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A Web Has Many Threads, or How House Arachne Was Shaped

ElleShaped
ElleShaped
✭✭✭
It was the dancing that kept her sane.

Brielle served the creature she only calls 'The Brute' for more than one hundred years, and up until the very end of her domination at his hands, his unbreakable will controlled every facet of her life. He left her mind a little corner of its own space, so that she could rage, cry, beg, plead, and rage again, futilely and uselessly, so that she could know, could see, could feel, and yet do nothing. He used everything she had – her body, her power, her mind... if he could take, he took. If he could not, he would destroy.

His hatred and malice would boil over and he would bring her with him to a public place, a town square or a market or a fair; he didn't care what its purpose was or where he was or even who was present. All he cared was that there were lives he could end, souls he could take, and hearts he could crush. He would have his thralls ring the area and stop anyone from fleeing, killing a few with such savagery that the rest wouldn't try to escape even when they saw their deaths approaching.

He would stand in the center of the open space. He would bring her with him, beside him. She was collared, blinded, and bound with silver that burned and never consumed. He would laugh, a laugh that she can still hear in her dreams even now, a laugh that she cannot help but mimic in those rare moments when her bloodlust overwhelmed her. It was mad and joyous and hateful, and it brought mortals to their knees in blind terror.

He would wrench the bindings from her sizzling flesh, wrap his will around her, and give her a command. Always the same command. She shook with anticipation because she knew it meant that tiny sliver of freedom, that one link back to when she could feel something other than rage and despair and pain.

“Kill.”

And she would. She was a tornado of steel and blood, whirling faster than the eye could follow. Every small motion a killing blow, and never a stroke out of place. A dozen people flayed alive in the space of a few heartbeats, a village decimated in minutes. Her dance was so beautiful and so terrible that even he could not bring himself to tarnish it, and so he would let her loose entirely. She was free to dance however she liked, as long as she killed and kept killing, as long as the blood flowed in great crimson torrents over the ground.

Every time, the relief and the joy of the dance would take her back. Back to before his total violation of her being. Back to when she was a child, for those few precious minutes. The horror around her would fade from her mind's eye, replaced with the flower-strewn fields of her long-lost home. Twirling in the sunlight, hand in hand with the love of her youth, singing with clear and simple happiness.

But it would always end, eventually, the last throat cut and the last soul stripped from the fragile mortal bodies that lay around her like threshed wheat. And his hated power would smother her again, until the next time.

It was the dancing that kept her sane.
Edited by ElleShaped on May 19, 2014 3:42AM
Lady Spider of House Arachne, represented by the guild Sanguine Ascendancy. We have a website, too:housearachne.enjin.com

Visit me at my Patreon, www.patreon.com/ElleShaped, or check out my gallery at elleshaped.deviantart.com
  • ElleShaped
    ElleShaped
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    “Sweet child, look at you. What a dreadful fate.”

    Brielle jerked in surprise, and then cried out softly in pain as the barbed chain wrapping her arms pulled tighter at her movement. She listened with all of the concentration she could muster, desperate to believe that she had heard something real, that it was not her imagination once again teasing her with false hopes of freedom. Sometimes the pain would overwhelm her reason, and her mind would create strange images out of the starbursts of agony playing in front of her closed eyes or synthesize voices from the faint sizzle of her undead flesh as it pressed against the alchemical silver of the posture collar and muzzle which the Brute locked on to her upon returning to the lair after each trip out.

    “How long have you been here like this, little one?”

    Time passed. The Brute only let her out when he needed her skills or wanted her body, and never on any regular schedule, and so she had long ago lost any concept of time. Her only companion, her constant companion, was pain. From head to toe, he had devised a way to punish her for the crime of existing and refusing to break for him. He could still have anything he wanted from her, because the power of his blood flowing through her made it impossible for her to act against his will, but that wasn't enough for him. He wanted her to submit to him willingly, and she refused. His brutality, practised and refined when he first took her, had only become more and more honed and precise as the months turned into years and the years into decades.

    “What do you do to survive the pain and still keep your mind, my dear?”

