- 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
Terrell didn’t flinch or even show surprise at Anansi’s arrival. His eyes merely narrowed for an instant before he glanced back at the refrigerator. “Where the hell have you been?”
The Spider’s face might as well have been cut out of stone for all the expression he showed. When he spoke, he spoke deliberately, each word selected with care. “Answer my question, Terrell.”
“No.” Terrell would have shouted f he hadn’t remember where he was. “You answer mine. Where the hell do you get off with this? You brought us together for some ‘job’, you stick us with a man that turns into a goddamn monster, and you don’t tell us that the thing we’re up against is some kind of evil god? And then you just wander off and leave us without a clue as to what this thing we’re supposed to be doing is? Don’t dare ask me what I’m doing, because you know damn well what I’m doing. I almost got killed once tonight already and when I open this door, it might happen again.”
His diatribe hit ts mark and Anansi’s features softened. “I left because of my plans; to reevaluate myself and how far I am willing to go, what kind of story I truly want to tell. I did not expect you to continue on in my absence.”
“You knew. That’s why you picked us, right? Because we wouldn’t sit there and do nothing when something awful was going to happen to the kid and maybe something worse was going to get let out into the world.” Terrell turned his back on Anansi, steeling himself to open the secret room again. “As it turns out, even Wendell isn’t that much of a bastard. He’s the one that pieced together your plan and got us moving on it.”
Anansi took a step forward. “The plan is wrong, though! I thought I was following the correct narrative, but I wasn’t; not for what I intended to do. If you use that gun on Adian Beck, there will be no redemption for any of you. Any of us.”
This made Terrell pause and grunt out a small laugh. “Who said this bullet was for the vampire?”
Susan and Tommy pushed through the doors of the Center with matching no-nonsense strides. Dressed in black suits with black sunglasses, they cut the perfect iconic figures of Men (or rather a man and a woman) In Black. Their shiny black dress shoes echoed in the lobby with each step, instantly alerting Rochelle to their presence.
The cultist looked up, but before she could say anything, Susan had her badge out. Supplied by Wendell, it could pass even close inspection up until someone tried to check the badge number and found out it belonged to a man who’d been retired from the bureau for twenty-seven years.
“Agent Alexandra Devlin. Federal Bureau of Investigation.” She said, watching recognition from the diner blossom in Rochelle’s eyes. “This is my partner on this case, Agent Frank Rogers, Drug Enforcement Agency.”
“DEA?” Rochelle asked, betraying the fact that she ‘knew’ Susan was from the FBI. “What’s this about?”
Mindful of the joy grenade counting down on the desk, Susan didn’t mince words. “We have reason to believe someone in this establishment is trafficking in controlled substances using prescription drugs taken from the hospital pharmacy.”
No mention of the occult. Wendell explained to them that wondering why that or their previous encounter at the diner weren’t being brought up were part of the misdirection; she would be so wrapped up in worry that she wouldn’t make smart choices and would be more likely to follow the path of least resistance.”
Rochelle sputtered for a few precious seconds that would have made real agents suspicious before saying “I’ve never heard anything like that. And there’s nothing on the schedule about a visit from the FBI.”
Susan gave her a stern look. “Do you think we’d announce our arrival and give the perpetrators a chance to conceal their crimes? We’ve already served a warrant to the Director of the Center Your job is to just direct us to the pharmacy and give us security overrides for it.”
“Perpetrators?” Rochelle repeated, emphasizing the plural that might well include herself. “I can tell you where to go, but I don’t have security clearance for the pharmacy.”
“Then direct us to someone who can.” said Susan, trying not to look down at the grenade.
Rochelle moved with robotic precision, trying not to arouse any suspicion in the two agents in front of her as she checked the duty roster. “I can buzz you through to the security room on the second floor.” She said after discovering the no one with any higher authority than Dr. Mueller was on duty for the night. That was how he’d arranged it to make sure o one would find out what he was really doing with Jerry Galloway.
“Good.” Said Susan as the countdown in the back of her head dwindled dangerously close to the limit. “Do that.”
With a few keystrokes, Rochelle buzzed the doors behind her. “Go on through. And… good night, officers.”
“Yeah,” said Tommy, moving toward the doors faster than he should have to maintain his cool persona. “Good night.” Susan fell into step with him and they disappeared through the doors.
The moments he was certain they were out of earshot, Rochelle picked up the earpiece of the office phone. “Shit.” She muttered. “They must be on to use to feed me that kind of line.” But as she keyed up the Center’s directory, a blissful feeling began to overtake her. The world seemed to float and fill with the scent of jasmine.
