She couldn't understand it. None of it made any sense to her. No one should have been able to find her, least of all an idiotic weakling like him. She could have sworn she had covered all her steps better after escaping that prison. Even worse, she couldn't understand why they even wanted her back. She was perfectly fine and more than capable of taking care of herself.
The worst part though was him. It was bad enough they chose to send him. But the fact a weak, idiotic moron like him had actually found her was the worst insult of all. The sleeping agent she used on him should have only been strong enough to make a young kid drowsy. He had succumbed to its effects after only two seconds of exposure. She thought back to the food she'd left him. He was probably asleep by now, knocked out by the berries she had mixed into the meat with the same sleep inducing effect.
"It's bullshit!!" she shouted. "Why can't they just let me go? Why drag me back? Especially if he's the one doing it." Laughter from nowhere sent chills down her spine. She looked up, trying to find the moon. There it was, just a speck between the leaves, but just as bright and full as always. "I-it was probably j-just some hyenas. Y-yeah, j-just hyenas."
You know as well as I, that wasn't a hyena, a voice said at the back of her mind. Vena knew, but she hoped this was one time she was wrong. She started running. Whether it was hyenas or something worse, she wasn't about to let it catch her. Fear's fingers began clawing at her mind. Every sound put her more on edge. Her heart started racing, her breathing shallowed. Vena did not want it catching her.
Keep running, sweetheart. It's catching up. More laughter sounded, sending a new wave of chills through Vena. Let me out, the voice pressed. You know I can take care of it. I've done it before. Vena shook her head. She knew the voice was right. But regardless of what it was, she faced, Vena wasn't going to let her out. If you don't, both of us will be dead, sweetheart. Only seconds left now. Better rethink quick, deary.
"Shut up!!" Vena shouted, covering her ears. She didn't even notice the tree approaching.
"Owww!!!" She let out as she collided with the great oak. Her head hurt, and her vision swam. Vena tried to regain her bearing, but it was too late. She could smell the rotted flesh that told her it was near. There was nowhere left to run. Even climbing would be useless.
Last chance, dear viper. Will you let the spider kill the bird, or will you die a needless death? Vena didn't know what to do. Fear engulfed her. Fighting was the only way out. But the beast behind her was something she couldn't face. Tick tock, tick tock. Any time now.
"Do it," Vena answered under her breath. What was that, honey?
"Do it! I want you to fight it!!" Vena shouted. She waited, knowing what was coming next. I thought you'd never ask. Suddenly, Vena's headache grew worse. Her vision began spinning, darkness creeping in from all directions. She felt herself slipping away as the voice took over. Now, time for "you to die!" Vena shivered as she felt the foreign words leave her mouth before finally succumbing to unconsciousness.
Alex snapped awake as if frightened by a nightmare. Sunlight streamed into the cave, forcing him to rub his eyes and blink several times. Nothing else seemed to have changed. He noticed his belongings resting several feet away. He turned toward the entrance, wondering if the girl had returned yet. She hadn't. He did, however, notice what he had previously believed to be a smoldering fire was actually a protective enchantment designed to ward off certain creatures. However, Alex could not recognize what exactly this ring was meant to deter. He sat up against the wall and sighed. Nothing about this girl made any sense. It was as if she wasn't just from a different land, but a different world completely.
"Well, well. Good morning, Sleeping Beauty. How do you feel today, my precious worker ant?" Alex knew that voice. He turned to see her standing there, her face covered in blood, hair strewn about her face. She wore a smile that unnerved him, her eyes filled with a murderous gleam. She held what looked like a rather large fang in one hand and a necklace in the other. Once again, the feeling that something was different filled Alex's mind.
"Oh, don't worry, my sweet. I'm not going to do anything to you," she said. "Just a little reward from last night." She walked over to a boulder only a few feet from Alex and sat down, violet eyes fixed on him. Alex turned away. He didn't want to be caught by her again. He heard her laugh, sending a shiver through his body.
"Not talking today? How disappointing. And I was all set to have a nice little chat with my wonderful worker ant." Alex didn't respond. He felt her stare, but fear of what would happen shook him more.
"Are you really that angry towards me?" the girl asked. "I won't allow that. You will look at me and answer me." Alex gritted his teeth as he felt the magic envelope him, trying to force him to do what she wanted. "Look at me." She said again, increasing the magic's strength. Still, Alex resisted. He could feel her magic growing stronger each second. He could feel his strength weakening as well. It wasn't much longer before he wouldn't have the strength left to fight back.
"LOOK AT ME!" the girl shouted. A surge of magic flooded his entire body at a level he had never experienced before. He let out a gasp but held firm, determined not to give in. As quickly as it had come, it was gone. He fell down, relieved that ordeal was over.
"Fine," she said, pouting. "If you won't talk to me, then I'll just talk to you.