    Time passed. She calmed herself, narrowed her mind to a single point that could slip between the burning waves of pain and rage he poured over her, and she went back to her list. The list was everything. She poured every mote of sanity she could cling to into refining it. A list of every resting place in the lair, every potential weapon, every item of value, every step and turn and corner of every room. A map of the Brute's home in her mind with glowing pins sunk deep into every complacent body and each potential tool. Once day he would slip. One day she would find the smallest hole in his control, the slightest gap in the wall he had built around her will. And when that day came... well, then she would be able to use the list. Until then, she would make it better; she would make it perfect.

    “My, my, that truly is a comprehensive little plan, isn't it, my precious darling?”

    She thrashed in her bonds and used the blinding plume of pain to fuel her voice. “Who are you! I know you're real! WHO ARE YOU!” As the concentration she had summoned drained away and left the glowing shards of pain behind to burn her mind again, her shout turned to a scream and then her scream to a whimper. She hated herself for that whimper. She hated him for making her debase herself in yet another way, an endless list of cruel abuses heaped upon each other. She hated her parents for bringing her into the world at all, to have this done to her. She hated everyone she had ever known for letting this happen. She hated the Aedra, the Divines whom she had spent her entire life dedicated to serving. She hated the stars in the sky for watching as she was ravaged and ruined by his hands and doing nothing.

    “Ah, yes, there it is. The hatred I was seeking. My name is Mephala, child, and I have a proposition for you...”
    Lady Spider of House Arachne, represented by the guild Sanguine Ascendancy. We have a website, too:housearachne.enjin.com

    Visit me at my Patreon, www.patreon.com/ElleShaped, or check out my gallery at elleshaped.deviantart.com
  • ElleShaped
    ElleShaped
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    Her new Mistress had told her that the smallest of her daughters would free her, and that she would know the moment when it came. And then her whispers, those whispers that were barely audible yet echoed in her mind like a thunderclap, were gone. Alone again with only her pain and her hatred... and her plan. She clung to the plan; she rehearsed it endlessly. Every time she had a glimpse of the Brute's rundown, decaying mansion or the crypt beneath it which held her she would add those details to it. As always happened, she lost track of the passing of time.

    Her punishments when he discovered that she had damaged the muzzle were worse than any he had yet inflicted upon her, and when he was done, he brought a new binding, showing her with glee and malice glowing in his eyes the silver mask. It was a masterpiece of whitesmithing; it fit every line and contour of her face perfectly. The straps that held it on pulled it tight to her skin, from cheek to cheek and from chin to hairline. She had no need to breathe and he knew it, and so it had no openings at all. Seeing its perfect lines shining in the torchlight, she couldn't deny its beauty even as she listened to her own voice, begging him not to put it on, promising not to damage the muzzle again. It did no good, she knew it wouldn't but she couldn't stop herself from trying.

    The mask was a new world of agony. She thought that the things he had done to her before, with blades and hooks and chains, had been painful. The things he could do with his hands alone were incredible; some of them she would force herself to recall as vividly as possible once he was gone, so that she could add them to her plan. She had been wearing the mask for weeks or perhaps hours when she heard something new. A slight scraping chitter, perhaps, chitinous legs rubbing together, or maybe it was the grinding of her teeth as her jaw clenched in agony.

    When she heard it again, and felt a new, feather-light touch on the back of her ear, she knew she wasn't imagining it, it wasn't a hallucination generated by her desperate mind grappling with constant torture. She tried to think of the last time she had felt any tiny lives in the crypts, and came up with nothing. A thrill of excitement thrummed through her body, pushing back the burning and the cold humiliation of being chained naked, helpless, and forgotten in the dark. Is this what She had meant? Could this tiny visitor truly be the salvation her new Mistress had promised? It hardly seemed possible...

    She desperately suppressed her excitement... if there was anything about her even a little out of the ordinary when he came next, he would know and any hope she had, however slight, would be destroyed. She had finally managed to compose herself, just in time, when she heard footsteps in the hall outside of her prison. “Wait out here while I retrieve it. Some time with this toy is just what I need to relax after that disaster.” He always made sure to bring someone with him, someone he could use to show her how little she meant, someone to belittle her in front of.

