- The Spider’s Seven #13: The Absence
- The Spider’s Seven #14: The Enemy
- The Spider’s Seven #15: The Homecoming
- The Spider’s Seven #16: The Dearly Departed
- The Spider’s Seven #17 – The Visitation
- The Spider’s Seven #18 – The Others
- The Spider’s Seven #19 – The Misfits
- The Spider’s Seven #20 – The Setup (Part 1)
- The Spider’s Seven #21 – The Set-up (Part 2)
- The Spider’s Seven #22 – The Set-up (Part3)
- The Spider’s Seven #23 – The Execution (Part 1)
- The Spider’s Seven #24 – The Execution (Part 2)
- The Spider’s Seven Annual #2 – The Execution (Part 3)
- Spider’s 7 – Journey’s End
Somewhere in Kurdistan
“We are here, mister.” said the driver of a jeep Anansi had hired for his trip north from Arbil.
Anansi glanced up from his tablet to see what looked like a small town built around what looked like a huge scar in the dusty earth. Tents and pre-fab buildings sprang up wherever there was flat ground to build on with metal panels and sometimes just planks of wood laid down over the secondary fissures that radiated out from the quarter-mile wide crack at the center of camp.
“Many thanks, my friend.” Anansi replied, handing over a small wad of bills. Like the driver, he was speaking Kurdish. “I should not be long, but find someone who will give you something to eat and drink while you wait.”
Once that was done and the driver off to get some lunch and some rest, Anansi took up his staff and started off for the fissure. He didn’t get far before a man scurried out of one of the tents carrying a tablet computer.
“Mr. Anansi?” He was a stocky man of average height with a short, curly beard and hair that was thinning all too early. Not a Kurd; by Anansi’s estimation he was probably Turkish. His Kurdish could have been much better, but it was passable.
“Mr. Anansi?” He asked again and offered up a broad but harried smile when Anansi acknowledged him. “Ah good. I am Bleda Sezer, the one you spoke with on the phone concerning Doctor Frist?”
Anansi shook hands with him but only slowed his walk enough for the other man to catch up. “I trust that she’s still here. I hope I haven’t wasted a trip.”
Sezer shook his head. “Oh no, she is still here. However, right now… you cannot see her.”
“And why not?” Anansi asked, raising an eyebrow.
Sezer’s shoulders slumped helplessly. “Because she is working at the moment. Down in the crevasse, you see. The Kurdistan government is very concerned about this find—which good reason: it is the first of its kind since the official formation of their state. We are required to work no more than six hours in a day so that inspectors can make sure we are not disturbing or stealing anything.”
“I understand not wanting to take one of your archeologists away from the dig. However, I assure you that my business is urgent and won’t delay her very long at all.” said Anansi as they neared the fissure. There were cranes arrayed on either side, and guide rails put down around it by hammering steel rods into the earth. Wood and wire scaffolding with plank ramps led down into the dark gap itself.
A soft chuckle bubbled up through Sezer’s font of fatigue. “Oh, this isn’t by my instruction, Mr. Anansi. I don’t believe anyone could instruct Doctor Frist to do or not do anything she does not want to do. No, this is her own instruction: she works alone; no students and no interruptions.”
“And you don’t find that odd?”
“I find it very odd indeed, thank you.” said Sezer. “But Doctor Frist is amazing at what she does and so amazingly passionate about antiquity.”
Now it was Anansi’s turn to chuckle. “I doubt you will find a person alive more passionate than the good Doctor is about whatever she chooses to focus on. And, as you noted, you’ll find no one more averse to supplication.”
“So you see why you cannot go down there, yes?” asked a very hopeful Sezer. “Come to the mess with me: we will eat and drink—pass the time until the work is done and the Doctor returns in… three hours?”
Anansi stopped at the edge of the fissure. Even if he hadn’t seen it on the news, he could have guessed what happened. Five weeks earlier, an earthquake had rocked southern Kurdistan. An international aid envoy spotted the fissure, really a massive sinkhole, from the air.
They had also spotted the city: some of it badly damaged from the earthquake and subsequent cave-in, some of it dug into the walls of the canyon. Preliminary reports thought it might be nearly as old as Ur.
“I am sorry, but I don’t have that much time. Don’t worry, however: she will see me. And she will understand why you didn’t stop me.” he said, leaning dangerously out over the precipice.
The weariness in Sezer redoubled. “My apologies Mr. Anansi, but I am stopping you. I agree with Doctor Frist that she shouldn’t be disturbed while she’s working. Besides, we have strict orders from the Kurdish government that no unauthorized personnel is allowed in the actual dig site.”
Anansi licked his lips impatiently. “Can’t you at least send a runner?”
“It is only a few hours, Mr. Anansi.” said Sezer. “Whatever your business, it can wait, I assure you.”
