“What…what do you mean?” Rie asked, her eyes wide with shock and fury.
“Rie…have you ever wondered why there are rarely any boys in this village?”
That question caught Rie off guard; it was true that the majority of the villagers were girls. She remembered a senpai she had in junior high who she had always thought was a guy until she ran into the senpai in the girls’ restroom. Come to think of it, when was the last time she saw a man or a boy?
“Many of the villagers here are like Teruko,” Masako said, nodding towards her eldest daughter. “We of Fushigumo Village are subjects to the Spider Princess. We serve her by allowing her and the Kumobito to breed with us while we in return are protected by them and provided with all sorts of wealth. But alas, the Kumobito have recently been lacking in numbers; we were forced to use magic to make more from humans.”
“And you let them do that to Teruko-neechan?! And you made Teruko rape that girl for that reason as well?!”
“She is one of the lucky ones! She will have immortal life and be part of the magnificent kingdom that the Spider Princess shall bring! That girl is also lucky; she too shall have immortal life and she has brought the new generation of Kumobito in as well!”
“Mother…you’re insane…” Rie said softly.
“No, I’m not. You’re just trying to deny our destiny…” Masako whispered softly. “Rie, don’t you see? The time of the Spider Princess is about to come! As more Kumobito are born, the Spider Princess gets stronger and the closer she is to breaking free of her prison. This is all for her sake! When she awakens, she will grant all of her followers gifts beyond humanity’s imaginations!”
A voice soon came from behind Masako. “Masako-san, is that the daughter?”
“T-Takagi-sama?!” Masako cried out as she looked behind her to see Kaoru standing behind her. “When…when did you get here? W-were you the one…”
“No, Mitsuko was the one that broke the window,” Kaoru said. “I thought I’d come explain the damage while my third eye was inspecting the broken torii gate. So she’s the one in the family that we didn’t transform into a Kumobito…”
“Wh…what?” Rie’s voice started to break as she stared at her mother in disbelief. “You…you’re one of those monsters…?”
“Don’t be so quick to call us monsters, little girl,” Kaoru said, although there didn’t seem to be any malice in her voice. “Let me ask you something…do you remember what the doctor had told your mother about her eyesight?”
“She…she was going to lose it…oh no, don’t tell me…”
“Oh yes. Imagine this: your mother has given up all hope at ever being able to see again. Never to look upon the faces of her beloved daughters, never to be able to manage the inn and help earn money for the family, never able to see the beauty of the outside. Can you comprehend, little girl? The fear your mother felt as her vision slowly failed?”
Masako said nothing, not even facing her own daughter.
“In her desperation, she tried to pray to the gods. Saki-sama was in at the time, and she made your mother an offer; she would help restore her sight and in return Masako would help her out whenever she needed. Masako accepted, and Saki-sama injected her with medicine made from her own blood.”
“As for your older sister, did you know when we brought her into the temple she had been near death? She had been cruelly stabbed by a man who had been taken by her but couldn’t take her rejection well enough. Saki-sama did all she could, but she would’ve expired in a couple of hours. Your mother begged Saki-sama to turn her into a Kumobito, and Saki-sama did so.”
“No…no way…” Rie stammered. “That…” She could remember the day that when she first learned that Teruko had disappeared. Her mother had only told her Teruko had disappeared, and it was the day after that Rie had heard about the arrest of a man who had stabbed someone. He was an outsider, so she had no idea what happened to him.
“Saki-sama has saved not one, but two of your family members,” Kaoru said softly. “Would a monster do that? She has done many of us such favors, and many of us even owe our lives to her. I myself am no different; she has helped me and my little sister out of the kindness of her heart. Let me ask you something; how old are you?”
“T-Twenty-four, but what does that have to do with…”
“Twenty-four, huh?” Kaoru mused. “That would mean Masako gave birth to you when she was thirty-nine. It was a miracle that she could give birth to you at such a late age safely. She treasures the two of you very much; how could you blame her for going through such measures just so she could be with her daughters?”
