Spider and Fly
The Ambassador of Onrushing Shadows descended the stairs in silence, the sliver of a smile touching his lips as he dragged his fingers against the flaked obsidian of the wall to his left, leaving a faint trail of blood which the stone of the Underworld drank in with unseemly haste. He passed through a carven archway, inscribed with a patternless tract of lines symbolic of the Labyrinth, and felt the world twist around him as he stepped out into his sifu’s chamber.
He bowed as he stepped up to the Outer Circle, a ring of jade inlaid along the floor of the round, apparently doorless chamber. The Outer Circle, along with the four concentric figures nested within it, had been integral in his training. He was no savant, but he suspected they were also integral to keeping his teacher trapped here, though the three lengths of soulsteel chain that snaked across the floor to vanish beneath the hem of his instructor’s robes must have plaid their part as well.
The sensei appeared much as she always had. An impassive figure, seemingly sculpted all of shadow, standing motionless at the chamber’s center. She was a fascinating creature, perhaps especially because he had not the first idea what she was. A spirit? A demon? She was – at least phenotypically – female, lithe and supple, with a shapely curve that was obvious despite the magic that shrouded her identity from his senses.
The Ambassador wanted desperately to penetrate the veil of her anonymity. He wanted her. And every time she moved, his mind read sex in it, extrapolating every shift and flutter of her shadowy garment into undulations of lust.
But it was not his sifu’s motion that had captured his interest… he had wanted her desperately since the first time she had hit him. He craved the intense clarity that came with the pain. The insights gained from broken bones and deep bruises.
He stood outside the Outer Circle until she spoke. This was their daily ritual, and had been since the night on which his master had bestowed the gift of Exaltation upon him. It always began with a threat, spoken in a whisper, soft and rich and so swirling with complex eddies of emotional context that it challenged even his extraordinary social awareness, “It will begin in your knees: first right, then left. Shattered and reversed. You will fall. Then I will be upon you, my knee to your throat, and with your life in my hands I will reach into the essence of your being and unmake you utterly…”
The Abyssal kept his breathing even, and considered the day’s challenge. His sensei had never done less than her level best to follow through on her threats, and this was hardly the first time she had threatened him with death. He knew that the night he failed to learn fast enough, to keep up with her lessons, would truly be his last. But the threat to unmake him was new. He bowed to his teacher, and rose from the bow into the Form of the Crane, weight on the toes of his left foot, arms crossed upon his chest in a gesture of warding. He stepped into the ring.
The Form adopted by his instructor was not one he knew, nor had he seen her use before. She stood low, with legs deeply bent and arms contorted so that her hands – fingers splayed – were held level to the floor, one before her and the other behind. In the coruscating halo of pale blue light that surrounded her shadowy form, the pose struck him as stunningly beautiful. She waited. Still. Like a spider at the center of her web, patiently anticipating the tremble that would tell her that her prey had been ensnared.
His approach was graceful, and much faster than it looked. He bounded forward, his toes exerting no more weight than a feather as he leapt off the ball of his left foot and brought his arms in tight, spinning to the right to rob the expected strike against his right knee of force. The strike was there, but as he turned it deftly aside, he encountered the web. It was invisible, but he could feel its essence laden strands pulling at him as he bounded back from his opponent, like moving through a room strung all around with cobwebs.
He leveraged them. Focusing his essence on his Form, he placed one feather-weight toe on the web – now faintly visible in the flaring light of his opponent’s anima, and pushed himself up and out, bounding from strand to strand as he climbed higher towards the chamber’s domed ceiling, until he looked down upon his sensei through a slightly angled shaft clear of strands.
Then he struck. He had not mastered this technique, but he intuited that this scenario was intended to test his progress with it. Spreading his hands, palms out before him, he dove upon his opponent in a plummeting glide, like a raptor stooping on its prey.
He expected to strike her soundly, but by no means fatally. He did not expect to be struck in return, which he instantly realized was a mistake. But that instant was enough. His sifu’s hand came up, fingers snapping together, and drove in hard against his heart chakra. The magic of his Form Charm shattered explosively, the aftershocks wracking his body with an ecstatic energy. The two following blows came in the same instant, as his teacher’s limbs seemed to multiply, surpassing his ability to track. With a sickening pop, his knees collapsed, disjointed. Right then left, a split second apart, exactly as she had promised.
The pain filled his mind, and he was nearly overcome. A low moan slipped from his lips as his back hit the cold stone of the floor, driven by his sensei’s knee as she took him down and pinned him, half straddling his chest. He could feel the heat of her thigh against his shoulder. The brush of her fingers against his cheek as she reached down to take away his life. And he struggled to push these thoughts from his mind as he gathered his essence into the defense that he’d come to realize was the entire focus of this lesson. Her fingers touched his chest, and his anima flared as – by the narrowest of margins – he magnified his very nature in defense of his soul.
He could feel her smile in her body language, where she pressed against him, “Good…”
His hand slid up over her fingers, where they lay upon his chest, pushing aside folds of shadowy cloth to reveal a slim wedge of pale wrist, encircled by a golden bracelet inscribed with shimmering starmetal runes, the first of her he had ever truly seen. Her weight shifted, and he felt sharp fingernails dig deep into the flesh of his neck before their lesson became something else all together…