Val wanted more. She hadn’t expected to though. Having an open ended series of casual but intense hook-ups with a goddess who was intent on destroying her seemed like it should have been enough to satisfy both her desire for affection and her love of danger.
Hearing Aranea say that she wanted to take whatever it was they had to another level scared Val in a different way though. She didn’t feel herself instinctively pulling away, or even wanting to be cautious. She could feel herself falling for the strange, and sometimes inhuman, Aranea and it felt right, though she couldn’t quite explain to herself why that was.
“If you had to pick a word for us, what would it be?” Val asked, shifting closer into Aranea’s embrace as they sat lazily on the couch and watched an old black and white movie named ‘Earth vs. the Spider’. It was an amazingly terrible film, but Aranea had a fondness for it. Val couldn’t get much out of the movie, but watching Aranea’s reaction to any of the scenes where a spider, even a fake one, was on the screen was delightful.
“If I had to pick a word, it would be inadequate,” Aranea said, shifting to turn a bit so her attention was more on Val than the screen.
“No, my choice of word would be inadequate,” Aranea said, shaking her head quickly. “As you’ve noted, words have power, and I am more constrained by that power than any mortal would be.”
“Constrained how?” Val asked and then pulled back a bit, concerned she’d overstepped a boundary, “Unless that’s something you can’t talk about.”
“It is a secret, but not one I need to keep from you,” Aranea said, pulling Val back in close. “As a mortal, you are made of flesh and blood and you create ideas. I do not share those traits.”
“I would say you’ve got at least one of those traits down pretty well.” Val ran her fingers down Aranea’s bicep, around the curve of her elbow and up her forearm in a slow, teasing glide.
“You’re adorable,” Aranea said. “But you illustrate my point as well. This is not me.” She moved her hand under Val’s touch and turned it until their palms were touching.
Val watched as the nails grew an inch longer on Aranea’s hands, elongating into sharp, spiky tips.
“I know,” Val said, threading her fingers with Aranea’s. “You’re a shape changer. You can look like whatever you want.”
“What’s important is why that is so.” Aranea let her fingertips flow back into smooth curves.
“One of the perks of being divine?” Val resisted the urge to nibble on Aranea’s fingers. It was always tempting to flirt, but it didn’t feel like the right moment to distract Aranea.
“In a sense.” Aranea’s gaze was watchful, as though she could sense the desire Val was holding back. “Other beings shared the same capability though, and for the same reason.”
“Is it because you don’t have one specific form? Or maybe your original form can’t exist here?” Val turned from looking at their entwined hands to get a read on Aranea’s expression towards the ideas.
“My original form is lost to me.” Arenea glanced at Val, meeting her gaze, and then stared off wistfully, looking for a memory that was too distant to recall.
“Do you remember who you were then?” Val asked.
“Maybe? There are stories I carry in my mind, but I cannot be sure which of them were told to me by someone else, which I told to myself, and which, if any, of them are true.”
“Is that how it is for everyone like you?”
“I suspect so. It is not something which we have cause to speak openly about much.”
“Does it worry you?” Val shifted to sit up fully and give Aranea her full attention. The movie continued to play in the background, but as it wasn’t the first time they’d watched it, nor likely to be the last, Val wasn’t concerned about missing ‘the good bits’.
“Why would it worry me?” Aranea asked.
“I don’t know. I guess it leaves a lot of questions open. Things like ‘Am I who I believe I am?’ and ‘Are my choices ones I’m making or did someone else make them when they made me?’. There’s whole books of philosophy on stuff like that.”
“I think there can be no gods with questions like those, though, to be fair, I have not met them all.” Aranea smiled, reinforcing the idea that reality was even weirder than the extent of her divine knowledge could encompass. “Doubts about our nature are more difficult for us though. I said before that you are made of flesh and blood and create ideas. The reverse is true for me. I am more an idea than anything else, and with my power I create the flesh and blood you see before you.”
Val let her gaze drift inwards as she considered the idea. Aranea felt warm and solid beside her, but illusions were capable of affecting all of the senses according to Tam. It didn’t sound like that was quite what Aranea was talking about though.
“I think I get it,” Val said as the pieces started to line up in her head. “For humans, we’re primarily physical, so our bodies are a basic element of who we are. Our thoughts, on the other hand, come and go freely. We can change our minds, or even re-invent who we want to be. With you, if I’m hearing you right, being ‘Aranea the Goddess of Spiders’ is who you are. That’s the most basic thing that defines you. That concept. Your body’s only as much a reflection of who you are as the things I’m thinking about at the moment are a reflection of who I am.”
“Yes, which is why I am more constrained in my use of language than you are,” Aranea said. “Ideas I speak resonate within me.”