“I…I…” Tears were starting to pour down Rie’s eyes. What was she supposed to say when confronted with that?
“You probably know that your mother was never a healthy person; we cannot turn her into a Kumobito because the stress of the transformation would be too much for her. That’s why we need young girls; their bodies are able to take the transformation no matter how frail they are. When you’re at your mother’s age, such transformations are far more traumatizing for the body. But with the power of the Spider Princess, we can restore your mother’s healthy. The three of you can live happily together!”
Rie just stood there, her body trembling. “But…but what you did hurt others…”
“Oh, you mean people like her?” Kaoru pointed at the girl Teruko had impregnated. “We didn’t hurt her; she was simply mated with. We do not kill the second mother upon birth, nor do we devour her once she can no longer give birth. Girls like her are treasured by us, for they help bring about the new generation. She will be treated well. Also, she has a beautiful baby to call her own.” With that, Kaoru pointed at Teruko’s infant, who was staring at her with apprehension. “How could you call something like that monstrous? What would she think, knowing her aunt despises her simply because she has eight limbs instead of four?”
Kaoru suddenly stopped, her eyes narrowed. “I have to go now. Masako, I’ll leave you to deal with your daughter. Don’t overexert yourself; it wouldn’t do for you to die and leave your daughters distraught.” With that, Kaoru ran off.
“M-mother…” Teruko gasped out. “So…if you did this to me to save my life, then why? Why did you lock me up in here?”
“For your own protection,” Masako said, finally looking up. “I didn’t want outsiders to see you. What if they took you away to be experimented on? What if they sold you to a freak show? I…I didn’t want that to happen. Although there are many Kumobito in this village, I didn’t want to risk one of the villagers to talk about you to any outside ears.” She turned towards Rie. “Believe me, I would never hurt any of you.”
“No…don’t touch me…please…” Rie begged, the tears flowing freely down. “What am I…what am I supposed to think now? What…” She stopped as Masako pulled her into a tight embrace, the old woman’s thin arms trembling as they wrapped around Rie’s body. “Mom…”
“Rie, I love you. You and Teruko are all I have left in the world after your father was murdered…I can’t bear it if I lose the two of you as well…please, believe me. This is for the best. This is why I must help awaken the Spider Princess; so she can ensure that we have a great future ahead of us…”
“You’re pretty good!” Mitsuko shrieked in glee as she barreled forwards towards Hatsune. The two had been forced outside due to the small space inside of the shrine. “But how long can you keep dodging me?”
Hatsune gritted her teeth as she dodged the many strikes Mitsuko was launching at her. Kanako could only stare in fascination at the battle in front of her. ‘That Mitsuko girl…she’s crazy…I…I wish there was something I can do to help…’
“I’ve got you now!” Mitsuko shouted as she managed to pin Hatsune to the ground. Her long arms grabbed Hatsune’s wrists and pinned them above her head while the spider legs flexed themselves, preparing to tear Hatsune’s clothes apart. “Time to enjoy you after that little exercise…ow!” Mitsuko suddenly screamed in pain as she leaped off of Hatsune. Kanako could see that one of Mitsuko’s arms were bleeding. But what surprised her most was one of Hatsune’s hands; it was now black, almost armor-like, with yellow stripes running through it.
“Damn it…” Mitsuko hissed. As she looked up, her eyes widened in shock. “That hand…you…are you one of us?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Hatsune said coldly. Kanako blinked; the hand was no longer black with yellow stripes. “But if you continue to try and hurt Kanako then mark my words, I will kill you.”
“You…no, this power is different…no way, you can’t be…!” Mitsuko leapt away, fear now apparent on her face. “Tch; Kanako, you get away this time.” With that, the spider girl started scuttling away as fast as she could.
