Chapter 40 ∞ Spider Silk
I carefully sealed the bottle of perfume on my table, tying a small, green ribbon around its neck. I set it before me as Erenol strode through my doors, hands laced behind her. I’d taken my hobby elsewhere because my room looked like it aged a hundred years. This was a spare guest room in the southernmost corner of the house. Quite an isolated place, really. I used to not come here because I felt like it was haunted, but a room’s a room, right? It wasn’t like I could keep staying in Kora’s.
Erenol’s olive-green eyes twinkled with curiosity as she eyed my craft. Nevertheless, she maintained her silence. She knew I hated being startled by things when I was doing something. Although I was already done, she didn’t dare say anything until I spoke first.
I held up the bottle with the green ribbon to her and said, “Here you go.”
“What’s this?” she asked, kneeling beside me.
“I made it for you,” I told her. “Didn’t you say you wanted one? It’s one of the few essences that survived earlier. I’m sorry I can’t make something better. When I get new supplies, I’ll be sure to give you something else.”
“I didn’t think you’d ever make me one,” she muttered. The delight that lit up her face spoke volumes of what she felt.
I smiled. “I lied to you, you know,” I stated.
She met my eyes. “Is this about what happened earlier?” she asked. “Your room? You’re actually a Conduit, aren’t you?”
She guessed that well enough. If she didn’t, considering how obvious it was, I’d think she was stupid. Erenol was childish—that much was true. At this age, one would see girls beginning to act like women and she was still somehow stuck in that stage where she disregards everything else else to have fun. This was probably something she does on purpose. The place she’d grown up in wasn’t exactly the most nurturing.
She was the last thing from stupid.
“My mistresses told me not to speak about it to anyone,” I began, “because it’s something that’s never happened before—or known to have happened before, at least. If I agreed to come with you to the War College, I would have to reveal it.”
“How rare can your element be?” she asked, eyes wide.
“My mistresses said it was death,” I said.
Shock took over her face.
“That frost earlier is a manifestation of it. Anything it touches…well, will not necessarily die immediately. However, it will suck the life out of the room quite literally,” I said. “It’s a good thing the frost earlier limited itself to my room. If it took over the whole house, it might’ve made it collapse.”
“Yes, I saw how it became…” Erenol replied. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? Didn’t you trust me?”
“Sorry. Don’t make it personal,” I said. “I wasn’t ready to tell you anything. You’ve been my only friend this entire time. Although I trusted you, I didn’t know how you’d react. And we were outside the last time you asked.”
“How is it possible, though?” Erenol inquired softly. “Did your Deliverer already show himself to you? Kaliya?”
“I’m not sure, really,” I replied, lying through my teeth. Well, it wasn’t like it was totally a lie. I was still quite uncertain about Amber’s identity. Was he Kaliya or not? I’ve been convinced he was the entire time, at least. “I feel like he did. I don’t know. It started mainly when Maun came…” I trailed off.
“Why? What happened?”
“There were shadows,” I said. “Really reallycold shadows. He showed up on our back gates. He found it somehow. And he was not in the very best shape. I tried to help him and that’s how he ended up here.”
“What are those shadows?”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “I don’t know much about this thing. Even I’m still very confused. But, yeah…I do remember taking the test before, when I was six years old. You remember, don’t you? That’s when we first met.”
“Yeah, you were on that bed and you looked really ill that time. I thought you were a sick kid,” she replied. “The test usually channels your domains, meaning it brings out a bit of it. That must have been why you collapsed.”
“Perhaps,” I replied. “Thank you for not being too angry. I was expecting you to have a bitchy fit.”
“I don’t want to. You’re going to say I’m being too childish again,” Erenol said, pouting. “It’s not like I can be angry at you though. I get annoyed by you which is what I’m feeling right now, but I don’t think I can really be angry at you. You’re my only friend you know, sad as that is.”
“Only friend? Maun recently joined the ranks,” I stated, lazily looking over to the door which Erenol had not really closed properly. Silver violet eyes were peeking through, wide and innocent—looking a little yearning and sad. “You have any business with us? We’re having girls’ talk. Boys aren’t allowed.”
