, from apparently nowhere, six nogitsune stepped into the open, black tails swaying back and forth. The four women and two men were coated in an illusion, nearly invisible, but even as he watched the illusion faded more and more with each step she took, revealing four well-armed foxes, a fifth crawling on all fours, pulled along by a leash in her bonds… and the most dangerous woman he had ever met, wearing a plain red kimono.
Syllana stepped forward, leading the captive nogitsune forward by her leash. Jasper focused the scope on her and realized that he recognized her… The crawling fox was Mai, one of Syllana’s lieutenants. He hadn’t realized that she was out of favor, but the bonds spoke quite clearly of that truth… she was shackled hand, foot, and tail, blindfolded, and wearing fishnets so tight that they were obviously compressing her body. She seemed barely able to keep moving as Syllana stepped forward, casually saying something to the vampires that he couldn’t hear. Unlike the other nogitsune she carried neither firearm nor blade, but she kept walking confidently anyway.
She didn’t need them.
Casually she strode up the stairs to the raised hot tub, Mai struggling to climb behind her, and Jasper heard her purring voice over the microphone had prepared by the pool. “I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long…”
“You’re late,” Mordred growled, leaning back in the pool… showing his bare chest, how he was unarmed. “I didn’t think you were coming.”
“Me? Why, I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” Syllana’s was a pleased, rolling laugh as she put her hands on her kimono and effortlessly let it drop to the ground, the naked nogitsune goddess stepping out of the fallen cloth. “I always keep an agreement once struck. I’ll honor my bargains with a smile on my face… as long as you are honoring yours, vampire.” Her grin was wicked, effortless, bright… and completely false. “I am here to negotiate the release of your captives.”
He scoffed. “The captives you had me collect. Fourteen animal fucktoys freed to your custody, just as you wanted,” Mordred growled as he leered at the naked fox while she slipped down into the steaming hot water. “I have to say, I am unused to giving up one of my blood to another. I’ve been killing Ilya’s men for two decades as they try to take one of us.”
Syllana laughed. “I have no interest in your blood or your curse,” she smiled at him. “My word of honor, there is no secret contained within his veins that interest me. Only sending him directly to hell profits me anything.”
“Your word means little to me, witch,” Mordred said coldly. “I only care that the price you offer is worth the risk.” He looked down at the other nogitsune, still engaged in their casual standoff with the vampires below. “And which of these sluts is the tutor you promised?”
Syllana yanked her hand up, pulling Mai forward and sending her sprawling into the hot water. She immediately squealed and struggled to the surface with bound hands, only for Syllana to grip her by the hair and hold her under. “This one.”
Mordred looked down at her with a doubting expression. “Seems pretty pathetic,” he said coldly.
“That she is,” Syllana laughed as she agreed. The nogitsune lifted Mai up just enough to let her get a single breath, then shoved her back down again. One of her long, bare legs came momentarily out of the water before lowering onto Mai’s head, making her thrash as she was pressed down below the surface of the hot water, struggling weakly. “She’s a stupid, pathetic slut…. But she is competent, and much more importantly… motivated.” Syllana viciously dragged Mai behind her like flotsam through the hot tub as she put the woman down on her new master’s lap. “She is talented at magical research, and she knows painfully well that the only way back into my good graces is by discovering and teaching you everything you could ever want to know about the magic in your blood.”
Mordred growled, showing his fangs as he took possession of the nogitsune, and a second later Jasper heard her cry as he sank her down on his cock. “She had best be able to do as you promise. We have managed to coexist peacefully for two millennia. It would be a shame for us to need to conflict now.”
“Please, slowly!” Mai shouted, her words slurred. “Not… not so… fast… too hot… please, master, stop…”
Mordred showed his fangs. “Begging already, when we haven’t even begun? Pathetic whore. I’d rip your throat out if you weren’t going to be useful.” His hands started to tug at the fishnets, trying to rip them, and Mai only screamed louder, her wailing taking on a frantic note… but the fabric didn’t tear.
Syllana laughed at the surprised look on Mordred’s face. “It’s jorogumo silk,” she said with amusement. “You won’t be able to tear it. It’s poisoning her… making you feel like the size of a building inside her, making the water feel like it was boiling. You’d be feeling it too… if you had blood in your skin for it to poison.”
Mordred glared at her, but he didn’t stop forcing the nogitsune captive up and down on his length. “And you knew ahead of time it wouldn’t affect me?”
Syllana smiled. “I suspected. See? We’re learning things about your curse already. Look at how productive she is!”
The vampire sneered… but he began raping Mai with even more enthusiasm. It didn’t take much inference on Jasper’s part for him to see that he was really thinking about it being Syllana on his cock. “I believe our business is concluded then. Take the cumrags, and then—”
Syllana’s bare foot rested firmly on Mai’s back and shoved. The fact impaled Mai further down on Mordred, making her choke out a protest, but the nogitsune goddess ignored her, her eyes fixated directly on Mordred. “Not so quickly,” she said smoothly. “I have something else I need as well.” She looked down along the pool party, smiling briefly. “I need the thugs and mercenaries you used to collect these lovely women, as well.”
Mordred glared at her. “This was never a part of our arrangement.”
Syllana lowered her foot, and then languidly began to almost crawl through the foaming water towards him. “No,” she purred as she rose out of the water, steam rising off her breasts as she bent over the vampire, her hands on Mai’s shoulders. “But you’re going to give them to me anyway… because I am giving you something you want far, far more.” Closing one hand around Mai’s neck and holding her firmly with the other, she began to fuck her former apprentice down on Mordred’s dick by hand. “Oh Mai… tell your new Master here whom your previous mistress was.”
“Y-” she choked out, pained yelps interrupting her a dozen times before she managed to force words out of her sore throat. “Y— y… Yuki!” Mai finally said. “H— h— hel—p—p y—youuuu…”
Syllana smiled at the naked expression of rage and lust on the vampire’s face. “Consider the pot sweetened. Of course… if that doesn’t interest you, I could always find you a different tutor.”
He glared at her. “Fine,” Mordred snarled. “I’ll arrange to have them delivered to you. You’re awfully bold to play with me like this, witch… I have more than half a mind to see the way your tongue feels on my balls while I fuck my new pet.”
Syllana laughed, like the chiming of a bell… clear, bright, and cheerful. “If it makes you feel better, my dear,” she said. Then, while Jasper watched through the scope, the illusion around Syllana unraveled… and one of the killers he knew only as Kuu stood there instead, the final wispy remnants of the illusion seeming to boil off her skin as her eyes glowed slightly. “After all,” Syllana’s voice spoke through the assassin’s lips, “I’m not really here.” Then the glow in Kuu’s eyes went out.