Sezer had no way of knowing that he couldn’t have enforced his decree if Anansi didn’t allow it. The Spider could have just jumped over the railing right then and there and climbed down to the dig site. He could have paralyzed Sezer’s mind with an overload of knowledge, or simply tripped him down with his staff and walked away.
Resting the staff across his shoulders, Anansi squinted up into the sun. “Yes, Mr. Sezer, I do believe we have some time. Please tell the Doctor that I was here.” He snapped his fingers and a laminated card with a spider logo on it appeared between two fingers. “My card. It has my number and where I’m staying on it. Do pass it on.”
“Of course.” said Sezer, taking the card.
Anansi started to walk away, but he paused. “Tell me: have you ever heard of an ancient goddess called Amorocca? She would have been associated with Ur.”
After some careful thought, Sezer shook his head. “I can’t say that I have. But then I’m an administrator, not an archeologist or historian. Why did you ask?”
Shaking his head sadly, Anansi started walking again. “I was just wondering. It’s a rare story; something they don’t usually teach even in advanced classes.” Once Sezer was out of earshot, he added, “And it seems only those like me remember her at all. Let us hope ‘Doctor Frist’ has memories of her.”
It was three in the morning and she’d been awakened by someone pounding on her door. All things considered, Coyote felt that she was being more polite than the situation required when she didn’t answer the door with a savage uppercut to the jaw of whoever was doing the pounding.
Instead, she merely gave Wendell a murderous glare that told him that the uppercut wasn’t completely off the table and growled, “What.”
Wendell looked as tired as she felt as he stood in the hallway, tablet computer in one hand, cup of coffee in the other. “I need to talk with you. Can I come in?”
“Do you know what time it is?”
“It’s about Anansi’s plan.”
She stared him down for a long moment. Wendell was the skeptic; always second-guessing Anansi, always looking for the trick or the hook. The least sympathetic to their cause, but Anansi vouched for him whenever Coyote expressed her doubts. “Fine. Come in.”
Wendell stepped in and immediately noticed her noticing the state of his shirt. It was badly rumpled, well out of his usual fastidious style, and it was stained with tears. “It’s been a long night.” he explained hastily.
“Those aren’t your tears.” She said with a none-too-subtle sniff. “She told you not to tell anyone she cried, didn’t she? I’m shocked you were her shoulder. Didn’t Anansi originally hire her to kill you?”
“No one’s more surprised than me.” said Wendell. He took a seat at the little table and took in the room. Coyote had decorated extensively: there were tribal patterns on the blankets and walls, the furniture was all rustic and tasteful, and then on top of it were band posters, make-up samplers and stuffed animals. It looked like a teenaged girl had moved into her parents’ room.
Coyote’s eyes glittered as she pushed the door closed. “Do you want to talk about it?”
He avoided those eyes and instead looked at his hands clasped in his lap of the tablet. “I think we just established that the other party in this wouldn’t like that. Besides, I’m here to talk with you…about you. He waved absently at the tablet. I’ve been reading up on Coyote. My first question is: ‘which one of them are you supposed to be?’.
“Ah.” said Coyote with an enigmatic grin. “Anansi would say that you’re finally asking the right questions. But I think you’ll be upset: the answer is none of them… and all of them.”
Wendell felt a strong urge to get up and walk out. Just like Anansi, Coyote was too damn cryptic most of the time to be worth talking to. But now he needed to understand at least some bits and pieces of what was going on and for that, he had to endure the ‘trickster’ bullshit both of them heaped on him.
“Fine.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “What does that mean though.”
A happy, girlish noise came from Coyote and she practically hopped onto her bed, assuming a cross-legged position. “Now you’re getting it! Now’s let’s see if I can actually explain. I’m Coyote, capital ‘C’, but also bold faced. I’m the Coyote in all the stories and I remember them like they happened, every one of them. But just because I remember them and they happened as far as I’m concerned, that doesn’t mean they were a historical event you’ll find in a book or by going out and digging for monster bones and stolen dog skins.”
“Well that helps. There’s plenty of people in the place we broke Flo out of that would say the sa…” He froze, because when he glanced up at her, he found a coyote sitting on the bed where she’d been. Even not knowing anything about coyotes or even canines in general, he recognized an exceptional example of the breed when he saw it by the fine, full coat and bright, intelligent eyes.
“Same thing.” he concluded, tamping down the reaction his instincts recommended. “But yes. Good argument: they don’t usually turn into animals. But crazy descendants do. Or they have illusion powers, or something else that can explain it.”
The coyote gave him a doggy smile and let out a low bark.
“Right, but I’m expected to take some of these things on faith. Got it.” He shook his head and tapped on his tablet. “Anyway, I read and you might have mentioned that one of the Coyote legends has him—you—fighting monsters in the time before humans lived on Earth.”
“I know where you’re going with this,” When Wendell looked up, Coyote was back, sitting exactly where the coyote had been and looking as if nothing had happened. “Anansi was hoping the same thing, but the answer is ‘no’. The Adversarial Force is nothing like the things I fought back then… at least I don’t think.”