It had been a long time since she was truly happy. A military brat, she’d been shipped from school to school, never having friends and even in college, she was too consumed by her studies to form relationships beyond casual working friendships. With no one close to her, she’d grown cynical and bitter about the human race. And then the Adversarial Force’s chosen had found her and confirmed everything she’d begun to believe about the cursed existence of mankind.
Only now, she was feeling everything she’d been denied. They were faceless and voiceless, but she felt surrounded by people that cared about her. They remembered her birthday and came over with movies and pizza when she was feeling low. They stood by her and both laughed and cried with her. They included her and for the first time, she let herself be included.
Rochelle Campos slumped in her chair, a slow smile spreading across her face as for one shining moment, she had everything she needed. And somewhere beyond her perception, the darkness that once claimed her flinched away from her as if burned.
Ida Lane was more angry than she’d ever felt in her life and she had more than enough to rage against. People she’d known had left her for dead—for dead. She might have died and they would have just laughed it off as another prank on another unpopular kid.
But then she didn’t die did she? She’d survived because of the thing the godlike parasite that merged with her while trying to steal her body and wear it like a skin. They had become one, but now she knew that they weren’t one. The graces of the Adversarial Force had unveiled her eyes and revealed a cage of her own mind with Coyote as the jailer.
Maybe she would be dead without Coyote, but then again, she wouldn’t have been dragged into the spiral of madness that was Anansi and his Seven. She certainly wouldn’t be lying in the hall of a mental hospital about to be murdered by the Force’s high priest.
No. It was Coyote, the thoughts of the ancient being seeping in again. I saved you by choice. We ARE one. I am Ida Lane. I am Coyote. Ida Lane IS Coyote.
She couldn’t believe it. She was too angry to believe it. Angry for a lost life, angry for lost agency.
Mueller loomed over her, filled with the spirit of the Adversarial Force. Ida was especially angry at him—at the Force. At all monsters that threatened humanity. They should have all be destroyed at the dawn of time. Destroyed by her jaws.
Something broke free. The irrational anger couldn’t hold her anymore and her disparate pieces came together again. Yes, she was Ida Lane, but now there was a monster that needed to be killed—and for that, she needed to be Coyote.
Coyote’s eye rolled in her head, then refocused on Mueller and on the ax he manifested from the power of his god. It was an extension of the Adversarial Force brought completely into the reality of the earthly plane.
Mueller didn’t see the shift before Coyote was back on all four feet and leaping at him. He tried to block with his power-wrought ax, but that was exactly what she was aiming for. Her teeth biting into the haft might as well have been tearing directly into his nerve endings for the explosion of pain that shot through him.
A scream ripped form his throat and he might have dropped to his knees if the Force allowed it. Blood bubbled out of his nose, leaving a stench like burning copper. It was only with the help of the power flowing through him that he turned instead of collapsing.
Behind him, blocking he way back to Jerry’s room, he found Coyote, the jagged ax of crimson energy writhing in her jaws. Her gleaming eyes met his as she bore down with those jaws. Caught in a vice of power beyond just that which muscle provided, the ax unraveled into streamers of red smoke that wreathed the beast’s face.
More of the pure, deific hatred poured into Mueller. The Adversarial Force refused to be defeated by its old foe and it would not allow the wound she inflicted to go unanswered. More energy began to build inside him, ready to lash out and destroy the interloper.
Bloodshot eyes turned to find a figure standing in the hall with them. Through the fog of war that was the Adversarial Force’s influence, he recognized the man. “Cobbworthy,” He said in a low growl. The man was just some out of town shrink using the advanced facilities to help some girl. He was unimportant, and now that he’d seen what was going on, he was dead.
But Cobbworthy looked nonplussed at the display before him. In fact, he was offering up the most smug smirk Mueller had ever seen on a person.
The visiting doctor had been keeping his hands in his pockets and now removed them. In one, he held a palmtop. In the other, he held what looked like a hip flask.
“Not quite.” said ‘Cobbworthy’, really Wendell Leiter. He tapped the screen of his palmtop and an alarm bell rang just ahead of the lockdown door behind Muller to come down, sealing the other end of the hallway. “Ready, Coyote?”
Muller looked over to find not the giant, snarling beast, but a young Native American woman standing beside him. She moved with celerity that left no doubt as to her true identity over to Wendell’s side. “Definitely. Thought I would have been just as happy finishing him myself.”