Maun’s head popped into the room. He signed, “I can be a girl too.”
My brows popped high at that. Did I read those signs right?
“Kora does it, doesn’t he?”
I found myself bursting into laughter. “You serious about this?” I asked, standing from where I was seated.
“What? Why? What’d he say?” Erenol wondered.
“He said he can be a girl too.”
“HA! HA!” Erenol hopped to her feet, a mischievous smile splitting her face. “Is my idea in your head?!” she yelled at me excitedly.
“No need to shout, banshee,” I said, frowning. I hooked my arms under Maun’s and began to drag him into my room. Not this room, no. My actual bedroom. Although that place is currently in shambles right now, I don’t think my wardrobe, which was separated from my quarters, was affected.
We found Mistress Veronika standing before my room, looking at a loss.
“Mistress?” I intoned softly, walking over.
“Evy,” she said. “I was just wondering how I’m going to fix this place.”
I looked at my room. Although the frost had completely departed from it, the place looked like it endured a hundred years alone with no one to maintain it. The floor boards looked creaky. One furniture even toppled over as it finally, completely broke its fractured leg. The mirror of the vanity came crashing, leaving a dozen splinters on the floor.
“Anyway, you really can’t stay in there,” Mistress Veronika said. “Why are you back anyway?”
“We wanted to play dress-up,” Erenol replied enthusiastically.
“You can’t go inside until it’s fixed. Go to Neilly. She should have a stock of nice gowns you can change into for fun,” she told us. “Maun as well?”
Eren and I smiled evilly.
I was expecting Maun to be embarrassed, but I found him bobbing his head with enthusiasm that could rival even that of Eren’s. Surprised, a frown etched its way between my brows. Eren as well.
I don’t think this guy has one bit of that…somewhat unreasonable manly pride that most guys had. I was a little surprised, because last time I tried to dress up one of my boy cousins in girl clothes, he nearly tore everything apart while roaring like Incredible Hulk—not in this life, obviously. Even if I did have any cousins in here, I hadn’t met any of them.
Mistress Veronika smiled at the three of us. “Go on now, then.”
We departed and went to look for Mistress Neilly just as Mistress Veronika advised. We found her sewing delicate embroideries on a piece of cloth as she sat on the corner, passing the time in peace. When we appeared, she welcomed us with open arms and asked what we came for.
“You have dresses, don’t you, mistress?” I said.
“I do…why?” She looked at us questioningly, but after seeing Eren and I exchange glances with excited grins, she decided she didn’t need the answer. “Right this way, my darlings. There are some clothes in there that I haven’t finished yet. Please make sure to stick to the racks, alright?”
She ushered us through a door. Honestly, I hadn’t been here before. I was never the overly curious or clingy kid anyway. Not that I was ever a kid, to begin with…mentally, at least. Still, I was awed by the splash of colors and textures that washed over my eyes. The fabrics were sorted out according to their color and makeup, mounted on the walls in thick rolls. Some seemed to have been dipped in the smallest stars, reflecting light with even just a small turn of the head. Some were matte, others were lustrous and glossy, while the rest would be sheer and lacey.
Eren, Maun, and I were stumped.
“Huwaw!” I said.
“This is where you make the dresses?” Eren said with wonder.
“That’s right,” my mistress replied.
There was a sewing machine pushed to the corner and racks of beautiful dresses lined up on the corner. I nearly forgot about Maun because that girly side to me wanted to be the one to try it all on. Some of the dresses were still a little bit too big by the looks of it and my frame was still quite small to try them all on, but I found a few that might just fit.
“There are some dresses here that I was supposed to give to you girls,” Mistress Neilly said. “Since you’re here, you might as well try them on and let me see how they look on you. They aren’t finished though,” she told us. “I usually don’t give people a look until they’re finished, but you lot will be an exception.”
And, just like that, we actually forgot what we came to do. Mistress Neilly was very welcoming and even took out her measuring tape. Maun stood in the corner gaping at us in fascination, nodding once in a while to agree or disagree. There were some fabrics that I took to very easily. Each one had a very different story behind them.