“Does that mean you can’t lie?” It was a tricky question since any denial of the ability to lie would have to be met with suspicion.
“I can lie easily. In some situations at least. No one expects spiders to be honest with their prey. Though we often are. What I cannot do, is lie to myself easily.”
“Is that a magical ban someone else put on you?” Val asked.
“No, simply a part of my nature. I am defined by the stories that make me up. If I lie to someone else, then there is the story within me that I have deceived them, and that is a truth in its own fashion. If I lie to myself, if I describe myself to myself with words that aren’t true, they will either fall silent, or they will become true.”
“So if you try to say ‘I’m not a spider, I’m a cat’, you’d either wind up being silent, or you’d actually become a cat?” Val’s mind leapt at the possibilities for how a trait like that could be exploited.
“Or I would rend myself asunder.” Aranea sighed. “It is one of the methods by which a god may die.”
“Trying to become something they’re not?” Val felt a series of misgivings bubbling up inside her chest.
“Yes. I am not a cat. I can tell you ‘I will become a cat tomorrow’, and I would be fine, if I didn’t intend to become a cat. If I believed that I would become a cat though, then those words would become real within me, and when I tried to become a cat the story of how I became a spider would fall apart, leaving me with nothing.”
“How much danger are you in day to day?” Val asked, voicing the simplest of her fears. “If we make plans and you get held up doing something, is that going to tear you in half? Or are you shackled to doing them even if you change your mind?”
“A missed lunch date isn’t enough to destroy me,” Aranea said. “It would be irritating and would leave me out of sorts for a while but eventually the discordance would subside.”
“Does phrasing help there?” Val asked. “If I said ‘let’s meet for lunch’ and you said ‘I might be available’, would that give you more leeway if something came up?”
“It would, though it is unsatisfying in its own right as well.”
“Because you can’t just say what you want to in the moment?”
“Being coy and seeking not to be constrained by my own words is close to my nature, but living like that means holding myself apart from the world.” Aranea reached to draw Val in closer. “Being bound by what I say to you makes my time here more real, more a part of who I am. I would not give that up lightly.”
It was hard not to take that as declaration of a word that neither of them had uttered so far. Val felt her heart begin to race and willed it to maintain a sane rhythm. The aching hunger she felt could chase Aranea away as easily as it might draw her in, and neither one of them would benefit if they rushed things too fast. Val’s past relationships had proven that time and again.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” she whispered.
“I know. And I won’t hurt you.”
Val didn’t ask her if she was lying. Aranea had pledged to destroy the Second Chance Club, or something like that. She couldn’t promise not to hurt Val. It had to be a lie. At least a small one.
Maybe Aranea would help them fake their deaths. Maybe she’d fight them but hold back enough that she could say she made the attempt without causing any serious or lasting issues. A Spider Goddess had to be allowed those sorts of tricks, and even more subtle ones.
But that wasn’t what was going to happen. Aranea wasn’t lying about not hurting her. Val knew that. Just like she knew she wasn’t going to let Aranea be hurt for her sake either.
“What word would you use, if you could? If you were a mortal woman like me?” Val asked, the hunger inside gnawing at her stronger than ever.
“One that I cannot use as I am now,” Aranea said.
Val searched Aranea’s face for…what? Clarity? Permission? Perhaps just confirmation of the connection that she felt.
“I took this form as a disguise,” Aranea said. “It’s one I’ve worn before. I’d grown fond of it. So few of my prey expect someone who looks like this to be a predator.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Val said, adopting a smile to diffuse the tension that had gripped her heart. “You looked deadly the first time I laid eyes on you.”
“And you were terrifying,” Aranea said. “Though less so than you are now.”
“I’m scaring you?” Val asked, blinking in surprise.
Aranea leaned forward and closed Val’s shock parted lips with a kiss.
“I fear myself,” Aranea said, pulling away only a few inches. “In keeping you, in losing you, in staying as we are, I teeter on the brink of the abyss, but in that uncertainty there is a joy that fills me.”
“It sounds like…” Val caught herself, not wanting to even voice the question much less hear the answer. She had to know though. If any of what she thought they had was real, she owed it to Aranea to be brave enough to ask. “It sounds like being with me is a danger to you. You don’t look like a spider at the moment. And you’re not acting like one. Is that costing you? Are you tearing apart bit by bit just from being here? Can you be the Goddess of Spiders if you stay here?”
“I don’t know,” Aranea said. “I’m changing. In you there is a different story of who I am than any I have ever known. I can feel it pulling at me. I don’t know what it means though. I don’t know if it will destroy me, or if I will survive as someone new. I have never faced something like this. I have never loved someone as I love you.”