Arachne didn’t seem to be one for conversation. She worked away, walking around the studio to do various jobs and essentially ignoring Annalise.
The faint crackle of the fireplace was intoxicating and Anna knew she was lulling into a sleep long before she actually did. She resisted as long as she could. She didn’t think the spider was the one responsible for the drowsiness, but rather the stress and the fact another rest day was coming soon. The timing was a little off in her opinion, but she couldn’t figure out why at the moment with her heavy skull and eyelids. She was too tired.
The soft footsteps in the dirt as the spider lady steadily walked around her home didn’t help matters.
Then the sound changed from the crackling fire to birds. The scent of earth and damp and spice shifted to fresh dust after rain and flowers she couldn’t identify.
The pain came next. It hit all at once.
Annalise cried out as she jerked away from what she thought in a moment of stupid panic was molten lava splashed at her face. She hit her head back hard on the rough bark of a large tree-the outside, not the smoothed hollow inside of Arachne’s tree-and a scream ripped from her charred vocal chords.
She writhed in the dirt for a moment as she slid down with her back, the tree bark peeling off layers of flesh. The wet dirt also worsened the seeping wounds she did not miss!
She screamed in frustration and pain.
“I thought I was done with this!” she shouted with a broken voice. She knew that Reaper was listening. She knew! “This isn’t fair! I know now! What’s even the point of this!”
She could barely speak and in a fit of chill air passing by she curled up into a whimper, trying her best to ignore the pain. The shock made her realize how numb or how immune to pain she was as a skeleton. Some senses were sharper, like her sense of smell and hearing and even the pressure in the atmosphere, but she didn’t have flesh to burn or blood to boil. All the pain she might have as a skeleton was in the joints or the hard matter of bone itself. But here? HERE?!
She moaned again. She was going to pass out. She needed to, but she couldn’t…
“What else do I need to see?” she cried, trying her hardest not too. Her tears hurt so much. Somehow she tasted salt and blood as they flowed down the burned and blistered gashes in her face. She tasted something else and a morbid thought came to the conclusion it was probably her eyes.
“Shhh. Give me your hands, Light.”
Anna didn’t bother questioning where Chakis came from as the Reaper knelt into the moss before her. She hadn’t seen the imposing being change posture from her rigid stance before. Why was she even thinking about that right now?
Shakily she tried to grasp the grey lady’s outstretched hands, recoiling from the breeze and mildly shocked when it seemed to also recoil.
My apologies. A voice whispered from the rustling leaves. She had heard that voice, or voices, before.
The Wind pulled back a little further, leaving a cushion of still air around her while the grass a yard away fluttered.
She flinched expectantly when the raw nerves of her palms were touched by the Grim Reaper. The tension flowed out of her hands as the soothing chill of Chakis’ hands took her by surprise.
The blessed numbness spread up her arms and tingled through her skin. Anna froze as the Reaper kissed her on the forehead and the soothing spread from there as well.
The pain was still excruciating and left her breathless, but it was tolerable now.
“Thank you,” Anna said wetly, though she wasn’t sure if that was because of tears or blood.
Why does it hurt so much more than the last time?
“Death is relief,” Chakis said gently. “Take your time, Light.”
Anna was allowed to pretend to catch her breath for a moment. “Why am I here?” she eventually demanded.
She could have sworn Chakis looked amused.
“Questioning the wonders and mysteries of your nature?”
“If this is my nature, then yes,” Anna retorted. “What does that even mean? Aren’t I done? I saw what Jack did. That was the lesson.”
That familiar anger that flared every time she had to think about Jack and what he did came up again.
“Were you here to learn a lesson?”
“I…” Anna stammered. “Wasn’t I?! Wasn’t I here to learn what Jack did to me?”
Anna growled in frustration, but the Reaper wasn’t phased as she stood up, looming over Annalise like a temple pillar.
She stared down expectantly. “You’ve assumed I’ve brought your consciousness into the past for your benefit of learning the truth. But the truth is not always so simple.”