“And this one,” Mistress Neilly pointed to one that shone in unicorn chrome, “this came from a small, secluded town in Sarenilia. There’s a tree there that’s bathed in the northern lights once every year and, somehow, reflects their color. The bark would usually lose its color within ten minutes after the aurora disappears, and it wasn’t until they discovered that soaking it in water would make the color last that they began harvesting it. They can only make a few of each one each year, though. So I don’t have a lot.”
Not a lot? I reckon there was at least a hundred meters in here. That was a lot, wasn’t it?
“These fabrics have a lot of stories in them,” Eren said with a fascinated nod.
Maun bobbed his head similarly.
Meanwhile, I was deep in thought. “I have a question,” I said.
I paused. “I’ll bring my question in a minute,” I declared, then stood up and made a beeline for my room.
I knew it wasn’t good to go in there, but I remembered something with all the things I left in there.
When I got back, I realized most of my things have been moved out of the room. Mountains of them towered in the hallway. I peeked past the door and found Mistress Veronika dressed in very comfortable working clothes fixing the place—or, rather, breaking it down first. Most of the wood had eroded away, so she was peeling them away.
“Mistress, do you need help?” I asked.
She looked up. “It’s fine, Evy. I got it,” she said.
To my shock, she pulled out her sword and slashed mercilessly at the floor. My jaw dropped at the speed of her hands. By the time my eyes caught up, she was already peeling on the next few partitions. She was dividing them into bits and pieces that she could easily manage, revealing the stone foundation beneath.
“Yeah, yeah, okay…” I said, trailing off.
“Do you need anything? You can’t come in here, yet, it’s a little dangerous because the ceiling might fall at any given moment.”
“No, uh…I just came to get something.”
“I moved most of them out. Just look through there,” she told me.
“Oh, okay…” I muttered.
I didn’t even know you cut floorboards to fix ‘em. But even people did that, I reckon only my mistress dared use a sword. A freaking sword for the dragons’ freaking sake.
Stumped, I moved over to the tower of my things and carefully sifted through them until I saw the box where the blanket I was wrapped in as a baby was. My mother gave it to me my last birthday and I hadn’t touched it since then except look at it and wonder where it came from. Mistress Neilly might be able to answer me, considering her knowledge of this stuff.
I picked it up and ran back to Mistress Neilly’s sewing room. When I came back, Maun was in a dress.
“Look at him!” Eren exclaimed, laughing. “Doesn’t he pass off as a girl?!”
I tilted my head to the side and examined the boy before me. He was already developing a muscular physique due to the training he was getting from Mistress Veronika. Nevertheless, he was still lean so he could still pass off as a girl in that department, although taller than one. Still, when they let down that silver-violet hair, he could probably oust Mistress Kora from his job.
“Dayum,” I said.
Maun scratched the back of his head and blushed.
“Haha! Look at him. He’s turning red. You weren’t so embarrassed when we were the one looking!” Eren yelled.
Maun frantically shook his head. “Can I join girls’ talk now?” he signed.
I facepalmed. “Good dragons.” What kind of anime trap is this?
“Anyway, what’s that?” Eren asked.
“Your question?” Mistress Neilly supported.
I nodded and opened the box, showing her the golden fabric.
“Ah,” Neilly said, nodding understandingly. “I see. Let me take that.” She went over to me as the two ducks’ eyes gravitated towards the open box I held in my arms. Mistress Neilly took it and set it on her table, sweeping aside the other materials to make space for it.
She lifted it high, under the light, the golden fabric shone very lightly. She ran her hand down the weaving, admiring the fine work put into it. The blanket had very intricate details and had a very tough feel to it—while it wasn’t so coarse.
“I saw this before, many years ago,” she said, “when Hellenia brought you to us. I heard she already told you the truth. So she gave this to you as well?”
“What?” Eren looked between me and Mistress Neilly, confused.
“Oh, I didn’t tell you?” I said. “I’m adopted.”
“Wait, what?!” Eren cried. “How do you have so many secrets?”
“I only found out recently, during my birthday.”
“Oh.” Eren nodded understandingly. “Ohhhhh. Was that what your mother told you after the celebration? How come you never talked about it?”