Wendell smirked again, twisted the cap of the flask, and tossed it at Mueller. At the same time the flask was in the air, he tapped his palmtop again and activated the lockdown door between the two of them and Mueller. ”Trust me, this takes care of things much more neatly than ripping his throat out.”
“No!” Mueller tried to reached the door before it came down, but even his god-borne strength wasn’t enough to stop the hydraulics forcing the door closed. He slammed power enhanced fists into it, but all he could do was to put dents in the metal.
It was only then that his ears detected the hissing and his gaze darted to the flask.
Poison. They were trying to gas him.
He tried to hold his breath, the power flowing in him bolstered him well beyond the point where any other man’s lungs might be bursting—and yet in the end, he was still human even if he was an instrument of a god. He still needed to breath.
Three Days Earlier
“It was really an epiphany when it came to me.” Wendell was explaining to the others. “This Adversarial Force thing is basically nothing but hate. Everything we know about it is all about hate. I’m willing to bet it feeds on hate seeing how it seems to be all about fostering it. It’s like any other mark: it’s trying to make itself comfortable; feathering the nest if you will.
“Hell, the way they killed it… or whatever… the first time was with love. That got me thinking: Flo and the joy grenades. Those are the key. This thing needs a foothold in this world, and that’s the cult. I know a thing or two about cults and one thing they’re really, really good at it making you feel what they want you to feel. Most of the time they want you to feel good and loved, but these guys? What if they make their members feel hate so the Force can use them?”
Terrell was pacing the room as he listened. “So… we use Flo’s toys to make them feel happy thoughts and that ends it? You think it’ll be that easy?”
“Not at all.” Said Wendell, “The last time, they needed to send super-powered lovers after it, so it’s more than just some spirit possessing folks; there has to be something else. We need intel on how this thing and this cult works, but I’m starting to put together what Anansi planned: phase one: distract it, phase two, remove every one of its cultists and Jerry from its options on where to hide, and phase three…”
“Find its weak point and hit it hard.” Terrell finished recapping the meeting to Anansi while at the same time pulling the refrigerator to the side one more time. The light from inside the hidden room shined through a series of claw marks in the door, some of which had torn open chunks large enough that he could have put his head through the door.
“Beck was the distraction.” said Anansi, standing behind him. Even without looking, Terrell could sense him tensing to stop him if he did something untoward.
Gun pointed at the door, Terrell grasped the knob with his free hand. “That’s what we figured you brought him on for. He sure as hell wasn’t useful for anything else.”
“That doesn’t mean you can kill him now. Transformative power has flowed down to him in the blood, but he is still a man, still beyond your judgment over whether he lives or dies.”
Terrell cast a look at him over his shoulder. “Why do you keep saying that? What makes you think we’re going to kill him?”
A long silence followed and Terrell almost shrugged and opened the door. But just as he was about to, Anansi spoke, sounding as long-lived as he was, and as haggard as a mortal would have been after so many years. “Because that was my plan. Beck, the Strigoi, was the Sacrifice.”
Fingers tightened on the door knob, but not to turn it. “What?”
“This is a story of redemption.” said Anansi. “You seek redemption for what you did to survive. Susan, for what she did for vengeance. Coyote for inserting herself into the life and fate of Ida Lane. Flo needs her ideas redeemed, to prove to herself that her madness does not make her a danger but a boon. Tommy doesn’t need it anywhere but his own eyes. And Wendell needs to learn that he needs it at all.
He reached past Terrell and pulled the door open for him. Aidan Beck lay on his back in front of it, breathing steadily. He was still in his vampiric form, his claws still clutching chunks of wood, but his eyes were clouded and a dazed smile was plastered on his face.
“This man, however—this monster—there is nothing in him but spite and hate and the desire to hurt his fellow human beings. It has nothing to do with his transformation: he was always like that. All becoming a strigoi did for him was to allow him to act on it. The only thing that redeem him in dying for the greater good.”
He glanced over to Terrell. The other man wasn’t looking at Aidan. His eyes were firmly on the jar in the middle of the room, which thrummed with intensity. “That is…”
“The weak point.” said Terrell, taking aim. “I was sent here to find out how the cult worked and how they contacted the Adversarial Force. That thing right there? It’s just one big ball of hate and evil. And with the proper application of the joy grenades to his cultists and fang face here…”
He pulled the trigger three times in rapid succession.
To Be Concluded in Spider’s Seven: Journey’s End.