Growling in annoyance, Mordred’s fist lashed out, punching Kuu across her jaw. The microphone caught the snapping of her jawbone in the second before Mordred caught her by the hair and dragged her beneath the surface. “Maybe, if you’re very good,” he said to no one in particular, “you’ll finish me off before I drown you, little slut.”
Jasper watched through his scope as Mordred finished. As a soaked Kuu pulled herself coughing and gagging from the hot tub. As the watching nogitsune collected the captive kitsune and one chained vampire and took them down the elevators to the convoy of dark cars waiting for them. He watched through his rifle as Mordred continued to introduce himself to his newest plaything, and the other vampires, deprived of their fun and with the tension passed, began to take their leave. Only once everyone was gone did he begin to break the rifle down, packing it up before he headed for the stairs. The first exchange had gone well. Only one part left to play before he could get out of this reeking corpse of a body.
Ayako looked around in awe. “This is where you live?” she said as she walked beside her sister, leading the pack of kitsune as they followed their guide. “It’s… not exactly what I envisioned.”
Tsukiko couldn’t disagree. Not that she had thought about the nogitsune much and she certainly never thought she was likely to meet one, but if pressed she would have thought it was likely that they would live somewhere… traditional. Or someplace dark and dismal, at least. The mansion was none of those thing… there wasn’t the least bit traditional or even Asian about it. If she had to guess, this place wasn’t more than fifty years old and had been relentlessly updated since it was built. Located in the middle of a huge, broad yard filled with gardens and fountains, surrounded by a forest blocking sight of the grounds from the road – however far away that was – it looked more like a college campus than a home. The property of the super-rich in America.
“Where did you think we lived, in a dungeon?” Hinata said with a smile as she led them through the grounds. They weren’t alone, either. Foxes – foxes with black tails – moved through the gardens… reading, sparring, eating, or just walking from building to building. More nogitsune. It was still difficult to her to accept that they were real, that she could see them just… standing before her, but here they were. Hinata’s tails swished back and forth confidently as she lead them on, chuckling. “We’re not something out of nightmares, Ayako. We just want to live in the worship of our own goddess. A goddess who didn’t abandon us when we needed her.”
“Syllana?” one of the other kitsune asked. “Is that her name?” Hinata nodded, leading them onward down one of the paths through the garden, towards one of the central buildings. To Tsukiko’s shock, she realized that some of the nogitsune in the garden weren’t dressed… and in fact were rolling around on the ground doing significantly more than sparring. Tsukiko blushed… she wasn’t nearly as adventurous as her sister, and her experience over the last weeks had been all the worse for its novelty. She certainly wasn’t used to seeing people making love in broad daylight without so much as a hint of shyness, and it was made worse by the fact that none of the nogitsune walking by seemed to even notice as one of the foxes pinned the other down and made her squeal as he put his head between her legs.
Altogether, it made her unfortunately aware of her own state of dress, or the lack thereof. The nogitsune had given her clothing after they had freed her from that hell, but the thin shift was too big for her and it felt like if she twitched her shoulder wrong it might fall down her arms far enough to expose her breasts. There was nothing actually immodest about it, and it certainly wasn’t on purpose from her saviors, but she still almost felt naked like this.
“Is… is it true that the nogitsune burn their skins?” Ayako asked. “That you can’t transform anymore?”
Tsukiko was uncomfortable at her sister’s question, but Hinata didn’t so much as flinch. “It’s true,” she said comfortably. “Inari turned her back on us, so we have severed our ties with her completely to tie ourselves more closely to one another and our goddess.” Tsukiko clutched the ziplock pack containing her skin to her chest even harder as she walked, and noticed a few of the other kitsune doing the same. She had been terrified the moment they had been given to the nogitsune, but as soon as Hinata had gotten them into the van she had let people pick out their skins from the collection before they had driven off. Nothing had been done to it… it truly had been restored to her.
“This is our sanctuary,” Hinata continued proudly as they approached the building. “Here is where we’re safe. Where we can live the way we choose.” She held the door open for them, gesturing them inside. Tsukiko tentatively stepped inside, half expecting that something would jump her the moment she did. That didn’t happen… but on the inside, she was surprised yet again by getting what she had originally expected. Here, inside the building, was the kind of traditional, ancient Japanese environment she had expected. Inside, and obviously maintained at great expense, were a pair of waterfalls that flowed down to a pond in the lobby of the building. Bonsai trees grew everywhere, clean and very carefully maintained.
“It’s beautiful…” Tsukiko said softly.
“It is my gift to my followers,” a smooth, rich voice said as a woman rose from where she knelt before the pool. The most beautiful woman Tsukiko had ever seen looked at her, and for just a second it felt like she was seeing right through her… right through her clothing and skin, down to her soul. She flushed crimson, but the nogitsune looked away, running her gaze over the others as they stepped into the garden. “A place of beauty. A place of worship. A place to remember your heritage, as we work to create it.” Blue fire flickered around the beautiful fox, coursing through her dark fur almost like showering embers, and she wore a crown of it on her forehead.
No introductions were necessary. This could only be the Goddess herself… Syllana.
“You saved us…” one of the kitsune whispered, awe in her voice. “You saved us from the vampire… thank you!”
“No thanks are necessary. It wasn’t my pleasure,” Syllana said with a sage nod. “It was my duty. Unlike the Betrayer Goddess, I am willing to do what’s necessary and step in to protect our people.” She smiled. “Nevertheless, it is good to know that I am… appreciated.” She looked around and smiled. “Welcome to Mizuki.”
There were some murmured words from others, sounds of thanks or of questions, but Tsukiko felt uncomfortable. “And… and what happens now?” she asked. Her voice felt pathetically weak and awkward and creaking compared to the goddess’s words, but she forced them out… even when the dark-furred beauty turned her intense gaze back onto her. “What is going to happen to us?”
Syllana smiled softly. There were a short, pregnant pause as she kept smiling for several seconds. Then she spoke. “Well, that depends on what you want,” she said, her voice comforting. “It’s safe here. You are free to join us in our mission and stay here. Or, if you don’t want to stay, you are free to leave, with my blessing.”