    She heard the door unlock, the ancient metal squealing as he wrenched the rusty iron door open, and then the sharp, ringing footsteps on the stone floor of her cell. She nearly gasped with relief as the tension in the barbed chain holding her right arm was released, only the solid metal of the mask stopping her. She could feel the blood oozing out of the many wounds it had caused, thick and slow because of the long time since he had last let her feed. Another few moments and then her left arm was likewise released and the chains were jerked from her body, this time even the mask not suppressing the moan of pain at the rough treatment of her wounded limbs. Then the kick to her chest that sent her sprawling on the ground, a gash opening under the hard metal of his boot. The pressure of his foot on her throat held her against the floor as he bent down, reaching behind her ear to unclasp the strap of the mask.

    And then it happened. The pressure increased and then was gone as he bolted upright and stumbled backwards, swearing under his breath, but there was something she had never heard before in his voice. Perhaps it was fear, or pain; all she knew was that it excited her. The hunting spirit that burned so brightly in her heard the weakness in it, the opportunity. And then, a miracle, a wonder, the one moment she would remember forever, the sound that caused her to freely and happily bind herself forever to her Mistress: the clatter of his plate-clad body tumbling to the stone. The exotic poison of the tiny spider's bite worked so fast, she could hear him convulsing against the cell floor and then she was moving.

    This was the moment. It was finally time for the plan. And she knew every single movement of this dance, a dance she had spent a hundred years rehearsing in her mind.

    She would be free.
    Lady Spider of House Arachne, represented by the guild Sanguine Ascendancy. We have a website, too:housearachne.enjin.com

    Visit me at my Patreon, www.patreon.com/ElleShaped, or check out my gallery at elleshaped.deviantart.com
  • ElleShaped
    ElleShaped
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    The endless rehearsal during those long, timeless stretches when she was locked into her solitary torment; the hundreds of times she had forced herself to relive his tortures so that she could burn his actions into her memory; the dozens of times that she had earned herself extra hours at his hands because she looked where she wasn't supposed to or lingered where she was not supposed to; every second of pain she had endured was worth it with just that first moment of triumph. She stood tall, blood oozing sluggishly from the gouges in her arms, the cuts on her back and the gash on her chest, and even naked and dirty and nearly mad with hunger she could not suppress the mad laughter of freedom.

    She stood over him as he writhed on the floor, bloody foam pouring from his mouth and his bloody red eyes bulging as he struggled in vain to speak through the agony and paralysis of the beautiful little spider's poison. She spat on him, as he lay there helpless, and thus began the first stage of the plan. Quickly, she stripped his plate armor off and she wound the cruel, barbed chain he had used to restrain her for nearly every moment of more than a century around his neck. Feeding the chain through an iron ring in the ceiling, she hoisted him up so that his toes barely scraped the floor as he continued to dance with the toxin.

    She took the solver ritual knife, the knife that had defiled her flesh on a thousand occasions, and the neatly cut his clothing from his twitching body, the whole time keeping her own gaze fixed on his bulging eyes. She could see the hatred burning in them, but underneath it there was something that filled her with elation: fear. If he could speak, he would be begging for his life, she knew that so well that she didn't need to hear the words spoken. Once he was naked, she stood before him and raised the knife, brandishing it before his pained eyes and then she slowly, deliberately drove it deep into his chest, just below his sternum, pressing it in until its full length was buried in him. She could hear the pathetic gagging noises he made and she could see his body writhing in agony, but there was nothing he could do.

    She stepped close to him, wrapped her arms around him and pressed her cold flesh to his. Even after all of the torment, the cruel barbaric taking of everything she had to be taken... he was still her sire, and so he deserved a moment, one last touch to recognize the gift he had given her, unwilling as she had been at the time. And then the moment was over and she spun him as he dangled, lunging to sink her fangs deep into the artery that pulsed just under the armpit. His blood, already taken from another, held nearly no sustenance for her but after the deprivation he had forced on her it was like a feast. She took every drop he had to give and she watched his flesh pale and grow waxy, the veins standing out sharply.

