15 – Arachnophobia

To study the vast mysteries of reality was to invite madness. It was an old adage, and a reasonable one in some ways, and entirely illogical in others. 

Reality was meant to be explored. To be studied. To be understood. The human drive called curiosity was a natural part of mankind’s existence, as natural as walking on two legs and comprehending speech. It was inherent to seek knowledge, and, in equal measure, to fear that which threatened to upend one’s understanding of the world. 

To seek knowledge, to fear knowledge, to love knowledge. That is the meaning of curiosity, ignorance, and intellect. All of which could be easily found at the cliffside college called Hemlock University.

The campus of a massive, central building topped with a low, smooth dome that spread across the entire roof, and everything else around it. There were other buildings of lesser importance, but the center held the lecture halls, the offices, the gardens, the pools, the cafeterias, and many more besides. Not that any of that was very intact at the moment.

The entry hall was covered with webs. Pale threads extended from wall to wall and ceiling to floor, and in some places, they wrapped around what were clearly human bodies, tangled and trapped in silky cocoons. An attempt to free one went quite poorly as the liquefied mulch inside spilled onto the floor with an acidic hiss.

Spiders had many eyes. They spun threads and strings. Traps and connections, binding and blocking, collecting dust and secrets in tight spaces. Many eyes were needed to see the truth of the world, but seeking those eyes could find a trap instead, and once a foot touched the web, the spider knew exactly where its victim was.

The only way to survive a spider’s web was by being big enough to tear your way through, and the scholars of the university were not nearly big enough.

The students still wandered, the ones that hadn’t become food. They walked with softened heads, the skulls broken underneath, yet the flesh remained intact. Their heads bulged, fat with eggs. The newborns spilled from their orifices, yet once an egg cracked, another one formed, born from thought and terror. 

Spiders on their tongues, tiny and skittering, seeking just as their hosts did. They needed eyes, eyes to see, eyes to study, eyes to watch, and the spiders ate their eyes so they could see properly.

A professor stood at the front of a lecture hall. His head hadn’t entirely become a spider yet. Half the face was there, as were half the legs, jutting outward like hairy spikes, twitching and wriggling in the air. 

His hands were gnarled now, leathered and hairy. Fingers like spider legs clutched at the head of a student bound in threads. He thrashed and struggled. Half a fang twitched, struggling to form. The hands dug in, granting knowledge, granting eyes, granting eggs, and the student screamed deliverance.

An educator’s job was to educate. To give. They sought that above all. Their heads guided the learned, eight long legs carrying twitching bodies beneath them. 

Learning was not the place of the administrators. They were there for reasons, though to the purpose of knowledge, they were superfluous. That did not mean they were useless though. Administration was a position of authority and it raised a question of monarchy.

Spiders did not have queens. They were not colonial. This was not a world of hierarchy, not in the same sense, so the simplest solution was to make them useful. 

Fat, hulking tarantulas built the body of meat and flesh. Furry bodies moved with the dexterity and skill of craftsmen, pressing screaming faces into the largest beast. Corrosion melted the meat before they fused. Creation was the gift of knowledge. The ability to do as learned, to craft, to make, to build.

Immaculate. The architect was dead and a new one could be built. 

The headmaster tried his best to explain that to the hunters. That they were gifted the method of learning by the Watcher. That angels were born with eyes to see miracles. He tried to elaborate through a foaming, bubbling mouth, spilling saliva between jaws that were no longer jaws. He spoke as an educator would, seeking to impart knowledge above all else. His knowledge was unique though, as evidenced by the claws that were his hands and the scorpion tail springing from the back of his head.

Spiders were not the only arachnid, and he wanted his ideas to be known. He could not merely lure, he was too impatient, and besides, it was fine. He had a second head, a true spider, growing out of his neck, so he was fine. More heads were pushing out of his body, many eyes, so many, all speaking and watching and drooling. 

A call was put out and answered. A call for knowledge. For truth. 

He had no idea he could call a liar. He just wanted to learn. He was getting too old. He needed to know. He needed to know. He needed to know before he died. 

The first bullet ripped through the first of his vaunted eyes.

To call on something from above was a dangerous thing. They liked to lie and say they couldn’t. They could always lie. They would do so with great humor and callous delight.

Some had greater plans than that, but most were simply playing. Lying to those who wanted the truth and sought easy avenues to it.

Bonnie considered the blue snail crawling out of the ruined remains of the headmaster’s bloodied eyesocket. It hummed, bored, and noticed her looking.

“Hm…? Ah…accursed. Interesting…maybe…”

It regarded her with bulging eyes, bright and many-colored. The Worm was different though, so she wasn’t sure if it had a parasite of its own, or just liked the look.

“Mm…they wanted knowledge…so I gave them eyes…that should help…right?”

She shot the snail and heard a chiming whine as it burst into blue.

“How mean…but then…you are a hunter. An accursed hunter. How very interesting…”

A place where One from Above had ventured required separate procedures to handle. Once it was established no survivors were left to be saved, the hunters were to take their hands off of the situation, and instead call on the Church.

The Faith of the Burned Saint handled matters like this. The Inquisitors were meant for tasks such as these. Their eyes were burned shut to avoid the horrors, though the greatest of them had eyes on their wings. They learned to see without them though as they went about their work with saber and sickle. 

The flames from their throwers lit the night in a brilliant bonfire. A pyre to what was once there.

Goldie watched her chances go up in smoke and sighed. 

Bonnie gave her friend a pat on the shoulder. They watched the flames grow higher. 

Ash was older than any knowledge. There was no reduction here. Merely transformation.

And yet, a transformation could still be a loss.

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