“If we stay… do we have to… to…”
Syllana held her gaze for a second before she slowly nodded, moving her eyes over the others. “I’m afraid so,” she said solemnly. “It’s the only way. We are fighting a war, my children… kitsune are attacked and hunted down wherever we go. The Betrayer won’t help us… so we have to do it. You must sever yourselves from her and join yourselves to me so that we can save others. Others held captive just like you were.”
Tsukiko looked down at her skin and shivered. She… she couldn’t. No way. No way. From the center of her heart she appreciated Syllana for having saved her and her sister, more than words could say, but… but there was just no chance that she could burn it. To never become a fox again. To never feel the ground falling away under four legs, to run like the wind and jump through the forest for sheer joy… it was unthinkable. From the words that others were saying, however, many didn’t think the same. Tsukiko largely let the words slide over her, a background murmuring of Syllana speaking, and other kitsune asking questions or pledging service as Tsukiko’s world shank down to her and the skin clutched in her hands, feeling it beneath her fingers as she opened the bag and slid her hands through the fur. That distraction lasted until she heard her sister’s voice. “I’ll do it.”
Tsukiko looked up sharply. Syllana was looking right at Ayako, smiling. The goddess clutched her sister’s hands for a moment before she turned away, answering another’s questions. Tsukiko took advantage of the moment to tug on one of her sister’s red tails. “Ayako, you can’t!”
Ayako turned to look at her, a haunted look in her eyes. “I have to!” she said firmly. “We aren’t the only foxes in trouble. Gods, sis, I don’t even think this group were all of the foxes that vampire had! How… how can I let them stay there?” She went silent for a moment, and when she continued her voice was much quieter. “How can I sleep, knowing that monsters like that are out there, and I’m helpless against them?” She swallowed, and her jaw firmed up a little. “She’s offering us a way to fight back. A way to defend ourselves. I have to take it.”
Tears ran down Tsukiko’s face. “Ayako, I… I can’t…” she whispered. “Are… are you sure?”
Her sister pulled her into a hug, and the smaller fox only sobbed harder. “Just… think about it, ok?” her sister whispered, trying to comfort her. “I know… I know this is for the best…”
“Nice place you got here,” Lucas growled as he got out of the van, looking around the compound. “Really nice place.”
“I like mountains,” Syllana said with a smile as she waved one hand dismissively. “Back when I was younger, fortresses like these dominated the land. Even now, when when the world has changed, I feel safest up here.”
“I can certainly understand that,” the bounty hunter said as he watched Dominick climb out after him. He’d been working with the man for years, even since he’d been discharged from the army, but he still felt the need to keep a close eye on his partner… he did like pushing at limits, and the ulfethnar had to admit that Syllana was lovely to look at. If what he had heard about working for her was right, however, not only was there money in staying on her good side, extreme danger waited on her bad side.
The temptation was all the worse when he walked past a half dozen black furred foxes just casually walking around. Lucas couldn’t help but do the mental math about exactly how much money was on display here. Be it the Mists of Avalon, Edwom, or Savalas, just about everyone had a standing offer for more of the ninetailed animals, and selling just a pair of foxes had made them a fortune earlier in the year. Lucas was pretty sure that someone was putting together a farm… that a collector was buying up every one that made it to market as quickly as they could be found. A kitsune was practically as good as liquid cash in hand, these days.
He forcefully turned his attention away from those thoughts, and hoped that Dominick was doing the same. The last thing he wanted to do was insult the woman who wanted him to do a job. Instead, he followed the dark fox as she lead him further down the paved paths, through the trees and across cultivated lawns. “Not a lot of security around here,” Dominick observed.
Syllana chuckled. “Appearances can be deceiving, young man,” she said, amusement in her voice. “We don’t get a lot of intruders here.” She opened the door to one of the buildings, one that looked sort of like a library. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t occasionally need to hunt down a few troublemakers. That’s why you’re here.”
“We can hunt down anyone you want, as long as the money’s good,” Lucas agreed. His nose was wrinkling as he sniffed the air. The longer he smelled the woman, the more something was… off. She didn’t smell quite right for a kitsune. There was something about her that smelled… burned, maybe. Not like smoke… Like ozone. The scent was distant, hidden behind more familiar smells, but he could just barely sense it. It wasn’t coming from the building… as he walked past shelf after shelf of books, the scent didn’t change. It was coming from Syllana herself.
Syllana snorted out a tiny laugh as she turned and unlocked a door to the side, opening it up. “Yes… yes I expect you can. You have a reputation for it… it’s why I brought you here.” She waved inside. “We can talk here.”
Lucas stepped in, and noticed that there were other people sitting in the room. Two other kitsune, their hair and fur the same pitch black as Syllana’s, sat at the table. Lucas’s nose twitched at the scent, but it was not one he could place… he felt certain he had never smelled either of these two before, but there was something familiar about it. About them.
The door clicked shut behind Dominick.
“The two of you really can find anyone,” Syllana purred, her hand brushing his muscular arm. “Anyone at all. That’s what brought you here.” She looked at the two women as they looked back at her, and at Lucas and Dominick…
And Lucas finally recognized them.
The ulfethnar felt something… grab at him, on the inside. An instant feeling of nausea almost blinded him, and it was followed by a flash of almost unbelievable pain. His body began shifting without consulting his mind, reacting on what had to be sheer pain response as something pulled on him, long and hard. He screamed, the cry taking on the edge of a howl as he bellowed his pain.
Dominick dropped lifeless to the ground like a ragdoll.
Lucas, his face twisting into a wolf-like muzzle, dropped on his hands and knees, panting, struggling with the agony as something inside him kept pulling, ripping at him from somewhere inside as one of the women stood up, towering over him. She looked different from the last time he had seen her, when he had sold her to the Mists of Avalon… she had had orange-red hair back then. Her features, however, revealed the truth to him.
He tried to rise, but a foot landed on the back of his neck, shoving him back down to the ground. “The first is always the hardest,” Syllana assured the other foxes. “Especially when they aren’t quite human.”
“Not a problem…” the other fox, the younger one, growled back as she bared her teeth at him. “I’ll take as long as I need.” She put her foot down right on the hunter’s face, and he felt his half-formed face deforming beneath her weight. The pressure on his soul built in time with it, pressing on him, ripping, tearing. He howled again. “That’s right… that’s how it felt,” she spat. “Oh, and wolfy…”
Ayako bent down to him, staring into what she could see of his eyes. “I hope you don’t think you should have let me get away… because it’s far too late now.”
Jasper waited in the dark forest for hours before Syllana and her pair of killers finally came, dragging a bound and hooded man behind them. “About time,” he muttered. “The sun’s almost finished going down.”
