Read Infamous Reign Online

Authors: Steve McHugh

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Dark Fantasy, #Occult, #Two Hours or More (65-100 Pages), #Science Fiction & Fantasy

Infamous Reign (5 page)

BOOK: Infamous Reign
12.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

"Very good," she said, and I heard scurrying across the branches from where James had fallen. "We are
jorōgumo
."

"Your mother really was Japanese then. You all are."

"We can change our faces enough to look English. And we have no problems making ourselves look beautiful as needed."

There was a crack above me, and, as I jumped back several feet, something made a thud on the ground almost exactly where I'd been standing. Even in the darkness I could see the monstrosity before me.

Jorōgumo
are half spider, half human, although they're born looking like the latter and only start to evolve into the monster they become once they've taken their first victim. The more they devour, the faster and more complete the transformation. They can shift between a fully human appearance and their spider-human hybrid at will, although only doing so when hunting. Unfortunately, the only way of telling if the beautiful woman in front of you is a
Jorōgumo
is when she shifts her appearance, and by then it’s far too late.

"Do I not look beautiful?" she demanded as she crept onto the path and stepped into better view. Her legs still numbered two, although they were now bare and dark in color. She also had two arms and two eyes, but out of each side of her jaw a mandible protruded, each with a razor sharp tip. They'd torn through the skin on her face as they'd exposed themselves.

"You're not fully grown," I said.

"No, I have a few feeds to go before that can happen. And as you ruined my fun with James, you get to take his place."

"I met some of your kind before," I said as I took a few tentative steps backward, putting distance between me and the speed and ferocity that I knew existed inside all
jorōgumo
. "They liked to kill people from a nearby village, or travelers who wandered too far into the woods. They don't do that anymore. They're now corpses on a hill." While my words were true, I left out that it hadn't been a good kill. I'd been seriously injured by one of the
jorōgumo
and had been forced to wait for several days while their extremely potent venom, a substance that seemingly bypassed my body's ability to heal and rendered my magic ineffective, worked its way out of my system.

I really began to wish I'd taken my
guan doa
with me when I'd left to travel to London. The six foot long halberd like weapon, with curved blade, would have been a much better weapon against a
jorōgumo
than my dagger would be.

"You won't find me easy to defeat," she said and clicked her mandibles together, the sound sending a shiver up my spine.

She took two steps and then launched herself in my direction. I managed to throw myself to the side, rolling over several plants as I retrieved and threw another of my silver daggers. The blade buried itself in the back of her shoulder and she screamed.

The
jorōgumo
turned on me and reached over her shoulder to remove the dagger, but couldn't quite manage it, so gave up in anger. "I'm going to enjoy this," she said and took another step forward, before pausing to stare as white glyphs lit up over my arms.

"I guess you noticed the glyphs," I said with a slight smile. The glyphs had shone through the ripped sleeves of my dark shirt the second I'd started sending out tendrils of air all along the ground toward the
jorōgumo
.

"I've never taken a sorcerer before. This will be fun."

"Not for you, it won't be." I snapped the tendrils up from the ground, hardening the air as it moved, the tendrils wrapping themselves around the legs and torso of the
jorōgumo
. Finding herself suddenly trapped, she thrashed and cursed me as the hardened air squeezed tighter and tighter, until she was finally forced to cease moving altogether.

"You can't keep me forever. And you can't possibly think that I will answer your questions. "

"I can keep you here long enough to get some answers from you."

"Release my daughter," said a voice from behind me.

I glanced over my shoulder to find the mother standing behind me.

"I don't really want to fight two
jorōgumo
," I said and turned back to the daughter, who had begun to smile and click her mandibles together.

The sound of tearing and an occasional groans of pain from the direction of the mother told me that she was changing from her human shape.

"You can release her and die quickly as a man, or you will become our next family meal, and your death will be slow and agonizing." The mother’s voice was deeper than before and punctuated with the same clicking noise that the daughter had been doing with her mandibles.