    Finished, she wiped her lips on her forearm and moved back in front of him. Looking into his eyes, she wrenched the knife from his chest and then, with motions she had felt at his hands a hundred times and relived a thousand times a thousand, she slowly and carefully stripped his skin from his body. The knife's dance in her hands was every bit as beautiful as her dance of steel and death, and every motion she made was designed to cause him as much pain as possible. She took her time and it took a full hour, exactly as she had planned. The final strokes of the blade were to cut those hateful, bulging eyes from his skull and then, finished at last, she drove the knife into his chest and through his heart.

    His body finally stilled and then a horrible, terrifying howling filled the crypt as the echoes of a thousand tortured souls were drawn there to exact their revenge on him as well, each clamoring to be the first to tear a piece from his blackened soul as it fled his body, which dissolved into fine, powdery ash. The knife landed with a clatter on the floor in the center of the pile and it was still red-hot and smoking from the fires that consumed him from within when she took it into her hand. Laughing with mad glee, she ripped open the door of her cell and began the last dance the manor would ever witness.
    Lady Spider of House Arachne, represented by the guild Sanguine Ascendancy. We have a website, too:housearachne.enjin.com

    Visit me at my Patreon, www.patreon.com/ElleShaped, or check out my gallery at elleshaped.deviantart.com
  • ElleShaped
    ElleShaped
    ✭✭✭
    Hours later, Brielle was kneeling in a clearing in the woods around the manor. Naked, her skin torn with a hundred wounds and her blood staining every step of the winding path from the manse to this place, she somehow yet at the blood and the energy for a few last tears, leaving pale pink trails through the ask caking her pale skin. A hundred yards behind her the great old building, lair to the brute and his family for hundreds of years, was now a massive pyre honoring the passing of all within, the sparks and ask twirling into the sky and from where she knelt seeming to merge with the stars.

    Before her, two roughly shaped and uncarved stones were thrust into the earth beneath a massive and ancient tree. Two graves in the woods of Cyrodiil, two of the thousands of lives that had been ended by that place and its beastly master, but it was all that she could do. Her strength was ebbing, what little she had left; her fingers were torn and bloody, her nails ripped to shreds, simply from the task of finding and shaping these stones. Carving them would have been impossible, but they were enough. The memories were etched into her mind instead, and they needed no words to hold them in place, nor would they ever fade for as long as she lived after.

    Slowly she unclenched one fist, letting the handful of ash within settle into the soil before the stone on the right. Watching it twirl in the air, she let her mind travel back to a few hours ago...
    ---

    She had already danced through the halls of the manse, into its various bedrooms and lairs. The silver knife in her hand and her natural grace were all that she needed to overcome the inhabitants even naked, starved, and tortured as she was. The agonizing and still unbelieveable death of their lord, their sire, the one irresistible force in their universe had so deranged their patterns that they could hardly fight back when she came to them, blazing and laughing with the release of this long-awaited dance. One by one or in groups they fell like what before the scythe and though their feeble counterattacks found her naked flesh a hundred times she hardly slowed in her enacting of the Plan.

    Finally she had come to the one door she had left unopened. Every other creature in the mande, the entire family, lay blasted into piles of dust and smears of ash on the floors and walls where they stood or fled or fought. This door, though... she opened it slowly instead of smashing it into splinters and charging in, stepping slowly to stand beside the bed within. The woman who had been sleeping there was awake, her face pale and drawn with fear but also with a spark of admiration and perhaps even love in her eyes. Her expression said, even if her voice could not, would not, that she had hoped for this to be the way the story ended.

