The Spider’s Seven #15: The Homecoming

This entry is part 3 of 14 in the series The Spider's Seven Vol 2
Wendell had, after the operation to recruit Flo, gotten Anansi to install an array of OLED screens in his room that took up all but a few feet from the bottom and sides of one wall in his room. Too many lookie-loos in the ops center, disturbing his research work for his tastes.
The Spider had argued that it was bad for team spirit. Wendell argued that the team was bad for his work ethic and ultimately won out.
And so he sat in his comfortable, high backed chair, remote in hand, and cycled through what he’d collected. He didn’t even see the files and images anymore, he scanned for colors and shapes that comprised his own, personal sorting system.
Red was a dead end that he put aside in case he might find a fresh connection to them later. Squares were information on fiances or people with financial troubles he could manipulate. Green meant a given element directly connected to the task at hand. He’d been forced to come up with octagon only recently; it was reserved for the wild cards, the nebulous X-factors that permeated Anansi’s world and, increasingly, his own.
There were too many green octagons; cult members, strangely small and legally clean companies with suspiciously few outside relationships that employed a worrying number of people in Jerry’s neighborhood, other elements that had popped up when he’d run a Quintillion search on ‘Adversarial Force’.
Things hadn’t started getting wonky when Jerry started developing his powers; they’d just gotten more overt. If Wendell was reading into what his digging revealed, the Adversarial Force or people connected to it had been with the boy his whole life. Like zookeepers watching over the birth and development of a new born dire wolf cub.
Something about that analogy chilled him. Dire wolves had been ‘bred back’, which was to say that people had selectively bred domestic dogs until they created an animal with all the traits of an ancient apex predator. And Anansi had hinted that Jeremy’s powers, that terrible power to destroy, apparently with almost no trace, was nothing new. In fact, quite the opposite.
Maybe it was too much popular culture talking and not enough of his own experience swindling a few of the type of swindler that started cults, but his gut reaction to the word still conjured images of people in hooded robes attempting to bring Things That Should Not Be back into the world.
The door behind him opened and he jumped, even though he’d been expecting a visitor for over an hour now.
“You didn’t finish your briefing.”
He’d been expecting Susan and got Terrell instead. And he’d spent so much time formulating the arguments he was going to make to her too.
“You know,” He shrugged and continued cycling files, “It’s hard to go into which of the security staff at the hospital we can bribe, or the ways they have of tracking patients after someone plays the ‘We’re fighting the Devil’ card.”
Terrell stepped in and closed the door. He leaned back against it and took out a deck of cards, which he started shuffling. “Can you be serious for a second?”
“I’ve been trying to be serious.” Wendell spat. “And everyone disagrees—reality seems to disagree, because against all my damn will, everyone is talking religion and vampires and I’m researching a cult whose every website and blog reads like HP Lovecraft and HR Geiger bled crazy all over them.”
A moment passed where the only sounds were the remote clicking and the cards being shuffled.
“I’m still in.” Wendell said, pausing to read a file on one of the nurses who didn’t seem to be part of the cult, only to find that her mortgage was held by a local banks that employed members of the cult. Casper was riddled with adherents to the Adversarial Force. “I’m getting paid, the work is a challenge, and there’s some of you who will charge in blind if I don’t scrape together intel.”
“You’re not talking about me.” said Terrell, and Wendell stopped and actually turned the chair around to look at him.
Taking a minute to look the other man over, to take in his stance, his micro-expressions—even the way he shuffled the cards, he finally nodded. “You’d go, but you’d stop to make a plan.” He turned the remote idly in his hands. “Susan wouldn’t.”
“She tell you that?”
“Not as such.” Wendell said, an unusual sinking in his stomach unsettling him. “Don’t spread it around, but just telling me your name and address is usually the same thing as telling me your life story. I have files on all of you; I’ve done more cold reads on you just today than you might think possible. It’s like breathing at this point, so yeah, I know Susan well enough to know that if there’s no plan, she’ll go it alone.”
Terrell folded his arms, now shuffling one handed. “That’s why I’m here: we need to work together on this more than ever with Anansi gone and fully half of us not even seeing this as a choice anymore now that we know why we’re doing this.”