“What do you mean you don’t think? You and Anansi act so damn sure about everything the rest of the time; what’s special about this one?” Wendell started out harshly, but his tone softened. Maybe it was another, more subtle transformation trick, or maybe Coyote was just that good an actress. Either way, the person he saw sitting on the bed ceased to be the mysterious, often arrogant-seeming trickster and became a confused and frustrated teenaged girl whose nervous fingers were working at fraying the hem of her pajama shirt.
In all the time they’d been there, he’d known in a general way that Coyote was a young woman, only just an adult, but it never registered until just then.
She looked up and uncertain eyes met his. “I didn’t finish my explanation earlier. When I said that I was all of the Coyotes from the stories and none, I meant it. I’m not sure how much you listened or believed, but our bodies… we usually take them over at the moment of death, replacing the real person. Anansi’s body once belonged to a homeless man and I’ve heard of others that did pretty much the same thing. But with me… I am Coyote. And I am Ida Lane. It’s not a ‘we’ kind of situation. I’m just both at once. The problem is that it makes things fuzzy trying to remember a thousand different lifetimes when you’ve only lived eighteen years.”
Wendell stared at her, trying to think of what to say to something like that. “Oh. That’s…”
“Freaky? Try living it.” said Coyote. “Its part of why I’ve made myself scarce these past few days. Before all this, I would have been ready to go after the Force and go for the throat. But now? I’m scared of dying.” She chuckled sadly, “And that’s never happened before.”
Averting his eyes and clearing his throat, Wendell took some notes on his tablet. “So this thing is that bad, huh?”
“As a rule, you don’t get insane cults for being the god of fluffy bunnies and happiness.” she pointed out with pitch-perfect teen sarcasm. “But yes, it’s that bad. The Adversarial Force is something not of this world. Have you ever heard of the astral plane?”
Wendell shook his head. He didn’t keep up with science.
Coyote shrugged. “It’s a world that overlaps ours where emotion and memory and all sorts of thought related stuff translated into matter and energy. The fact that it exists opened up whole new fields of science. What I’m getting at here is that the place where the Adversarial Force comes from is beyond even that. And it hates humanity.
“It’s name isn’t a fluke or someone trying to be clever. It literally is the enemy to everyone in this world. And its power is to make other people into each others’ enemy. Entire armies were turned against one another and the people they were meant to protect.”
At those words, Wendell stopped what he was doing and stared blankly for a long moment.
“What?” Asked Coyote.
It took a minute more of silent thought as Wendell arranged his thoughts, then he asked, “Do you know how it was beaten last time it was here?”
Coyote nodded. “We all do. At least Anansi and I remember after being gone so long. The others probably do too. There was another being from another, different world than the Adversarial Force. Her name was Amorocca, and she amplified the love between two of her followers and used it to give them powers to fight back. Their love counteracted the Adversarial Force’s ability to inspire hate and they were able to drain it of much of its power until it couldn’t survive in our reality anymore.”
“I take it they didn’t kill it.” said Wendell.
Wendell chewed his lip and pulled up a program he’d had running to check on national news. “There hasn’t been a massive uptick in violence anywhere, so if it’s here, it isn’t at full power like before. It can’t do too much damage on its own. That’s what I was trying to figure when I spaced out just now… I’ve been thinking about this wrong.”
Coyote tilted her head in lieu of actually asking a question.
Eyes on his screen, Wendell started to rearrange his data points. “I don’t think the cult thinks the boy is their god, this Adversarial thing. I think that maybe this thing is so weak that it can’t manage the ‘turning armies against everyone’ trick anymore. Maybe it can just push and prod one person at a time. All it would need is one charismatic fanatic.
“Believe me, you can whip up a cult easier than you can a potluck dinner. All you need at the essential ingredients: a good pitch to hook people in, a cold read to figure out their problems, a simple solution to those problems that doesn’t actually have to work, and enough isolation that no one gets to point out how twisted the whole thing is before you’ve got them strung on completely.”
He looked up to find the coyote again, it’s eyes narrowed and its ears laid back in an annoyed expression. “Anansi picked me because I’m a con artist, not because I’m a good person. The point is, the AF puts together a cult because it can’t survive here anymore, let’s say. But that’s not what it wants. It wants to break stuff, and unfortunately, using the cult for that means ‘bye-bye cult’. That’s where the boy comes in. He’s got this death touch or whatever and if he were lethally motivated…”
Coyote, who had become herself at some point when he wasn’t looking, jumped off the bed. “He would be as, if not more destructive than the Adversarial Force was when it first came to this world.”
For a quiet moment, Wendell sat and stared at his new flowchart for what was going on. Coyote stared over his shoulder. He suspected it might be her influence that was inspiring him to think in so many outlier directions because what few instructions and ideas Anansi had left them with suddenly made a lot of sense.
To Be Continued…