“I didn’t feel like I needed to,” I told her. “Anyway, mistress…do you know the story behind it?”
“All I know is that you are a very valued child,” Mistress Neilly said. “I don’t know enough about Vertvaldenian culture, Evy, but this should confirm you came from there.”
I nodded. I reckoned as much considering the knowledge I had these many years.
“There’s a story,” she told me, “of a million spiders. They would live in these trees and cover them in webs—to the point that you can’t actually see the trees themselves. The spider silk is harvested, pounded, and weaved. Ten thousand trees will only make a meter of these.”
Mistress Neilly took a pair of sharp scissors from the side and had it bite down on the fabric, making me speechless. I thought she would cut it, but another thing happened—the scissors lost its teeth. It broke off, rebounded, and fell. It slipped off Mistress Neilly’s fingers and fell on the floor with a clang.
“Ah,” she muttered. “I knew this would happen. Indeed. I can’t be mistaken about it.”
“What happened to the scissors?” Eren asked.
“Well, the strength of those ten thousand trees of spider webs and the weaving technique has made this cloth invulnerable to normal blades—maybe even to certain rare materials as well. The value of this cloth will not be any less than the value of the Veneryan Emperor’s crown jewels.”
Our shock reached new heights.
“Does that mean Evy is a princess too?!” Erenol exclaimed excitedly. “Like me? Like me?!”
“There are no princesses in Venerya,” I said with an eye roll. “They don’t pass down the positions of their kings by blood. The crown is earned through battles and many trials.”
“And, still, it is no simple family,” Mistress Neilly told me with a smile. “If it is as you say, it only means the value of this cloth is astronomical for the Vertvaldenians. Imagine a simple, very comfortable cloth which can protect you in battle just as well as any armor could—to give this to a child as well. They may have certain expectations of you.”
“But if Evy has such a family, why would she be here?” Eren asked, frowning in confusion.
“Who knows,” I said. “But, mistress, do you know which part of Vertvalden this might’ve come from?”
“Unfortunately, no, darling. While I’ve heard of this cloth, I don’t know just where they get this,” she said.
I looked down to my feet, sighing softly in disappointment.
“Why don’t I make you something with this that you can wear?” she said. “There’s not much of this here…but it should be enough. Let me see.” She reached for a measuring tape on the corner and stretched it out. “There’s about…forty-eight by forty-eight inches in here…looks like a typical swaddling blanket,” she whispered and looked over to me. “Well, then…are you interested? If you don’t want to, it’s alright.”
“It’s okay,” I told her, nodding. “It’s not like I’m a baby anymore.”
She chuckled. “Alright, then. I might have an idea what to do with this already.”
“We’ll go now, then!” Eren exclaimed. “Show it to us too when you’re done!”
“Ooh, but do change out of those clothes first,” she said, pointing at the dresses we were still wearing. “I still ought to make changes on those things.”
After getting ourselves out of the dresses, we moved to the kitchen to grab a snack.
“I don’t get it, Evy. You have so many things you aren’t telling me,” Eren said, pouting.
Maun, as usual, was quietly helping himself to the food. Of everyone in Oblivion, he was my only competitor in the food department. Even Eren wasn’t much of a big eater like I was—or we were.
“There are many things I don’t know,” I told her. “And it’s not like I’m the type to gossip.”
“You really look like your mother, though. With the red hair and everything…except maybe for the skin and eyes. I never really doubted it before. Even though you looked very unusual,” she said as she shoved a spoonful of the pounded rice cake into her mouth.
“You have red hair too. You might’ve passed off as my mother’s daughter,” I pointed out.
“Wow, you’re right.”
“It’s not like mama ever made me feel like I’m adopted anyways,” I whispered.
“I’m just really curious what Mistress Neilly will make from your baby cloth though! I’m very excited,” she said giddily.
“Yeah, me too.” I smiled.
“Ah!” Eren halted eating and looked up as though she just remembered something.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I forgot the perfume you gave me back in Mistress Neilly’s room!” She stood up and dashed away.
Maun and I exchanged glances before dismissing it. We went back to enjoying our snack.