“We don’t know why we’re doing this.” said Wendell quickly. “Yeah, ‘save the boy’, I get that you’re all onboard with that, but have you ever considered that getting him out of the hospital is just the middle of this job? Maybe not even that because even Coyote has no real idea what this guy or thing that wants him actually is, or what it can do.”
He turned back to the screens and pulled up his compilation file on the cult. “He can’t go back to his home town, because the cult is in there like mold in cheese. They’ve been preparing for this, waiting around for whatever Anansi wants stopped since a few days after he was born.
Terrell grunted as he pushed off the door. “What do you want to bet that Anansi knew?”
“Why leave it out?” asked Wendell.
“You don’t listen to him because you think he’s crazy. I listen to him because he might not be. See, everything to him is about stories and their parts: structure, morals, pace, flow… I think he would definitely leave out the part about the cult and make us find it ourselves, because that’s how a story works: everything escalates. We go from preparing for some mystery case under a weird boss to uncovering a cult: it’s like the back of a book jacket.”
Wendell rolled his eyes. “God, it’s catching.”
“It’s Anansi.” Terrell said, “It doesn’t have to be real as long as it’s what he thinks should happen that way.”
“And what do we do with this piece of anti-logic?”
Terrell stared at the screens. “Anansi had a plan. He knew what he wanted to do against the Adversarial Force, whatever it was. That’s why he picked all of us specifically. That’s why he gave Flo that list she’s been working on. What we need to do is get together and figure out what it was.”
“If he was so sure about this plan,” Wendell asked with a scowl, “Where the hell is he now?”
“No idea, but you saw how upset he was at how we reacted to the vampire thing and keeping the guy locked up. I think he’s not immune to the stories in his own head. You ever hear that saying ‘everyone’s a hero of their own story’?”
Wendell nodded slowly and with great caution, not liking where this was going.
“The guy lives stories; loves them. And we called him out on what he did. That’s not easy to take in the best circumstances; believe me, I know, but for him… it probably made him doubt everything.”
“Alright, let’s assume it was even possible to drive him more insane. How do we get him back?”
Terrell shook his head. “I don’t think we have time. Even assuming the best, every second that kid is with that cult is a second they might do something to him if they haven’t already. What we need to do right now is step up, figure out what we need to do, and run the job with or without him. And all the while, we can hope he shows up in the nick of time like in his stories.”
Once upon a time in Ghana, which at the time was part of the great Empire of Ashanti, a father grew tired of the antics of his children.
He was not a harsh man, but their tribe was small and the children no longer small enough to be excused from working for the good of all of them. Their tasks weren’t difficult: fetching water, gathering tinder, and the like, but they chose to ignore these in favor of causing trouble for the rest of the tribe.
Knots were untied, small animals were loosed in homes, and every day saw new and elaborate lies span as excuses, or simply tricks. This could not be allowed continue, and so after they had eaten for the evening, he called his children to him and had them gather around.
He could have scolded them. He could have struck them. But he was a wise man in a wise tribe and knew the secret of teaching children: He told them a story, weaving it together the tale of how one there was a man named Kweku, whose mischievous nature annoyed the Sky-God, Nayame, who changed the man into a spider.
The children learned and remembered the tale, and in the fullness of time came to tell it to their own progeny through the lens of imperfect memory. And down came The Spider, through a hundred generations, gathering definition and purpose as he went, along with his famous stories.
And so, one day, he was no longer the character in a story, but something more. People didn’t just remember his stories, they Knew them, seemed to have always known them and invested back into them something of themselves until he was as much a living thing in their deepest souls as they were.
He gave them many gifts: inspiration, comfort, nostalgia, knowledge—and in return they gave him life on the razor edge of reality.
The stories flowed out, passing form mind to mind, mouth to ear, across Africa, over the ocean to the islands of the Caribbean and up into the Americas where in some places he was a god in more than conceptual terms, and in a most strange twist, became a rabbit in the South, recorded in print and even committed to film.
And this was all unremarkable, because there were millions like him; the children of Humanity that were in turn revered in an ironically paternal light. There were no words for what they were, no rules that truly governed them, or patterns that could make them predictable.