    Brielle stood above the bed, the knife burning in her hand, blood oozing from a hundred cuts, and she looked down on her. The woman looked up at her, and it was obvious to any who might have seen them that they were of the same age, the same place, the same origins. Brielle knelt, her empty hand moving to gently caress the other's cheek. The woman made a small, broken sound in her throat, and then spoke. "Brie... I'm sorry. I... I had no choice. You know. I could not resist him, none of us could."
    Brielle nodded and leand down to kiss her gently, one last time. "I know, Larissa. I forgive you." The woman let out another soft sob, her eyes closing, and then the blazing knife slipped into her heart. The hand that Brielle held turned to ash and she clutched at that ash...
    ---

    As the last of the ash fell from her fingers, she kissed two of them and pressed them to the stone. "Goodbye, Larissa." She stared at the grave for a moment longer and then turned to the other, and the pain in her heart welled up in another flood of tears.
    Her empty hand moved to a long cut on her belly, her sharp nails pressing through the skin and reaching for something inside, the pain making her gasp as she pulled free an old silver ring, the only stone a large emerald set in the center. Just seeing it hurt, but she forced herself to kiss the stone, placing the ring in the center of the space before the second stone and then placing the large rock she had brought for the purpose on top of it, scraping the loose earth to cover it. She closed her eyes, leaning her head on the stone and remembering.
    ---

    She lay in the darkness, hunger and despair aching through her body. She had been here in his manse for six months now; she had been dead for six months now. The thought still filled her with terror and revulsion. Dead. He had killed her, and then he had started to torture her. It seemed insane and unbelieveable and she still would squeeze her eyes shut and wish, hoping that if she wished it hard enough it would all be a dream, that she was really truly dead and simply having a nightmare as she fled to Mara's side, but it was futile and she knew it.

    She shivered against the dirty stone, her cold, naked skin unable to feel the chill but still imagining it clearly enough to shake trying to cast it away. He had left her unbound when he put her back in the cell this time. She already knew enough that she didn't think it was an oversight or a kindness; instead, she simply leay in dread of the next new unimaginable torment he had in store for her. He had been so angry that she hadn't killed the children, even as strong as the hunger had been.

    She had never killed anyone, even yet; she didn't know how but somehow she found the strength to refuse his commands, to take enough to calm the fire but not leave them drained and dying. It was useless and she knew it; if she didn't, he would, or worse, but she forced herself to deny him anyway. He couldn't make her do this. She would hold on to this one small victory as she lay in the dark. And then the door was forced open, the rusty iron screeching, and wihtout a word another person was shoved roughly into the room. They stumbled and fell, hard, on the stone beside her. The smell of blood brought the hunger back in paralyzing force as the door was wrenched shut.

    She could hear the woman - somehow she immediately knew it was a woman, something about her seemed familiar, even just the scent and the soft sounds... she could hear her sobbing softly, she could hear her heart hammering in her chest, she could smell the blood dripping from wounds across her skin. She crawled to the figure, her face a ruin. In the pitch darkness, Brielle could still see clearly, another 'gift' from him. She could see that she had been beaten viciously, and worse, that her eyes had been gouged from their sockets and that someone had taken the time to tear her teeth from her bleeding gums already. The blood made her tremble with hunger, and that made her hate herself and hate him all the more.

    And then the figure stilled, looked blindly up at her, and then she spoke. The voice and her words drove a spike of fire through her heart and in the agony she could not speak or move.

    "Brielle? Is it really you? He... I ca'n't see... but..."

    No. It couldn't be. She was far away, she was free. She had escaped. Brielle knew she had, she had seen it herself as she was falling to the ground in the mire. No. No. No. But the figure reached for her and she could not stop a sob that ripped from her cold chest as she recognized the ring on her finger. She fell to the stone and reached out, the hunger forced back by horror as she gently put her arms around her wife.

    "Gwynnie... Gwyneth, why? How? How are you here?" She shook as she held in her tears, knowing that even that gentle motion would cause agony to the battered figure in her arms. She could feel the bruises, smell them, and she knew what was in store. In a moment of clarity she could see his plan: to take her, ruined and broken, and turn her like this so that she could be tortured forever, to punish Brielle for her refusal of him. She forced herself to gently stroke her wife's hair. "Shh, shh, I'm here, yes, it's me, oh my love..."

