Arachnia dozed in the corner of her web, which stretched across the trunks of three old-growth trees. In the shadows of the forest floor, the sticky strands were nearly invisible.
In this form, her spider form, she was about the size of a large dog. She sat with her legs tucked cozily up under her, except for two of her feet, which rested on the signal strands. These were thicker threads, not sticky at all, stretched tight from tree to tree.
The signal threads passed vibrations to her sensitive feet, so that she always knew when and how the wind was blowing, and who or what had come upon her web.
There was a sharp tug at one of the signal threads, and Arachnia was instantly awake.
A quiet pause. Then, intense and constant vibrations. The struggle of something humanoid, average sized, on the other side of her web.
Arachia crept out of her shadow, her feet keeping to the strong structural threads of the web. Like the signal threads, these were also not sticky. They were so strong, in fact, that she almost never had to re-hang them. Not even the time that an actual dragon had gotten itself caught in her web.
As she neared the trapped creature, another type of information flowed to her through the web. Energy. She was a spirit. And though she had a spider form, she did not feed as a spider did. Just like the demon spirits that the humans called succubi, she fed on life essence.
This life essence was terrified. Utterly and completely. Arachnia paused. Only the energy of pleasure could feed her. And she was a master at turning fear into pleasure, but this case was beyond even her.
She approached just far enough to get a better look, ensuring that she was still hidden.
The human’s legs and arms were entirely tangled up in the trapping threads of her web. The more he struggled to free himself, the more of the loose, sticky threads latched onto him. An individual thread could be broken easily, but the tangle of so many threads was inescapable.
He was not even trying to escape, though. He was caught entirely in the throes of a panic attack. By the looks of his clothes and his pack, he was an adventurer, but the world was a dangerous place indeed for an adventurer that had such a strong fear.
Arachnia’s heart sunk with pity for him. She crept down her web to the shadows of the forest floor, and as she dropped to the ground she landed on two human feet. Her human form was petite, with small breasts and a curvaceous ass that subtly called back to the slender thorax and plump abdomen of her spider form. She had curly brown hair, skin the color of leaf litter, and big, round eyes. Just two of them, of course. For now, anyway.
She made her way over to the panicking human. She figured that it would be the best if the first thing he heard from her was her voice. “Oh my goodness!” she said.
His eyes found her immediately. They were hazel, like the dappled green and brown of the forest canopy. “W-who’s there!”
Arachnia stepped out of the shadows and into full view. “I’m here to get you out of this web!”
Relief washed over his face. He trembled as she came up to him and started pulling the threads away. In her spider form, she would have simply cut them with her feet. In this form, she dissolved them with her magic, but she expected he was too overwhelmed to notice.
“T-thank you,” he said, “I was sure I was a goner!” As she made clear progress on the threads and as he relaxed, he seemed to notice a few things. Chief among them was that she was naked. “Your clothes!” he said.
She looked down at herself. Of course she was naked, she couldn’t just magic clothes out of nowhere. But she’d forgotten how odd humans were about it. She didn’t know what to say except to repeat, “My clothes!”
“Did you have to get out of them to escape?”
Arachnia took a moment to unpack that question. He thought she’d also been trapped in the spider’s web? And she’d wiggled out of her clothes to escape? It was a cute idea, but never would have worked. But it was a good way to smooth over the fact that she’d appeared naked from out of nowhere.
“Yes! Exactly.” She melted away the last few strands of silk at his ankles.
“Okay,” he said, “We can fix that later. Let’s get out of here!”
And then he grabbed her hand and pulled her away at a haphazard jog.
Arachnia surprised herself by following him. Spider spirits did not like to leave their webs unless absolutely necessary.
But something had happened, when he had taken her hand in his, when her palm had touched his palm. She had tasted his energy. And it was delicious.
At a sunny clearing of a gurgling stream, the adventurer finally slowed. He kneeled next to the clear water and drank deeply. He seemed to now be in much better spirits.
As he turned and smiled at her, the love of life in his hazel eyes, warmth flowed over her. He was, simply put, the prettiest boy she’d ever seen. His eyes were framed with long eyelashes, his hair pulled up in a messy bun, his cheeks with a short beard of a week or so since his last shave.
He shrugged out of his shirt, which was still covered in sticky silk, and dipped it into the stream.
He was of medium build, lean but with visible muscles, and something about the curve of his back sent a shiver down her spine.
“Thank you, again,” he said. “I promise I’m not usually so useless. It’s just…” He blushed, putting a hand to the back of his neck. “Spiders really get to me, I guess.”
“I could see that,” Arachnia said.
He winced. “Seeing as you saved my life and all, we should probably introduce ourselves, right? I’m Valdil Duststriker, but everybody calls me Val.”
“I called Arach—” She caught herself, realizing that he name was a dead giveaway. “Ara. Ak. But, uh, everybody calls me Ara.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Ara. Now, where did you come from? Where are you going? I daresay helping you find some fresh clothes and get you home is now my priority quest.”
Ara was generally a very prepared person — all spiders valued preparation — but she was completely out of anything she’d ever even dreamed of anticipating before. Of course he’d want to know where she came from!
Ara racked her brain. Kitsunes were good at this sort of thing. She’d met a traveling kitsune a few years back, and they’d exchanged some stories. Her advice had been, ‘Say vague truths. They’ll make thier own assumptions. And you’ll have never lied.’
“I-I’ve run away from my home,” Ara said.
“Oh! Had something terrible happened?”
“You could say that.”
“So… do you want to go back to your home?”
“No, not right now. And I… don’t really want to talk about it.”
Val nodded. “I understand. I actually ran away from home too, that’s how I got into this adventuring business in the first place. If you don’t want to go home, where do you want to go?”
“Can you tell me more about this adventuring business?”
