Aria shifts trying to lessen the pressure on her left shoulder. It doesn’t work. With her arms stretched back and her wrists tied behind the chair, it doesn’t matter which way she tries to rearrange her body, everything hurts. Her left eye is swollen shut. Her bottom lip split. She attempts a deep breath. “Shit.” Tears burn the back of her eyes. At least two broken ribs.
She shakes her head, trying to move the sweat drenched hair away from her eyes. Her cell is small and dark. She focuses her eyes on the metal door and waits for the Spider. For death.
A strange noise, like a cry that wants to be a laugh but fails, escapes her. The irony. Oh, the irony. All she had wanted was freedom from this life of servitude, freedom from the shadows, freedom to finally die; but she had wanted to die on her terms, not like this. Not at the hands of the Spider.
All of this because of the Stranger.
Her lips twitch into an almost smile at the thought of him. Still. Even now.
He had been charming.
He had slithered into the Bunker, almost invisible. Moving in the shadows just outside of everyone’s awareness, making himself known slowly; just a whisper at first, then louder like a lullaby one hums under one’s breath, until she could not not see him. And once she saw him, he was everywhere. Like he belonged, with his crooked smile and eyes that could swallow you whole.
But his real charm lived in his cunning promises. In the tilt of his head when he sold the others things they didn’t know they wanted, needed even, until he promised it to them. In the way his eyes found her so easily in the shadows and made her different kinds of promises. Not the fake ones his mouth worked at. No. His eyes had promised something she couldn’t put words to but felt as real as anything she had ever felt.
“I will give you power,” he had offered, his breath as cold as the place where her soul had once lived, if she agreed to set fire to the Spider’s nest.
She faced him then, laughing. It was ludicrous what his mouth was offering her. Power meant nothing down in the Bunker.
He tilted his head in that way he had when he sold others fake dreams, and smiled his crooked smile. “What’s your price then?”
She wanted what his eyes had promised from the shadows. He sealed the deal with a kiss. It tasted of lies.
The sound of voices pull her back into the present. The metal door opens. Aria squints at the bright light spilling into her dark cell as two shapes walk in. She shivers at the sudden drop in temperature.
Aria’s chest tightens at the sound of the Spider’s voice. She blinks rapidly until her eyes adjust, and the shapes come into focus.
The Spider stands, her hands clasped in front of her, red eyes peering at Aria through black lace. Aria has never been this close to the old Demon, but it feels just as she had imagined. Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. Her skin crawls as she feels whatever little life she still has left inside her being tugged at. The Spider is a black hole, Aria thinks, consuming everything that dares go near her.
Then, Aria sees him.
A crooked smile cracks the Stranger’s lips open. Cunning and charming.
“You bastard,” she whispers, her throat dry and raw.
The Spider takes a step closer and brings her face closer to Aria’s. “You have been quite busy. Do tell, how many of my Temples did you think you could burn down before getting caught?”
Honestly, just one, but Aria isn’t going to say that. She hadn’t known she was going to do it that first time. She had been at one of the temples to kill Sarviel, one of the Spider’s servants, as she had been ordered to. And then, as she stood staring at the altar with Sarviel’s body at her feet and his blood dripping from her hands, she felt a storm of anger and regrets–so many regrets–well up inside of her.
She should have walked out then, gone down to the Barn and drank and drank and drank–he only way she knows how to put out the fire. But she had loved Sarviel once, so she didn’t. Instead, she unleashed the storm out into the world the only way the Arsonist can. And with every kill since, the storm has raged stronger, the ease in which the fire consumes more satisfying.
It is why Aria had fallen for the Stranger’s promises, she realizes now. Deep down, she had known this was a set up. She had tasted the lies in his lips. But she also knew if someone didn’t stop her, she might have burned down the entire world trying to rid herself of all the regrets gnawing at her insides.
“Lamael warned me about you,” the Spider adds. “I might have forgiven you for the temples, Aria. But to try to kill my children?”
Aria meets the Stranger’s gaze again. Lamael. The delight in his cunning eyes twists something inside of her.
“Master,” Aria whispers, her voice cracking, and the Spider leans in even closer. “The Stranger, he’s going to kill you.”
The Spider straightens stiffly and attempts to back away, but she is not fast enough. The Stranger slips a knife across the Spider’s throat. Her body slumps, then drops to the ground with a thud that matches the sinking of Aria’s heart.
The Stranger kneels down, reaches for the Spider’s hand and removes the Stolen Ring.
He who has the stolen ring owns the Bunker. The Spider killed for it, as did the previous owner, and the one before.
When Aria looks up from the lump on the floor, she finds him waiting with those eyes that swallow her whole. “My little Arsonist,” he whispers.
Her throat tightens as realization washes over her: he will not give her the freedom he had promised. He will not let her die. She will belong to him, like she had belonged to the Spider for centuries. She will do his bidding, whatever that might be.
She matches his smile with one of her own. The wish for freedom, for death, are gone. Another desire fuels her fire now.