    "You're cold. I love you, why are you so cold here?" She was hard to understand, speaking through her ravaged mouth, but Brielle didn't need to hear her to understand every word. "No." She could hear the understanding in her voice. "He... he took you already, didn't he?"

    "He changed me but nothing can take me from you, my love. Nothing. Shh, you're hurt, please rest yourself. I will hold you." As she whispered her mind raced. She couldn't let this happen. There must be a way she could stop this, stop him... save Gwyneth. There must be. And there was; it came to her right away, and it was almost worse than what she knew he planned, and then she knew that he had planned this, too. There was only one thing she could do to stop this from happening.

    "He hurt me, Brie, so much... and he told me he was coming back in the morning to hurt me again, forever he said. I'm so scared..." She was sobbing and the sobs made her moan with agony as they shook her injured limbs.

    Brielle closed her eyes, swallowed around the lump in her throat, and she made her last, silent prayer; the last thing she ever would say to the divinity she had served so faithfully her whole life.

    Mara, queen of love, please forgive me for what I have to do, and please take her to your side and hold her for me.

    She kissed her hair, her temple, her forehead, her ear, everywhere she could without causing her worse pain. "I will not let that happen. You will not be his. I promise. Please, my wife, my love... wait for me by Her side? I don't know if I can go there anymore but please wait for me. Some day I will find my way there to you, I promise." She held her close, her lips trailing down to her neck, kissing her again and again. "I promise. Trust me, my love."

    "I do. I love you. Please..."

    She couldn't wait any longer or she would not be able to do it, she knew that. And so she pressed her new fangs into her wife's neck, hating herself for causing even that pain, for what she knew she had to do. She felt her stiffen and then relax as the ecstasy of the Kiss washed away all of the pain of her wounds, the tortures she had endured, and she sent a silent thanks to the First Mother for this one blessing: at least she would feel no more pain...

    And then she took her life, drop by drop, until there was none left. She felt her slacken in her arms, she could hear as her heart slowed and then, as her last breath left her with a soft sigh, she heard her last words. "I will wait for you forever, Brielle... I love you..."

    And then she was gone. Weeping, the hot blood she had taken but couldn't stand having in her pouring from her eyes as tears and spattering the floor, she took the ring from her finger. She knew that he would find it anywhere she might hide it, anywhere except one place... and with her nails, she split the skin of her own belly, pressing the silver bauble in and hiding it in her very body, the burning as the metal pressed against her flesh from inside a fitting punishment for the terrible thing she had just been forced to do.

    And so she killed for the first time. The first of many, many thousands... and every time after, she would wonder if perhaps he had won, after all.
    Lady Spider of House Arachne, represented by the guild Sanguine Ascendancy. We have a website, too:housearachne.enjin.com

    Visit me at my Patreon, www.patreon.com/ElleShaped, or check out my gallery at elleshaped.deviantart.com
  • ElleShaped
    ElleShaped
    ✭✭✭
    A Night at the Opera


    “Senator, it is an honor to welcome you to the opening night of our new playhouse!” The speaker, Kinslady Alaurelle of Foxglove Estate in southern Auridon, beamed with pride as she greeted each new arrival, though there was a strangeness to her... Perhaps it was the way that when she wasn't looking at anything in particular her eyes would lose their focus and drift aimlessly until her attention was pulled to something again. Or perhaps it was her slightly bemused affect – she knew and greeted every guest by name, but it seemed to take great concentration for her to do so. Those guests who noticed ascribed it to the recent death of her husband, which had only recently been reported to her.

    Adrienne smiled as she was greeted, offering her hand to the Kinslady. The noble quickly took in her own, kissing and then releasing it. Alaurelle's handmaiden, a Dunmer woman named Sherethys, stepped forward. “Senator Valeria, please come with me and I will show you to your private booth.” She turned, waiting a moment to be sure she was followed before leading her through the crowd waiting to be seated and up several flights of stairs.