“Sorry to keep you and your mistress waiting, my Lord Jilil,” Syllana said, giving him a brief bow before stepping past him and into the burned clearing in front of him. “A few complications arose seeing to my people, and I was unavoidably slowed. Shall we begin?”
Jasper sighed, and then drew his knife across his palm, letting his blood fall to the dirt. It drank it in like a very dry, very thirsty sponge, the earth swallowing what he offered whole. “Just hurry. Mistress will be angry if we need delay until tomorrow.”
“And rightly so,” Syllana said as she reached the center of the clearing. Kuu stopped with their captive at the treeline, but Syllana knelt easily in the center of the rings. Jasper watched with interest. He didn’t know much about magic, other than being certain he had once known far more than he did now. Even so, he knew that for a skilled practitioner, props like magic circles, staves, wands, and blades weren’t usually necessary. They were mnemonic aids… there to help train the magician’s mind in the right direction and allow them to shape energy more easily. Someone like Syllana had literally forgotten more about magic than most living people knew, and working advanced magic was a fairly effortless task for her.
Which made the fact that she knelt in such an ornate circle all the more noteworthy.
The summoning ring was constructed of three circles of poured concrete, made perfectly smooth in the rough clearing. Into them had been laid three circles of precious metal – Gold, Silver, and Platinum. Stone slabs of slate and obsidian ran between the bars, forming symbols that Jasper didn’t understand the meaning of but that meant something to Syllana, that made her think of a specific concept when looked at… that helped her shape her thoughts into an arrow that could pierce the veil between worlds and drill deep, deep down.
In the back of Jasper’s mind he could feel the approach of sunset. Hard to say how, exactly. The forest was dark, and the sun was completely hidden by the trees and it was already nearly as dark as full night, so he couldn’t see it, but he knew anyway. Some part of him, some part that wasn’t trapped in his rotting meat-suit, could feel the sunlight still gliding down to be trapped in the canopy… some part of him that wasn’t a slave to mere light and darkness could feel its presence, could feel it as the presence faded… and the concurrent stirring of the night as it did.
Syllana sat there, composing her thoughts as she knelt while the last moments of sunset slipped by. Day was a time of beginnings, night a time of endings. Sunset and dawn were moments of transition. Moments where the veil between the mortal world and the spirit world were as weak as it could get. At the dividing line between the two, at that time of transition, spirits would be more able to freely flit back and forth between one world and the next and wander the world, mostly unseen by the unaware. The barrier would be the weakest then. In some locations, that wall would be weaker than others… places the barrier had been most of the way broken down and never repaired. Sometimes it was by accident, a combination of history and magical action that caused a permanent weak point. Sometimes, like here, it was on purpose. If Jasper focused he could feel the pain here… the dozens of people who had been tortured and had their throats cut until spirits hungry for blood pressed against the barrier from the other side, straining against it for food, weakening the wall between their reality and Syllana’s. It meant that it look less energy – a possible amount of energy – to open a portal.
Dark was only moments away. Jasper felt it the moment sunset transitioned to night, the echoing, hollow surge of energy that accompanied it on the other side of “real…” and Syllana summoned her power.
The first steps were familiar enough. Burning blue witchfire spread from her body through the rings, glowing softly, lighting the world in neon shades of blue and black as it threw every line of every symbol on all three rings into stark relief, but that was just the beginning. Her body spread, and the world around Jasper got… darker. The ground softly shook beneath his feet, and the shadows, already long and dark, expanded out from the lee of trees like spreading rot across the ground. As that darkness slid over Jasper, it felt cold… and where it fell over the burning blue flame, even the colors were muted, lighting the world in nothing but dim grey light.
The noises of the forest quieted, then died out… animal sounds and birdsong fading away and vanishing. The last star in the sky seemed to shudder and die as the shadows seemed to caress the heavens, covering the world completely until the only place the darkness didn’t spread was over Syllana herself. The shadows stopped in a circle all around the nogitsune, maybe half an inch from her skin as witchfire burned blue in her fur, smoldering against the darkness. It wasn’t power like Jasper used, or like he had seen anyone else use. He had seen power burn down forests and towns, seen it scorch the sky, seen it destroy and howl and rage. This was different.
Syllana was digging deep into her patron’s power, and it took its strength from a different place entirely. It didn’t fill the world… it emptied it. Quieted it. Stilled it. Killed it. Narghai spoke through the power, the stillness of entropic heat death itself in magical form. It took strength from being… not. And it was hungry.
The nogitsune, and the darkness and flame swayed to her words. “Be welcome into our world, Jewel of the Pit,” she promised, and the world danced to the swaying rhythm of her voice. “Be welcome, and come forth!”
One moment, the circle was empty. The next, the unnatural darkness that Syllana’s power had summoned began to writhe, boil, and retreat away from a bright light. Jasper had seen it many times before and even so he wasn’t sure how to explain it. Like a normal being cast a shadow, his mistress cast a light… and that light, in her outline, appeared sitting beside Syllana. “Be welcome into our world, Jewel of the Pit,” Syllana repeated her oath, and the sky above growled in protest, the earth trembling hard enough that Jasper had to grab onto a tree. The barrier between worlds might be weak here, but Syllana was penetrating deep, and the Earth quivered in protest. “Be welcome, and come forth!”
Syllana’s unnatural shadows had been pushed back to the edge of the circle by the time the “shadow” of light was too bright to look at. Jasper could see it with his eyes closed… it felt like a piece of the sun had been transported here and put into the shape of a person. “Be welcome into our world, Jewel of the Pit,” Syllana called out, her voice creased with strain as the witchfire around her rose in a blazing column. “Be welcome, and come forth!”
When her voice finished echoing, the forest was still, dark, and quiet.
And Syllana was no longer alone in that circle.
A woman, slender and beautiful, stood in the center of the center ring. Long, blonde hair was braided on her head, drawn into a tight, intricate bun that left the nape of her delicate-looking neck exposed… and showing the black collar of scorched metal that was tight around her throat. She wore a dress in dozens of layers of nearly transparent fabric, with only the places they were most layered providing any modesty at all. The shadow of light was gone now, leaving behind only an ordinary woman… save for the horns emerging from the side of her head. Those ram’s horns glowed hot with inner heat, and heat shimmers rose from her, distorting the wavering light of the night and burning witchfire. The tall staff she carried in one hand, taller than she was by several feet, glowed just as hot… but she wrapped her fingers around it comfortably, and the thin silk gloves she wore could not have been providing any protection.