I kept my prisoner in place as I turned back to the mother. She was no longer the beautiful woman from the tavern; she was a fully grown
jorōgumo
. From waist to neck, she still looked like a woman. She'd torn away her clothes and her naked skin glistened as the moonlight caught it. But her face was a ruined mess. Like her daughter, she had two large mandibles that had ripped through the skin along her jaw line, but she also had two fangs that protruded from the top of her mouth, which had all but destroyed her top lip. For a second I could have sworn that I'd seen something drip from one of them onto her bare chest.
Jorōgumo
venom was one of the most potent I'd ever encountered; nothing on earth would have tempted me to willingly be near those fangs ever again.

The mother’s legs, now dark and covered in hair, hung a foot above the ground dangling from a huge, black, spider's abdomen with six more legs, all of which ended with a small claw. Part human, part spider and a truly formidable killing machine.

"There's a third option," I said and released the wind magic holding the younger
jorōgumo
in place. She fell to her feet with a smile of victory on her face that lasted only seconds until a blade of air that protruded from my closed fist caught her in the throat. I twisted the blade and stepped aside as I tore it free, almost decapitating her.

Blood exploded from the massive wound and a blast of air threw her into her mother, whose screams filled the forest more completely than her daughter’s earlier attempt had managed.

The mother swatted the corpse aside with one of her huge legs, sending it into a nearby tree, as she charged at me. I stood my ground until the last second, then threw myself aside and rolled to my feet.

Orange glyphs flared to life on my arm as I ignited a whip of fire from each hand and brought one down on the
jorōgumo’s
leg, severing the limb. The smell of burnt flesh permeated the area, as she cried out. The second whip lashed out at the monster, but she darted away from me and quickly scurried up a nearby tree.

My two whips of flame touched the ground, scorching the soft earth, but not starting a fire. I would have usually snuffed their flame and conserved my magic, but I had no idea how long I had before the
jorōgumo
re-emerged and attacked anew.

"This leg will take time to grow back," she cursed from her hidden vantage point.

I remained quiet and tried to pinpoint where she was.

"You murdered my daughter. My eldest child. You'll pay for that."

I wanted to use my air magic to search her out, but that would have required pulling back my fire, which would, in turn, have put me at a considerable disadvantage, and I couldn't risk it. One bite from her fangs and I was as good as dead.

"I'm going to suck your marrow," she taunted, probably trying to get some sort of reaction from me.

"So are you angrier that you lost a leg or that you allowed your daughter to die? Great parenting skills you have there," I said, hoping to make her obvious anger boil over into action.

"You want to see parenting? Allow me to show you."

There was a scurrying sound from above me that suddenly stopped as the tree tops began to rustle and sway.

"It's time to get your fill," the
jorōgumo
said.

For a brief second I wondered what she was talking about. It wasn't until I saw the first spider began to lower itself from the branches above that I realized her last few words hasn’t been directed to me at all. I removed the whips of fire; they weren’t going to be any real help now.

The
jorōgumo
dropped below the dense leaves and began to make her way down the tree trunk. "I may only have a few human-looking children, but I’ve also given birth to thousands of my beautiful little darlings. They’re only babies, but I wonder if any of them have the power to kill you. I guess we'll see."

One of the spiders, roughly the size of my hand, was a little too enthusiastic and leapt toward me. A quick swipe up with a hastily formed blade of fire severed it in two, each half making a sickening noise as it struck the ground.

"You can't kill them all," The
jorōgumo
said, sounding far too cheerful about my situation.

I sprinted across to a large tree that appeared to be devoid of the little bastards, narrowly dodging several more large spiders that decided I was going to be their next meal. I needed some space, somewhere I could stand and prepare for the onslaught. When I reached the tree, there was twenty feet between me and the spiders, as dozens of them continued their descent until the sound of them dropping onto the earth was all I could hear.

"Goodbye, sorcerer," the
jorōgumo
said. "I'll be sure that your friend dies much more quickly than you will."

I'd picked this tree for my final stand, simply because of the lack of plants directly in front of it or around it. About ten feet of bare earth surrounded the trunk. I glanced up, but saw no spiders moving toward me. I didn't feel very lucky about the ones crawling along the ground in my direction, but having them in front of me was a hell of a lot better than having them come from all sides.