    When they arrived at the private booth on the third floor of the newly-constructed theater, it was nearly full. Adrienne's one good eye immediately found Brielle, seated in one of the two ornate chairs in the box. Beside the Breton stood a wild-looking Altmer, her hair braided tight to her scalp in neat rows. Seated on the floor in front of the chairs were a pair of Imperial women, clearly accustomed to their position, as they were sitting up to get a view of the stage without looking uncomfortable. Turning in her seat, Brielle smiled. “Beloved, wonderful to see that you made it on time. I was worried we would have to delay the show.” She takes a sheaf of paper from the side of her chair and hands it to the Imperial as she moves to take the other chair.

    Threading her way past the two huge women standing in a guard's position behind their chairs, she takes her seat and glances curiously at the paper. It seemed to be the playbill for the opera, but this one had an additional page that the ones handed out at the front door did not have – a second copy of the cast list, this one with what looked to be prices beside each of the performers' names. She smiles slightly when she sees that the supporting actress – a skilled Bosmer acrobat – was already circled on Brielle's copy. She flips it back over and looks at the title: “The Tempting of Borgaz”. “You wouldn't have delayed it for me and we both know it. What is this thing even about?”

    Brielle laughs. “It's a classic tale of deceit, murder, and revenge. Oh, it's starting.” She leans forward and turns her piercing eyes to the stage, below and in front of their box. As the lights of the hall are shuttered and the outer curtain rises to great applause from the sold-out crowd, Alaurelle slips in and settles herself on the floor beside Adrienne's chair. She leans over and rests her head on Adrienne's lap with a contented sigh, only barely watching the play. Sinathrae settled herself in much the same way on Brielle's side, stretching her long limbs before making herself comfortable.

    All together, the assembled group was oddly symmetrical. Selesta, Brielle's Imperial pet, and 'Seashell', Adrienne's, were both leaning close to the railing from their places on the floor before their Mistress' chairs. Behind each of them stood their favored guards. On Brielle's side was her Nord warrior, Karsten Hallisdottir, alert and watching the entrance curtain, the audience, the crew in the rafters working the spotlights and the stage-magic; she seemed totally uninterested in the play. Adrienne's Colovian, Luciana was a much newer acquisition. As the former Lieutenant of a mercenary company, she was quite resistant to the conditioning that the two vampires used to keep their thralls in line; the fact that she was still early in the process and untrusted, she was wearing a set of very heavy iron wrist- and ankle-shackles, loose enough to allow her to move but heavy and restricting enough to keep her in line. Adrienne could likely have crushed her will quickly, but she preferred to draw it out – both because she savored the process, and because the final result was a much more effective agent.

    Every member of their party was dressed in finely-tailored formal clothing, the colors and styles carefully designed to complement each other. This was, after all, the first time that the majority of the fledgling House Arachne were gathered at one event and they intended to represent themselves well. As the sponsors of the new theater and performance space, they had a large stake in the business. They also managed its much less public secondary purpose, the one connected to that extra second playbill.

    Adrienne thought that the idea was brilliant from the moment Brielle explained it to her; they had already been using Foxglove Estate and its regular formal gatherings as a cover for business dealings with less-than-legal parties; from smugglers and slavers to vampires like themselves. At the last several of these events, there were multiple requests for both entertainment and specialized dining options. The theater was a perfect expansion – they could offer first-class entertainment for their guests, both legitimate nobles and less-than-legitimate businesspeople. At the same time, the House's special, supernatural guests had the opportunity to view what was essentially a live-action menu. They could pay for the opportunity to feed on or otherwise use members of the cast specifically selected for that purpose, or even purchase them outright in some cases.

    As she had been running through all of this in her mind, the play had started and was well into the first act by the time she remembered to pay any attention to it, and as a result she was totally lost. As far as she could tell, there was an Orc chieftan whose tribe was at war with a village of Bosmer over the rights to a valley situated between the Orcs' mountain and the Bosmer village. Their singing was entertaining, even for one with little patience for silliness, but their acrobatic expertise was amazing. Their fight scenes, choreographed intensively and rehearsed for weeks beforehand seemed effortless and natural on the stage. Even with only a small fraction of them on the 'menu', they were likely to make quite a lot of money after this demonstration and, more importantly, their guests would be quite positively impressed with their hospitality.