And her eyes glowed like the soul behind them was fire.
Jasper fell to one knee. “At your service, my lady,” he said in low tones, eyes on the ground.
He felt it when his mistress’s eyes found him, could feel her joy and approval though the mask she wore never slipped. “Jilil,” she said, her voice as cool and crisp and musical as the ringing of a silver bell. Jasper could feel it when her gaze shifted. “Syllana,” she said in precisely the same tone.
Syllana rose, but bowed her head in a small gesture of respect. “Lady Lightbringer.”
Lucille Lightbringer, Mistress of Flame and the uncontested Mistress of Hell, clicked her tongue in impatience. Her gaze fell back on Jilil. “Our bargain?”
“Completed, Mistress,” Jilil said, not rising from his crouch. His stomach growled in frustration, a frustration that Lucille would feel without issue, but he made sure to keep it from his face. “I accompanied Mistress Syllana to the Alps. The gate there was destroyed, but it appears that Mistress Syllana’s suspicions were correct… while Brigid’s Marble is dust, brimstone appears to function as a medium for remaking the key hole. It will hold up to the strain.”
Her face showed no emotion whatsoever as her glowing gaze lingered on him. “And the mortals?”
“As you agreed, I found a host among the human marauders that called themselves Liberty’s Patriots. As Mistress Syllana suspected, Mordred had deduced that his missing fox would show up there. There were two full vampires there amongst their numbers, young ones but fully blooded, and a half dozen blood addicts ready to call in their master and attempt to capture her and the selkie.” Jasper’s voice was utterly noninflected as he continued. “I killed them before they could. No messages were sent. I suspect it will still be some time before he is aware that she has slipped through his fingers once again, and even once he investigates he will find no link to Mistress Syllana.”
“Adequately done,” she agreed. Her words were cold, but Jasper could again feel the wild joy and approval lurking just below the surface, the thrill and excitement. One hand came up, and it rested delicately against the invisible wall at the edge of the summoning circle. Jilil’s heart ached for her. The greater the spirit, the greater the hole that needed to be made into the spirit world for the spirit to pass through… and boring a hole all the way down into the deepest pits of hell wide enough for his Mistress to pass through as anything but a fragment of herself was beyond even Syllana’s power. Lucille could not exist outside of this circle, not in this world. Still, it didn’t seem to trouble her… her gaze turned to the nogitsune woman’s. “Then it would seem the terms of your bargain have been met, Syllana. Do you agree?”
“I do,” she nodded in agreement. Then, at a gesture, Kuu tossed the bound vampire forward. The male collapsed at Syllana’s feet, just before entering the ring that would allow Lucille to touch him. “One errant soul retrieved for you, just as you requested.” Syllana’s hand twisted through his short, dark hair, one lip twisted in an amused smirk. “Handsome thing,” she said with playful anticipation. “I do hope he will… enjoy… his time in hell.”
“At least one of us will,” Lucille said coldly.
Syllana flung him forward, and as soon as he passed the ring of platinum one of Lucille’s hand’s shot out and grabbed onto him. He half tripped and half staggered, landing on his knees looking up into her burning gaze, his eyes filled with shock. “Yes, sir knight…” the Devil purred, her voice eager. “I know… I know. You think yourself soulless, vampire. That you would never be brought down to hell.” Her smile twisted broadly. “I promise you, you are mistaken. And we have much, much, much to discuss…”
While Lucille crowed in her absolute triumph, the flames rose up around them… hell was already dragging her back. To his delight, Jasper could feel it pulling at him as well. He longed for it. The fire consumed his Mistress’s body, and of the Vampire Knight. Jasper’s mortal fleshsack collapsed to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut, and his essence poured after her…
Only to run into a barrier. Something was in the way. Mistress’s power was in the way… blocking the gateway. Her bright light was blinding to him. “The prison portal will work?” she asked, voice intent. There was no trace of her relaxed, uncaring demeanor anymore… she seemed frightened.
That frightened Jasper, as well. “She will still need many millions of souls to use as a key,” he sent his thoughts back to her. Conversation moved at the speed of thought like this, far faster than time could pass in the mortal world. “But yes. A ritual circle made of brimstone will let her turn that key.” Lucille cursed, and Jasper hesitated. “Mistress… I do not mean to speak out of turn, but she will still need the souls. An unfathomable number… the last heir of Amalissa sealed Narghai’s prison tight, and nearly so deep as hell itself. I have done some calculation… she could not have nearly enough, not even in a thousand years of effort.”
“If she did not,” Lucille said softly, “then why is she rebuilding the keyhole now?” Jasper could not see her, could not see anything in the blinding light of her presence, but he could sense the dismissal. “No… I know not how, but she is almost ready. We must prepare accordingly.”
He hesitated again. “And… are we so certain this is a bad thing?” Jasper grimaced. “She might be right… his magic might be the only thing capable of destroying the Betrayer.”
“It could be,” she admitted. “But if not carefully managed, his flames will scorch the mortal world and spirit world barren of life as well.” Her attention was on him. “Jilil… I need you to do something for me.”
“Anything, Mistress,” he said, without thinking, without hesitation, before it even occurred to him what she would want. “…You want me to stay in this world.”
“Need. Not want,” she corrected softly. “We balance our plans on the edge of the knife, Jilil… on one side, Narghai, and on the other, Father. Neither can be allowed to get what they want. We need hands able to act freely in this world.” Her voice was growing more distance. “Find a way to stop them both.”
The fallen angel Jilil grimaced. Then he bowed his head, even as his Mistress’s light began to fade. “It will be done, Mistress.”
Then the light was gone, and Jilil was left alone in the spirit world among monsters.
He sighed. He was going to have to find another body…
That night, as fires flickered through the gardens, most of the foxes gathered back together. One of them, a red-haired fox that Shen Xue didn’t know, held on tightly to her sister as she looked at the few foxes standing separately. “Do they… do they really need to go?”
Syllana, standing nearby, nodded sympathetically. “I’m afraid so, Miss Ayako. As much as I want to provide sanctuary to all foxes, right now this is still a war for our survival, and I can’t keep those who will not fight here… I cannot be responsible for their safety. I regret it, but everyone is safer if they go.”