“I can, but I’m… not sure you’re cut out for it.”
Ara blinked, unsure of what he meant. Then snorted and laughed. He had no way of knowing that she could utterly overpower him in an instant, but she needed to keep it that way. She got a hold of herself and just smiled. “Try me.”
Two days later
The crunch of leaves, a movement in shadow.
Val drew his machete and threw his arm back as if to protect Ara. “Look out!”
But she was already in the trees. Val had seen two of the bandits in the ambush, but the third, which was perched on the branch above Val, was far more deadly.
Ara got her hands around his neck and pulled him back, and the assassin’s crossbow bolt flew wide. He grunted and spun to try and grab her, but she nimbly swung around him and stayed behind him, her hands on his neck the whole while.
Before he could get his bearing on the narrow tree branch and do anything else, she pulled her mouth up to his neck. Her canines became long, sharp fangs and she sunk them into his neck.
She shuddered with a pleasurable feeling as a pulse of her venom flowed out of her and into his skin.
He struggled for only a moment longer before his muscles started to go slack. Her venom would not kill him, it would merely sedate him heavily for a few hours. She grabbed the top of his shirt as he fell off the branch to ensure that he fell harmlessly onto his legs. She dropped down after him.
Val had subdued the other two bandits, though they had not been lucky enough to keep their lives.
He turned to her, looking worried. “Ara!” And then he saw the man at her feet. “Ara?”
“I think he’s unconscious,” she said.
“What happened?” he said.
“I got up into the tree next to him. He hadn’t been paying any attention to me, he had a crossbow bolt leveled at you.” She paused a moment, trying her best to channel a kitsune’s foxy cleverness. “Do you think he passed out of fright?”
“It’s certainly possible,” Val said.
“Looks like we found some clothes for me.”
“Oh! You take mine.” Val stripped his shirt off. “You shouldn’t have to wear something as course as what they have.”
Ara’s stomach quivered with delight. She loved to see him shirtless, and it was even better when he tossed his shirt to her. She bunched it up at her face, breathing in the scent of him.
He hesitated. “Is it… it’s not already too smelly, is it?”
“No, it’s perfect!” Her mouth was watering.
Val blushed and stammered and turned back to looting the bandits.
Three days later
Ara was now farther than she had ever been from her home and she was loving it. Val’s latest quest was to find a sacred temple in the wilderness and bring back sketches and rubbings of the sacred text within. Nobody knew exactly where the temple was, so they were exploring and charting the dense forest as they went.
As it turned out, Val’s fear of spider was not dependent on their size. One evening as he’d been grabbing another log for the fire, a tiny wolf spider had scurried away.
This had given Val such a fright that he’d stumbled backwards, tripped over a log, and if not for Ara’s supernaturally quick reflexes, he would have fallen totally into the fire.
Ara had been quite right that this fear could be the end of an adventurer. For Val’s safety and for her own satiety, she needed to make some progress with him.
At dawn, she tugged him awake. “Come here,” she whispered, “I want to show you something.”
She could feel his excited heartbeat in his hand, sense the quivering of his energy. She pulled him just a little ways from the camp.
Sparkling in the sun’s earliest beams, stretched between two branches, was a gorgeous orb spider’s web.
Ara put her arm around his waist and kept his hand in hers, running her thumb over his fingers soothingly.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” she whispered.
“I…” he glanced down at her, uneasy but not wanting to disappoint.
“Look a little closer. See those main strands, the spokes? They’re not sticky at all. It starts with just three. She finds a spot at the top of the branch and creates a single strand and drops down.
“Then, she lets the wind nudge her over to the side and she makes the second anchor. Then she climbs back up that strand, finds the center of it, attaches a new strand to that, and carries that over to the other side. That makes three spokes.
“From there, she makes the rest of the spokes. And then, when they’re all nice and tidy and secure, she starts in the center. She makes a stickier thread and works a spiral out from the middle, spoke by spoke, all perfectly spaced, until the whole web is made.”
Val relaxed a bit at the sound of her voice. But he grinned wryly. “It’s beautiful, I suppose, but it’s for trapping and eating things.” He shuddered.
“Yes… but only unsavory things. Are you afraid of mosquitos?”
He scoffed, a bit proud. “No, of course not.”
“Well, you should be. A mosquito is much more likely to kill you than a spider.”
“Yes! Mosquitos carry all sorts of terrible diseases. And spiders eat them, help keep them in control. They also eat biting flies, pest moths. And so on.”
Val considered this silently.
She squeezed him with her arm around his waist. “It’s very natural to feel an aversion to creepy crawlies. Like I said, they sting, bite, carry diseases—”
“You’re not making me feel better,” Val said apologetically.
“But,” Ara continued, “If your fear is more dangerous to you than the creepy crawlies…”
“I know I should just get over it…” Val averted his eyes.
“That’s not what I’m saying at all.” Ara squeezed his hand. “You don’t need grit, you need help. Call it… healing. Therapy.”
Val considered that. “What exactly would that entail?”
“Well, very gently, just getting a little bit more comfortable with spiders over time. Just a tiny bit here and here. Push your comfort zone a little every day. Start with a big distance. And let it get a little smaller over time.”
“Okay. I… that makes sense.”
“Oh! Here’s a good chance. Squeeze my hand as hard as you need to. She’s coming out to be proud of her handiwork.”
Val gripped Ara’s hand very tightly. The orb spider came up from a lower corner of the web, moving smoothly over it. Her legs were as slender and elegant as the strands of her web. Her abdomen was a brilliant emerald green, and as she reached the center of the web, she sat like a jewel in a crown of her own making.
Val’s heart beat quickly but he didn’t turn away. Slowly, his grip on Ara’s hand loosened.
She kissed the back of his neck. “Good boy.”
Continued in Part II