As I waited for the inevitable attack, I removed another dagger from my belt and took a deep breath.

"You're going to fight all of my babies with that little thing?" the
jorōgumo
asked and began laughing.

I ignored her taunts and watched the ground directly before me, controlling my breathing until I was ready. The first spider appeared moments later, closely followed by the next dozen and the dozen after that. I breathed out, and then I drew the blade across my palm.

The cut was deep and blood poured freely from the wound. I brought both hands together, the dark blood magic glyphs joining those of my fire magic, and I unleashed an inferno. A wave of fire, hot enough to destroy everything in its path, swept out thirty feet in front of me, igniting everything it touched. Nothing withstood its onslaught, and when I was certain that all of the spiders before me were nothing but ash, I raised my hands and the wave shot up into the treetops, incinerating anything living or dead. It consumed any remaining spiders, along with the trees and leaves they lived within. The
jorōgumo’s
screams were audible for a moment and then went silent.

I stopped the magic minutes later, completely extinguishing the fire. The nearby trees had turned to black husks, no longer capable of sustaining life. The very ground beneath my feet was a smoldering ruin, scarred beyond recognition. And yet, all of the trees and plant life beyond the thirty foot mark remained untouched.

In the center of the smoking circle of destruction was a cocoon of web, tainted black with the fire that had destroyed the
jorōgumo's
offspring. It was far too small to contain the monster in her transformed guise, but any fears I had were soon confirmed with when a red, blistered hand ripped through the web, freeing the human seeming
jorōgumo
inside.

She was burned down one side of her face, the skin bright red and raw, and blisters rippled along the exposed flesh of her neck and chest. Blood oozed from dozens of cuts, presumably from where she'd fallen through the trees before hitting the burning ground. She coughed up blood and dropped to one knee.

I readied myself to kill her, thinking she was mortally wounded and had little time left. But she saw me advance and sprang back into the still-living trees of the nearby forest, disappearing from view.

I should have gone after her, ended the problem once and for all. But Thomas was still at the tavern, and I was suddenly very concerned that he'd had an even worse time of it than me.

Chapter
8

I'd expected to find Thomas in the middle of a huge fight for his life, fending off at least the other daughter, who must also be a
jorōgumo
. Instead I entered the tavern and found him leaning up against the counter, a mug of ale in one hand and what appeared to be a chicken leg in the other.

Blood had been splattered all around the room, and many of the soldiers that Thomas had subdued earlier in the night appeared to have died in the time I'd been fighting in the woods.

"What happened?" I asked, eyeing the man tied to a chair with thick rope, a potato sack over his head, his clothing giving away that it was the tavern-owner.

"The soldiers woke up just as that lovely girl became a spider-monster."

"
Jorōgumo
," I said.

"That's the thing. Fortunately, she came down with a nasty case of decapitation before she could bite me. Several of the soldiers decided to attack me too. A few survivors ran away. I guess we could hunt them down."

"I don't think that'll be necessary," I said and noticed the bare feet of the waitress sticking out from behind the counter. I moved aside slightly and discovered her head was several feet away. "I was hoping to get some answers."

"Ah, well I left this one alive," Thomas said and pulled the sack off the head of the tavern-owner, where he was tied to the chair.

His face was similar to the female
jorōgumo
I'd faced earlier. The mandibles clicked against one another angrily. "Release me, at once," he said, his voice coarse and deep.

"You're not as strong as your wife, are you? She would have broken free by now. Which leaves the question of why don’t you change back to human?"

His eyes darted to the door. "Is she alive? Please tell me you killed her. I’m not changing back if there’s a chance she’s still out there. I’m stronger like this."

BOOK: Infamous Reign
12.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Shadow of the Vampire by Meagan Hatfield
Belle Moral: A Natural History by Ann-Marie Macdonald
Only for Us by Cristin Harber
The Death Agreement by Kristopher Mallory
UnBound by Neal Shusterman
The Fourth Deadly Sin by Sanders, Lawrence
Bad Nerd Falling by Grady, D.R.