In the end, of the thirteen kitsune, seven of them had chosen to join Syllana. That surprised Shen Xue, but maybe it shouldn’t have. Her people were already generations separated from the homeland of her people in Japan. For her generation, and so far from both China and Japan in distance and in time, the legends of their people and their goddess was a distant thing, her prohibitions and the dark stories easily dismissed when compared against their recent captivity. Most of them had spent life separated from community beyond immediate family, and even keeping that together was increasingly hard in the last fifty or so years as humanity’s density continued to grow… so many had spent lives on the road, moving from place to place as they wandered urban jungles. When she thought about it like that, it didn’t seem so surprising that nearly half of them would be willing to give up their fox form for the luxury of the mansion and the ability to defend themselves.
The two creepy, silent nogitsune with the half moon brands stepped forward with black cloth in their hands, and Shen Xue reflexively winced. “Is… is this really necessary?”
“Nonnegotiable, I’m afraid,” Syllana responded, and while her voice was understanding there wasn’t the slightest hint of yielding in it. “I am not accusing any of you of intending to betray our location to our enemies or the Betrayer Goddess, but I will not put my family at risk. No one who does not join us can be permitted to know the location of this place. Hinata kept it a secret when she brought you here, so we will do the same on the way out… you’ll be blindfolded and taken to the cars, then dropped far enough away from here that you won’t be able to find us again. Then we have nothing to fear from you and you have nothing to fear from us. Best that way.”
“But… I know some of them have friends, family here… we can still go to them, right?” Ayako asked, concerned. “I know, but… I just want to be sure…”
“Of course!” the dark-furred goddess reassured. “You are becoming members of our family, not prisoners. Once you have completed our ritual, and been trained in how to get through the wards and get back here, you can come and go as you please… you’ll be able to go see whomever you wish, whenever you wish. You simply cannot bring them back here, to us.” It sounded so reasonable, but for some reason Shen Xue still felt nervous when Syllana’s gaze flickered over her… no matter how gentle the gaze seemed, the black tails were threatening. She looked over the girls who had chosen not to stay. “Are you all certain? Once you leave, there’s no assurance we’ll ever cross paths again.”
Syllana waited a few more moments, but when no one spoke up she nodded to her enforcers again, and the twins stepped forward. Shen Xue did her absolute best not to flinch as one of the twins wrapped the cloth around her eyes before moving on to one of the others. She felt one of the other fox’s hands on her arm and shoulder, comforting her, pulling her into a final embrace. “Be safe,” she whispered to Shen Xue. “We’ll grow strong… we’ll learn how to protect us all from the monsters. Once the world is safe, we can all be together again… as one family.”
Someone put a fox’s tail in her hand. “Follow the fox in front of you,” one of the twins said. Her voice was flat, stunningly lifeless… it made Shen Xue shudder to hear it. It reminded her of how she had sounded in Mordred’s care. She had to admit that she was going to be glad not to see those two again… there was something terrifying about them. Like snakes wearing human skin. Then the tail in her hand started to pull her forward and she shuffled her feet and began to work so she wouldn’t pull on them, blind following the blind as the twins lead them out into the night.
Shen Xue couldn’t see where they were going, obviously, but still felt it as the distance grew. The sounds of the campus fell away as they walked, replaced with only the sounds of breathing and footsteps. She felt it when the ground grew rough, the roots of the forest bulging the earth beneath her feet, and she needed to trust the guidance of the nogitsune leading them to keep herself from tripping. The woods around the ground were large enough to have plenty of wild animals living in them and the sounds of a forest at night rose up as the group moved.
Being blindfolded, it was hard to keep a sense of time. She had walked through these woods on the way into the compound earlier, but she felt like she had been walking for significantly longer by now… her feet were sore and her core cramping from keeping her balance while blind. Surely they must have reached the round with the cars by now… it had to be nearby. It was to her relief when the ground started to grow flatter once again, and she felt it harden up beneath her feet. At first it felt like stone, but that wasn’t right, was it… it was concrete. They had made it. She breathed a sigh of relief as the twins’ hands landed on her, guiding her where to stand, moving her. Any second now they would put her into one of the cars, and take her from this place, an—
Before Shen Xue even had time to tense, someone’s hands were on her and pushing. The shove caught her completely off guard and she had no opportunity to resist as the sudden push from behind sent her staggering forward and she moved one foot to keep her balance and… and found nothing at all beneath it. The blind fox let out a cry of her own as she felt herself tip and fall forward, scrambling with her tails to try, hopelessly, to grab onto someone, anything, in the darkness. Instead, she felt only the brush of rough stone for an instant before empty air all around her, and the echoes of screams, and the rush of air past her ears an—
Shen Xue awoke to agony. Her leg… her leg…
The pain burned away the daze, even as it prevented her from thinking, from processing the strange betrayal as her hands flew down to her leg. She shouldn’t have been so rough – the fox screamed again at the slightest brush of her limb. The bone was through the skin, a broken femur. She was going to need to push it back in before it could heal, but the agony… just thinking about it seemed overwhelming. Why couldn’t she see? Was she blind? Had they cast her down into a pit so dark that there was no light, so far down that…
No, idiot girl. If she had fallen that far she wouldn’t have woken up at all. The blindfold! Shen Xue didn’t show any grace or subtlety as she tried to get the cloth off of her, but she couldn’t find the knot, and it was too tight to get to move much… it rolled rather than push. Glued on with blood, perhaps? Frantically, she practically tore at her face, willing to rip the cloth to shreds, anything to get it off her eyes and let her see again as her panic built.
Then, as the cloth came off, she began to regret it.
At first it was too dark to see anything but the jagged hole in the ceiling where part of the cavern had caved in, showing the slight glow of the moon and stars through the tiny window to the sky. She blinked rapidly, forcing her eyes to adapt, turning the suffocating blackness into inky shadows as she tried to figure out what it was she was seeing. She couldn’t tell how large the cavern was, but it seemed to be filled with something… something that moved and caught the light, something that cast shadows down on her and the oth—
Two foxes lay limp on the ground beside her where they had landed. Neither of them were moving. Shen Xue slowly pulled herself closer to them, even the tiny, slow movements agonizing until she was touching them. Thankfully, they were still breathing, although shallowly… she couldn’t see it, but her hand could feel the slow rise and fall of their chests. There was… something… on the ground beneath all of them, something covering the stone. It had kept the fall from killing them, barely, but these two were still out cold, and their bodies had dried blood all over them from injuries that had healed before they woke up.
Three… but hadn’t there been six of them?