When the tides of magic rose and fell, it never stopped them from existing. But when they peaked once more, something new had happened…
Kumasi, the Garden City.
It had come a long way from the place it was in the twilight hour centuries ago when Anansi was first conceived. The place had become the capital of the Ashanti Confederacy half a thousand years ago and had steadily grown ever since. Only forty years ago, it had become the business hub for all West Africa.
Like any child come home after a too-long absence, Anansi felt uncomfortable for no adequately explained reason.
He wore his suit, which felt unnatural to do in the place of his birth, but he carried his cloth wrapped staff, which provided much needed small comfort.
Though sometimes he could even fool himself, the Spider was not omniscient. In fact, as he’d told the others, that defeated the point of being a god of learning and knowledge. And so he didn’t know why it was here, to his origin he’d chosen to stray while something terrible brewed on the other side of the planet. He was more well remembered and celebrated in Kingston. He was a being of more power in New Orleans.
What could he get here that would help him? And what did he really need help with? He was usually the one posing the questions, or at least he knew why he needed certain answers.
He’d had a plan didn’t he? And it would work, for better or worse. And if all went well, there would be minimal suffering. If he didn’t go through with it, well that was it, wasn’t it? The end of the world. Or at least the parts of the world that were worth it.
Humanity loved war and thrived in conflict. Their greatest accomplishments were born out of the desire of one tribe to bloody another, whether they called that tribe a city, a nation or a sports team. It forced them to work together for a common purpose and it drove their stories ever forward.
But they hadn’t seen the kind of conflict the Adversarial Force inspired for millennia. There was no reason, there was no trigger for it that could be prevented or mollified. Negotiation was impossible and pleas of mercy were worthless. All damage was collateral and intentional at the same time, and it never stopped. Never.
The Adversarial Force was not from Earth, from a world where the laws of physics and metaphysics were different. It was a blight the world had no defense against should it be loosed; it had taken something just as alien to stop it before and in the present, those forces were absent from the world.
Options were nil, save for a wandering god armed with a glimpse into the future. A god that now doubted himself badly.
He found himself standing outside of Prempeh College. Of course the place of his birth would become a place where children were taught. Over the previous century, even before he could walk as a man in the world, he’d come back time and time again, watching it grow. He’d borne witness to the ground-breaking, the expansions, the first female students, and most recently, the number of students in attendance reaching four thousand.
It was ironic then that the exact spot where he came into being was behind the desk of an administrative assistant.
The Spider found his way there, being unseen by anyone who might as hard questions like ‘how did you get past security?’, or ‘who are you?’. He felt oddly unready to answer the latter.
The assistant of the past twenty years was a woman of forty, still beautiful and regal in her bearing with extremely dark skin and a swan-like neck. She kept her copious amount of hair tied up in a high style that made her look more like a member of royalty than the monarch of disciplinary slips, and fielded calls that she was.
Without her noticing, Anansi stood beside her. Ten years ago, the office had been rearranged, resulting in her chair sitting in the precise spot where, once upon a time, a wise father concocted a story for unruly children.
Much to his amusement and her consternation, she spent her days at work flush with brilliant ideas; stories and concepts that she was sure would change the world if she ever got something published. Except when she went home at night, away from the font of creation she literally bestrode daily, and sat at her own keyboard, she could never make things sound quite as right as they had been when they struck her.
A year ago, Anansi had arranged for her to ‘win’ an expensive tablet computer with a suite of suitable writing software from Quintillion. As long as she continued to take lunch at her desk, she would be rewarded, not just for her trouble, but because that inspiration, being drawn out of her by that spot in space and time, shouldn’t go to waste.
Still unseen, the man became a massive spider with as many eyes as there were tales of man, and filled the room without being detected at all. It was not the form his millions upon millions of progenitors gifted to him; nothing worn by the brown spider who captured leopards and talked to gods, or the trickster Loa, or any other imagining. This one was his own creation, as it was his right, as any human had the right, to take an active hand in their own story.
For perhaps the first time ever, every one of those eyes closed and The Spider sank into thoughts and dreams, and touched the wellspring or intangible inspiration left over from the crucible of his birth.
… And he remembered.
To Be Continued…
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About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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