    She realised she had drifted off in thought again when Brielle nudged her. “Adrienne, dear, we're in public. Try to remember to breathe.” She whispered close to her ear, and Adrienne had to smile at that. Still new to her altered body, there were things that slipped from her attention from time to time and that was the worst of them. “What is happening now?” Adrienne wondered out loud. She couldn't help but notice that the stage was marked here and there with stageblood and the char marks of their magical pyrotechnics – apparently she had daydreamed through an entire battle.

    “Intermission.” Brielle replied. That meant that she had missed the entire second act.
    “Mm. I see there was a battle. Who won?”
    “Well, the Bosmer killed the Orsimer chieftan and two of his sons, but the youngest was captured during the fighting, so I suppose you could say the Bosmer won. But...” Brielle trailed off, trying to decide how to explain forty minutes of opera in a few words.
    “But what? That seems like a pretty clear victory to me.”
    “Well, it would have been, but the Orsimer shaman – the 'Borgaz' of the play's title – has been getting angrier and angrier, and he signed a blood-pact with Molag Bal at the close of the act, sacrificing all of the Bosmer they captured in the fighting.”
    “Ah. Well, the third act is likely to be quite interesting then.”

    After a few minutes the intermission ended and the audience, once again seated, turned their rapt attention to the stage for the final act. It opened with a duet between the Orc chieftan's son and the daughter of the matriarch of the Bosmer tribe. She had fallen in love with him while tending his wounds, and wanted him to go off with her so that neither of their tribes could separate them again. He was tempted by the thought of running away and leaving the war behind him, but at the end of his part he had reached the decision to return to his tribe and try to stop the shaman from dooming all of them to death or slavery under the Deceiver.

    It was all moving along with the formula as expected, and Adrienne was just starting to drift off into another tangent when something unexpected happened. It was the climax of the act; the Orc warrior had reached the shaman's ritual site in the center of their fortress, and he had called out his challenge. The shaman just laughed because he could see something that the Orc couldn't – that the infatuated Bosmer girl was sneaking up behind him, dagger drawn. As he felt it plunge into his back and pierce his lung, he could only gasp one word: “Why...”

    She stood over him, wrenching the dagger out and wiping it on his clothing as she looked down at him. “We could have had a lot of fun together, Orc, before I killed you. But no, you had to be a hero. Look what it has bought you: Pain and death.” She looked up at the shaman. “You, too, have served your purpose here. Both tribes are broken, leaderless. They will be vulnerable when my Mistress comes to claim them. Your new Master will be happy to receive your soul, to punish, for the magnitude of your failure. And all I needed to do was to wait for you to do my work for me.”

    His laughter cut off suddenly, the menace and the meaning in her words cutting through his mirth. Suddenly seized with doubt, he pointed his staff at her and shouted a spell into the air. Nothing happened. She strode towards him, grinning hungrily. “Oh, poor shaman. Your old god betrayed and unwilling to help, your new god done with a foolish, disposable tool.” As she drew close he threw up his staff to defend himself, but he was knocked flat as suddenly her form twisted, and where before there had been a Bosmer girl, there was now a spider daedra. She bent down over his prone form, and as he screamed in terror, the curtain dropped, leaving the audience stunned for a few long moments before they leapt to their feet, applauding and cheering wildly.

    She was still mulling the surprising ending over when there was a soft knock at the door to their booth. Karsten spun and was before it instantly, whispering softly with whomever was on the other side. Karsten moved to speak quietly to Brielle and then resume her guardian position, and Brielle turned to Adrienne with a smile. She held up the cast list and raised an eyebrow. “Care to join me in ordering dinner?”
    Lady Spider of House Arachne, represented by the guild Sanguine Ascendancy. We have a website, too:housearachne.enjin.com

    Visit me at my Patreon, www.patreon.com/ElleShaped, or check out my gallery at elleshaped.deviantart.com
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