Desperate, Shen Xue reached back and, to her relief, found her skin right where she had left it. She could transform. She could transform, heal, and get out of here… she hadn’t lost it. The only problem was that everything just… hurt… too… much. She couldn’t even focus. Just a minute. Just a minute and she would try to gather up the focus necessary… then she would get these hurt women out of here. Then she could escape and… no… the others… Her heart sank as she processed, for the first time, just how wrong everything here was… how much danger the other girls who were freed must be in. How they didn’t know what kind of monsters they were staying with. She had to warn them, to get them away from this place. In just a minute she would…
Sounds from the darkness.
Again, Shen Xue looked around, trying to get a look at what was surrounding them… what was making the rustling sounds as something pushed things aside to go through. Slowly, her version began to settle and she could make out shapes and… was that… cobwebs? The entire cave was filled with them, as far as she could see… thick, interlaced nets of webbing that looked like the lair of a mad spider if spiders came in the size of cars.
They didn’t… right?
Her eyes kept focusing on shapes in the webbing… bundles of gossamer silk that captured the light a little better. She strained her eyes to see, trying to figure out what that was…
Then she screamed.
The kitsune was barely recognizable as such. The woman didn’t have the shape of a woman anymore… her arms and legs were simply gone, and her tails had been gnawed away or begun to tangle and matte. The shape of her belly was all wrong, making it hard to even recognize the silhouette as a person – it looked obscenely pregnant, almost ovoid as if she had a few dozen kits growing inside her. Her limbless torso was suspended in webbing, partially wrapped in it save for where her swollen, purple breasts hung out from the silk. Shen Xue probably wouldn’t have figured out what she was looking at at all if the woman hadn’t suddenly opened her eyes and they had caught the light, reflecting it back to her.
She was alive. It wasn’t a body. That kitsune was alive like that! And as her eyes adjusted, her horror grew… there were… there were more of them…
“You’re awake, precious,” someone tittered.
Shen Xue, heart racing, would have jumped a mile high if her leg wasn’t broken. Instead she just painfully flopped a little as she turned and stared up… and up…
Shen Xue had spend her life in the United States, and she was fairly young for a fox. The world was a much older place, and she was very distant from the stories of the past, from the myths and legends of the kitsune like Inari and the nogitsune. As she had noted earlier, the myths of the past were often left behind.
But even though one hadn’t lived before her grandmother’s time, Shen Xue couldn’t possibly fail recognize one of the jorogumo when she saw one.
The massive spider body loomed over her like a monster, and a dark skinned woman leaned down over the broken kitsune’s body, peering at her. “Took a nasty fall, little foxy?” she murmured, chuckling as one of her legs, strong as a steam engine, poked at the fox’s broken leg. Shen Xue screamed, and the smiling jorogumo pushed harder. “Don’t worry too much about that. I’ll fix it for you… it won’t hurt anymore soon. Egg sacs don’t need legs.” She grabbed onto Shen Xue by her hair, leaving her crying and screaming as she dangled from her arm. The kitsune scratched at her dark skin but she might as well have been clawing at steel… despite looking like skin, it was nothing of the sort. Her tails battered at the woman in desperation.
The jorogumo tossed her, and Shen Xue wailed as she flew through the air until she hit a web and stuck fast. Almost instantly the spider was on top of her, adding web to her as she stuck there, binding her up. “Don’t cry now, precious,” the jorogumo purred as the kitsune’s body began to burn where the web touched it, poison sinking into her skin. “Syllana might need my farm to produce babies to feed her army, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy yourself… I won’t let you suffer or my name isn’t Reimi. I promise you… soon, you won’t even remember your old life anymore.” The jorogumo stuck the fox’s fur into the webbing, just inches away from her hands. “Honestly. Once you sink into the poison, you’ll start cumming, and cumming, and cumming… you won’t be able to imagine how horrible it must be to live any other way.”
She kissed Shen Xue on the lips softly… then she spat a wad of venomous silk right into the sobbing fox’s mouth. “You’ll scream all the time… but only on the inside. You’ll scream and you’ll scream and you’ll scream… but only when you sleep. The rest of the time, you’ll be too busy cumming.” The spider smiled at Shen Xue, and her teeth seemed blindingly white to the fox’s wide eyes. “Now… Mistress Syllana needs her harvest. Let’s get you started with some eggs, shall we?”
Negro River, Venezuela
Amazon River Basin, Amazon Rainforest
Estaban looked around nervously, trying to keep his eyes on the shoreline with only marginal luck. The thick mist made it hard, the put put put of the engine echoing in the fog coming off the river as his boat wound down the river. This felt very bad… this was a bad fog. The forest was restless today, and the captain wouldn’t listen.
His hands tightened on the rails, watching the tops of lapuna trees cut through the fog like the fins of sharks as they rose out of it. Estaban remembered when he had grown up in Colombia, when people had told stories of monsters and spirits and nightmares in the rainforests, and he had scoffed. The dangers of this land were the mosquitoes, he insisted… the wasps, the centipedes, the caimans, the ants and the spiders. He had insisted that El Tunche was nothing but a myth… that there was nothing in these trees that they needed to fear.
Now, a decade into riding this river, he knew different. He had seen things… and heard things. There were things out there… and they had encountered more than one empty ship floating aimlessly down the river in his time… and most of them were around days like this, when the mists covered the forest. Esteban wished dearly that the captain would turn around and abort this run, but he already knew he wouldn’t… even if he wanted to, the Americans and their cartel thugs wouldn’t let them.
Colombian cartels had a problem… they had billions of dollars worth of cocaine, and no way to sell it without getting it to markets in North America and Europe. Everyone knew it, too. Brazil didn’t approve of smugglers entering their country, so the Amazon, where it went into Colombia, was fairly strictly patrolled, and the cartels used corruption within Venezuela to get their product out. During the dry season, they needed to settle for flying out with short ranged planes, hoppers that could only take it as far as Panama or El Salvador before needing to continue smuggling overland… but during the rainy season, they had other options. The flooded season of the Amazon basin filled the rainforest with so much water that the rivers overflowed their banks and filled much of the amazon floor with pools. For much of the forest, it was a time of plenty. Up here, in the Branco Floodplain, it was more so… here, some 200 square kilometers were transformed from forest floor to shallow lake. 200 square kilometers of lake that connected waterways in Venezuela the Negro River, and then down to merge onto the Amazon River itself. 200 square kilometers of lake that were far too much ground to patrol.
And boats could move far more product.