There was an inkling of Anna that didn’t want to move out of defiance. It was some childish idea of “revenge” against the Reaper who talked in circles, but she’d take what she could get. “What now…”
Chakis offered a thin hand to the spirit. “For now? You observe. You listen. You avoid damaging time as much as your mortal mind and soul will allow.”
“What the heck is that supposed to mean?”
“It means me and my kind are not bound by linear cause and effect of the mortal perception of time and existence. You must grasp this quickly.”
“You don’t have a choice, Light.”
Anna blinked, confused by the ominous words but kind tone. “What is that supposed to-” She cut off, looking at the space before her and to the sides in further confusion.
Chakis was gone.
“Okay. Be that way, I guess,” Anna said. She flinched as the cool air touched her flesh again.
I can’t comprehend her cause for bringing you back, but hello.
Anna really had to strain to hear the Wind, but hearing any words at all surprised her.
“I can hear you more clearly now, Sir Wind.” If being in the strange mix of antiquated manners of The Hallow taught her anything, it was smarter to be polite at first.
Sir? There was a laugh. Ah well. It’s possible something happened between us in your time that heightened your senses. Or the Reaper’s presence affected them.
“I can’t really think of anything.”
Perhaps it is best you don’t. I am of earth and this world and as such bound by the passage of time, unlike your Reaper. Any memory you recall from the future would mean nothing to me.
The Wind chuckled.
Anna frowned, disturbed she didn’t have anything specific to look at. She settled for taking in her surroundings.
Greenery. Thick moss. Wet air and a mist that hung inches over the forest floor. It was daytime; she was sure. It was very quiet.
“Where did she go?”
I wouldn’t know. You’re not the first soul I’ve seen dragged by the whims of an Angel of Death. But I do know that they always come to fetch you, eventually. The reasons always vary, so I’m afraid I can’t assist you much.
“Thank you for the offer anyway,” Annalise said, still politely. She gingerly touched her arm and flinched at the sensation. Even slightly numbed, everything still stung horribly. It was a more minor complaint, but there was the fact she was practically naked too. She needed to find a covering of some sort if she could stand it touching her flesh. “Can you at least tell me what year it is?”
There was silence and she worried the Wind had left.
Year? Do you wish for the Roman calendar, perhaps? It’s around the twelve-hundreds, I believe. A millennia and two centuries since the founding of Rome.
Well, that was…useless. Anna knew that all that “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini” stuff was figured out way after the Romans fell. But she couldn’t for the life, or death, of her remember when Rome was supposedly founded with reference to the modern calendar. She had to be at least before the Middle Ages, right? This was frustrating. History used to be her best subject.
“Thanks…You recognize me?”
I’m as neutral a party as—what did you call her—Chakis? Neutral. But I pay attention. The Lantern Bearer has made many enemies.
Anna paused in her surveying. “The Lantern Be-“
His name in life was Jack.
“Yes, I know,” Anna said, a little more snappy than she meant. “Sorry. I-I know. I just never heard that…title.”
Anna tried not to overthink that response. “Do you know what I’m…uh…supposed to be doing?”
Not a clue. Fair fortune be with you.
Anna got the sense she wasn’t going to get much else in the way of answers.
“Thanks. It’s nice to properly speak to you.”
Anna frowned a little at the name as she studied the small clearing Chakis had left her in. The blood and puss that slicked and crusted her sparse skin made even the simple, thoughtful shifting on her feet agonizing. Part of her hated her apparent ability to deal with it, even through the gritted teeth. She was going to break her jaw if she had to keep this up.
Arachne glanced over to where the skeleton had drifted off into a fitful sleep and startled at the empty space on the loom stool. She frowned and set down the shuttle she was using to finish off a length. There was only one obvious exit, and she didn’t think the girl was stupid and rude enough to go wandering in the spider’s home. And yet she surely didn’t leave.
Still wearing a dangerous frown, the weaver straightened her chiton and headed to the spiral staircase and upstairs. She had a few choice words for Jack about his “granddaughter” already, if the rumour and the girl’s confirming reaction was to be believed.