"I'm sure you wish to know my name. Why would you not? After all, I have been away for quite some time. Three years, was it? Far too long, honestly. But, that doesn't matter so much now." Alex turned his eyes toward her. She smiled, trying to act sweet. "Why the angry stare? I only wish to talk. After all, it is quite the bore sitting in silence. My name is Arakne Widow. Now, my sweet worker ant, what is your name? Answer me honestly." Alex saw the gleam before he felt the magic. Before he could resist, Arakne had him in her grasp. She held him there, floating a foot off the ground, full face before her, unable to move anything below his neck.
"Well, precious? Are you going to speak?"
"M-my n-name is... is... A-Ale...Alex... Da... Daero..." he struggled, his voice trailing off. He tried to fight back against the magic, but his strength was already sapped.
"Alex, hmmm? And what was that last name, hon?" she said, her influence rising.
"D-Da-Daeroen," he gasped. Arakne's grip loosened, allowing Alex to catch his breath.
"See, now that wasn't so difficult," Arakne sang. She smiled again. " Now, how about you tell me a little more about yourself. And, if you behave yourself, I just might give you a little reward. Why don't you start with where you're from."
Alex was unsure what to do. On the one hand, he could tell this psychotic woman what she wanted and hopefully spare himself any more pain. But on the other, she could use anything he said against him, and there was no proof she wouldn't hurt him or release him either. He thought carefully. If the lesser of two evils was the best way to go, neither of these sounded like a lesser. He sighed, and made his decision.
"I was born in Valence City in the Kuoba region. I was an only child. My parents weren't anyone special, just average human parents content with staying where they were. I was gifted with my grandfather's talent of grey magic. I was only an e ranked mage while enrolled in Gariden Academy. I dropped out, uable to keep up with the specialized students and sought out a master who would take me in as an apprentice." Alex paused. What am I doing? He thought. At least Arakne hadn't done anything. She seemed please, but her magic remained just as strong. "Many of the masters I asked refused to train anyone who used grey magic. The ones who didn't mind told me I wasn't worth their effort. To them, I was just another joke trying to intrude on their livelihoods.
"I met Master Rojak by complete accident. He was visiting our city by request of the mayor. At the time, I had never even heard of Rojak. To me, he was just another name. I ran across him one day while in town visiting a produce shop. He was buying various fruits and herbs for treating a person with a strange illness similar to a cold. I remember he was deciding on the necessary ingredients for curing several illnesses when I walked over. I stopped to talk to him, trading ideas and methods on treating various sicknesses. When we parted ways, I figured that would be the last time I'd see him. That was one day I was glad to be wrong.'
"Rojak, Rojak," Arakne interrupted. "That name sounds familiar. Strangely it seems I've never heard it before. Please continue."
"Well," Alex said, taking note of Arakne's newfound interest. "After that meeting, Rojak successfully cured his patient. A rumor began circulating that Rojak was blessed by an angel, guided to the answer while asleep. It was at this time Rojak began his search for an apprentice. I had pra-"
"Stop!" Arakne shouted. She didn't move for several moments, leaving Alex confused. "Well, that was quite a story. However, there are not enough hours in a day for me to listen to such useless facts." she finally said. "Now that we have that little tale behind us, why don't we move on to one final question. What is it you desire most in this life, my dear ant?"
Alex didn't respond. He had never really thought about what he wanted, and even if he knew, it was probably best not to divulge it to Arakne. Still, what did he want most? Alex thought for a moment. Fame sounded good. So did wealth. But neither really appealed to Alex like they did to many others. Love? Family? Alex wasn't sure he ever really wanted either. Respect would be good. He was tired of constantly being treated as just another person while journeying with Rojak. Then a thought crossed his mind.
"What I want in this life," Alex said. "I guess if I have to choose, I would want to be the best mage I could be. Not the greatest but just my best." Alex let out a deep groan as he hit the ground hard. He had hoped she would let him go, just didn't expect it to be so violent.
"Hmph. I expected as much. An ant like you wouldn't have a dream such as a spider like me." Arakne hopped off the rock and started walking to the entrance of the cave. "Still," she said. "If you want to become the best mage, I guess it wouldn't hurt to help you." Alex looked her way, unsure what she was planning.
"So, I'll give you a choice," Arakne said. She walked back over to where Alex was now sitting crouched, still trying to recover. She grabbed his face, forcing him to stare directly into her violet eyes. "You could return to that master of yours. Perhaps you wouldn't mind following someone who constantly overshadows you, learning at a rate that would be very unbecoming of someone seeking to grow. Or, you could follow me, learning from someone who truly knows what magic is, how to use it, wield it, control it. It is up to you, my dear worker ant. Choose wisely." And with that, Arakne was gone, leaving Alex alone in the cave. He was confused, afraid, and exhausted. His thoughts were racing, his head hurt. Catch her? Bring her back? Right, easier said than done. Alex wasn't sure what he was going to do. Hopefully, he thought, the answer would come to him sooner rather than later.