Estaban watched as the captain skillfully piloted their craft around another tree rising out of the mist, avoiding the elevated bit of land around it. The mists silenced the rainforest around them, reducing their existence to a small bubble of engine noises floating through the ghostly white, moving between obstacles as they drifted nearly blind through the forest, making Esteban feel increasingly nervous, staring at each passing tree. Here in the Amazon Basin, among those who had grown up with them, the lapuna trees were called Sorcerer Trees… and especially during the flooded season they protected their territory. Any who approached one would be cursed… something that he would have laughed at once upon a time, but now feared might be true. More frightfully, though, they marked the domains of El Tunche… the evil spirit that haunted this jungle.
El Tunche… a myth, or so he had thought until two years ago. Until he had heard the alien whistling through the mists on a night much like this. Legends said that it was the spirit of the first woman who ever wandered into the Amazon and died there, and had been collecting the souls of other lost wanderers ever since… whistling at them in a dreadful pattern. It was said that those who heard the whistles felt an unbearable urge to echo them. It was said that any who did were guaranteed a gruesome death. The only sound he was hearing now was the nearly silent ripple of the water and the purring of their engine, but more than half of him expected to hear a whistle at any moment. Estaban was ready to jump over the side and swim if that happened, to take his chances with the Sorcerer Trees… every muscle quivering with tension…
So when one of the Americans splashed at the water with a paddle he nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Careful to stay out the water,” the other American, a blonde woman, warned her fellow. “Wouldn’t want you to get eaten by piranhas.”
“Piranhas don’t attack humans unless they’re starving,” he said. “During the dry season.”
“I don’t think that’s right…” the blonde said doubtfully. “Why is it in all the movies then?”
“I don’t know, Hollywood is dumb?” he said, pulling the paddle out of the water. “Here, let me show you.” He leaned over the side, stretching his hand towards the water.
The other woman yanked him back. “Don’t do that, you idiot!” she said. “You’ll get eaten!”
“I already told you,” he said, pulling his hand free of her grip. “They don’t do that.”
“Well, don’t do it anyway!” she protested. “You need that hand.”
The man rolled his eyes. “Miguel!” he called. “Come over here. Stick your hand in the water.”
Estaban turned away in disgust and annoyance as one of the Colombian thugs walked over to the edge, sticking his hand in the water and waving it around. He heard the splashing as the man swished his hand around. “You see Sarah? No biting, no big deal… Sarah?” A pause. “Sarah?” He turned back to find the American man looking around, and the blonde woman nowhere to be seen. “Sarah, it’s fine!” he protested. “Look, no one got bit, I’m sorry alright?” Another pause. “Mendoza, have you seen Sarah?”
No one answered… but an alien sounding whistle.
If Estaban hadn’t been looking he wouldn’t have seen it at all. One moment, the two of them were there, on the deck of the ship. In the next the mist stirred, and for just a moment he thought he saw something dark in it, like another looming tree. Then the mist swirled and faster than a flash Miguel was gone, and the American man was standing alone.
The boat wasn’t very big, but he ran for the back of it, past the cabin leading down to underdecks where they had stored the drugs and past another empty chair where one of the thugs should have been sitting and wasn’t. “Captain!” he shouted as he ran for the wheelhouse at the back. “It’s El Tunche! You have to turn around! You have to… have to…”
The wheel spun lazily, the deck beside it vacant save for a single splash of red.
No one was steering the ship.
Another brief whistle, and a moment later he felt the ship bump against something. “What was that?” the American said. “Do you idiots have any idea what you’re do—” His voice cut off suddenly, and Estaban had seen enough. Leeches, caimen, eels, and piranha be damned, he was taking his chances with the water. He put one foot up on the gunwhale, preparing to launch himself into water and away as quickly as his hand brushed something sticking to the side of the ship, and he couldn’t seem to pull his hand away. Peering down, he could just barely see something in the water. He tilted his head, peering down into the flooded water… at first, he had thought it was reflections of the mist but that wasn’t it at all. The white wasn’t reflected in the water… the white patterns were beneath the water.
He stared through the fog, horrified. Enormous spiders crawled on webs that had settled all around them, huge spiders half the size of a car hanging onto webs like cables. He was complete surrounded by spiders, hundreds of glittering dark eyes staring at him through the fog, and he could have sworn he could see his reflection in all of them. He heard voices behind him, and he turned, horrified, to see a dozen naked women rummaging through the ship… picking up weapons, checking phones, ripping up cushions. It was almost surreal, too strange to be possible.
“Well, well, well,” a pleased voice purred from below and behind him. “What do we have here, daughters? A lonely lost lamb wandering the jungle?” Estaban whirled, looking down into the ship’s well and saw the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Her dark hair glistened like a sheet of silk over her ebony skin, and she moved with a languid, alien grace that was halfway between beautiful and disturbing. She moved between the tightly packed bags of cocaine, running one perfect finger across a cut in the bag before licking it off her finger. “A lost lamb that brings poison of his own,” she said, shivering in delight as her face watched him, her tongue wrapping sensually around her finger. “How striking.”
She began to stride forwards him, and as she did she… changed. Estaban’s eyes were wide as sometime between the first step and the top of the well she had become something entirely inhuman, something more spider than woman but still eerily beautiful. He wanted to run but it felt like he was paralyzed as he looked into her eyes, too terrified to move… he pissed himself, urine running down his leg as she looked at him and chuckled. Numbness radiated from where his hand touched the webbing on the side of the ship. “Oh you poor thing, she said as she wrapped her arms around the all-but-petrified man, her lips brushing over his lips. “Let me take care of you,” she whispered against his neck, her fangs grazing him. “You’ll know nothing but pleasure for the rest of your days, lost little lamb… I promise you. You won’t even notice when my daughters make a meal of you.”
Her fangs punctured his neck, and euphoria flowed into his veins… sending him shaking and shuddering with pleasure as he collapsed into her arms. “Making new true jorogumo takes so many sacrifices,” she purred with a chuckle, “but I assure you your end won’t be in vain. The love of Nyami is eternal, even if your life won’t be… a piece of you will live on in the daughter you make for me, little lamb.” Nyami kissed him as she lifted him off the boat entirely and up into the webs suspended in the mist and to Esteban if felt like ascending into heaven, leaving behind the empty boat below to drift and be found by some other crew later, the subject of new horror stories. Despite the pleasure, he let out a single tear, knowing he would never be leaving this forest.
Nyami licked it away. “Don’t cry, little lamb,” she whispered. “I know. I never would have thought I would want more equals. It’s dangerous, I know… but building a nation for my people, a place we can rule… where we can be safe… takes risk.” She smiled at him as the web began to wrap around his limp body, his cock jutting out hard from his pants. “It will be alright, little lamb. I will make them see. After all… cooperation is preferable to oblivion…”