“Hmph, coward,” Hatsune scoffed. She started to walk over to Kanako. “Kanako, are you alright?” She extended a hand to the younger girl only for Kanako to draw away. “Kanako? What’s wrong?” She realized that Kanako was looking at her hand, blood still dripping from the fingers. “Ah…so you know…”
“Hatsune-san…what are you?” Kanako whispered in fear. “Are you…?”
“Am I one of them?” Hatsune smirked a little. “No, I’m on a far different level. That girl was a Kumobito, the blend of a human and a spider. Neither fully mammalian nor fully arachnid, the Kumobito is a demon formed from a human with magic.”
“Then…then you are…?”
“I am a jorougumo, a full-blooded spider youkai. We are many times stronger than the Kumobito and we rule over all other spider youkai.”
“Then…why didn’t you use that strength against her?” Kanako asked. “If you were so strong, why didn’t you just…”
“Because I didn’t want you to know,” Hatsune said, her expression softening. “I didn’t want to scare you off. You…you were the first friend I’ve had for a long time. Someone that I feel safe around in this unfamiliar world.”
“Then your memories…”
“They are truly missing. All I can recall are my weakest powers, my name, and vague memories of what my home used to look like.”
“I see…” Kanako asked, her fear slowly disappearing. She didn’t know why she felt this way; here was a demon notorious for slaughtering other animals. Spiders were predators; anything they could catch they would kill. So why did she not feel so frightened around Hatsune anymore? Was it because of all the time they had spent together? Or was it because of the way Hatsune had protected her and gave her that reassuring look that said ‘It’s okay, I’m here for you now’?
“So what are you going to do to me?” Kanako asked, her voice still trembling a little. “Are…are you going to kill me?”
“Kill you? Why would I want to do that?” Hatsune asked in surprise. “I told you I’d help you, right? We jorougumo have honor too, or at least I do…I told you I’d help find your friends, and I intend to keep my promise.”
“It’s a pleasure,” Hatsune said, although Kanako could swear she saw traces of relief in the jorougumo’s red eyes. “First, we need to find out where they might be hidden. The temple is our best bet, but we need to find a way to sneak in…also, there’s this strange feeling in the air, almost as though the entire area is cloaked in magic…”
“M-magic?” Kanako asked. “What sort of magic?”
“I’m sensing the magic coming from that area…” Hatsune said, pointing away from the shrine. She was pointing at a cabin of sorts. “Yes, I think it’s coming from inside of that building…”
“Are you going in to check?” Kanako asked.
“Very quickly, in case there’s something dangerous in there that will be used against us,” Hatsune said as she hurried towards the building. Trying the door, Hatsune frowned. “A magic seal blocking it, huh?” Without a word, she drew her hand back and smashed right through the door. “Well, well, what do we have here?”
Kanako hurried over to see what was inside. Her hands flew up to her mouth as she realized a topless girl was inside, her hands tied above her head, her mouth stuffed with a gag, and her body swinging slowly. There was some sort of pattern drawn on her chest and the girl’s face was streaked with tears. Kanako hurried over and pulled the gag out of the girl’s mouth. “Are…are you okay?”
“Ugh…what…who…” the girl seemed rather disorientated, her eyes slowly opening. “You…who are you?”
“Hatsune-san, help me get her loose!” Kanako cried out as she tried to untie the rope; it was too strong for her, but Hatsune solved the problem by slicing through it. “Who did this to you?” Kanako asked as she looked around for something to cover the girl. “That pattern on your chest…what is it?”
“It was…the Priestess…she’s…going to start something…in the temple…please stop them…” the girl managed to croak out before passing out. Hatsune looked at the girl and studied the mark on her chest.
“So this is the source of the magic cloaking this area…” Hatsune muttered. “Let’s see what happens when we dispel it…” She muttered a few words and the mark soon disappeared. However, as soon as it did Hatsune clutched the side of her head, her face scrunched up with discomfort.
“Hatsune-san! What’s going on?!”
“Kumobito…a lot of them…they’re heading towards this area…”