Nightshade Page 63

Shay drew a long, shuddering gasp and backed away from the corpse. His fingers wrapped tightly around the ax handles, veins bulging along his arms. I sniffed the air again and listened, but the signals of imminent danger had dissipated. I shifted forms and turned toward Shay.

His eyes widened as I abandoned my defensive stance. “Are you sure there isn’t another one?” he asked.

“No, it was alone.” I rubbed my back where the spider’s fangs had punctured my skin. I could feel a trickle of blood, but Shay’s attack had disrupted the bite. It wasn’t deep, but it ached.

“What is it?” He shuddered, gazing at the immense spider.

“A brown recluse,” I murmured. “You can tell because it only has six eyes.”

His eyebrows went up.

I shrugged. “We just finished a unit on arachnids in AP Biology.”

“Calla. That is not a spider,” he moaned. “Spiders do not get that big. What is that thing?”

“It is a spider. But it’s been changed by the Keepers. They have the ability to do something like this. Alter the natural world. The recluse must be the last line of defense for Haldis should something get past the Guardians.” But which Keeper had created this beast I didn’t know—or when they might come to check on it.

“Killing it might have been a mistake,” I said. “It’s another sign that we’ve been here.”

“Are you insane? What did you want to do with it—grab that bear skull and try to teach it to play fetch?” Shay asked.

“Good point,” I said. “But that doesn’t solve the problem.”

He didn’t reply, staring at the lifeless arachnid, face ghost white.

“Are you all right?” I took a step toward him.

“I really, really hate spiders.” He glanced at his shoulders, as if expecting the offending creatures to be crawling there.

A wry smile tugged at one corner of my mouth. “For someone who claims arachnophobia, you dispatched that thing quite nicely.”

I glanced at the axes that hung from his hands; blood dripped from the sharp steel picks. “Where did you learn to do that? You moved like a warrior.”

Shay’s pale face brightened a bit and he flipped the ice picks in the air, catching their handles easily when they dropped back down.

A sudden throb took my breath away. I put my hand on my side, surprised to find blood still flowing steadily from the wound.

“Let me guess,” I said, trying to ignore the pain. “You went through a phase where you wanted to be a ninja or something?”

He shook his head, blushing. “Indiana Jones. I liked how he could use whatever was around when he got into trouble. You know, versatile.”

“There’s an Indiana Jones comic?” I raised my eyebrows at him.

“Yep.” He kicked the corpse of the spider.

“Ah.” I fixed a teasing smile on him. “So you’re also handy with a bullwhip.”

He gave a noncommittal shrug.

I turned back toward the dark tunnel ahead of us. “Well, I guess that’s good to know for the future.”

With wary steps we moved forward; I kept my eyes off the bones that lay scattered along the floor. My hand massaged the spider bite at my waist. The blood had finally stopped, but the ache at the puncture sharpened and seemed to be spreading. I stumbled on loose stones and Shay caught my arm.

“You okay?”

“Yeah. It’s nothing, just hard to see.” I rolled back my shoulders, trying to focus on our progression into the darkness. The air in the cave seemed colder; it wormed beneath my skin. Even with the aid of Shay’s headlamp I was finding it difficult to see, my vision blurring more with each step. The ground beneath my feet lurched and I stumbled again.

“What’s going on, Calla?” Shay asked. “You’re not this clumsy. You’re not clumsy at all.”

“I’m not sure.” The darkness swam and I dropped to my hands and knees.

“Are you hurt?” Shay asked.

My limbs trembled. I was getting colder by the moment. “Maybe. The spider bit me, but I didn’t think it was deep enough to matter.”

“Where did it bite you?” He crouched next to me. “Show me.”

I opened my jacket and started to lift up my shirt but then bit my lip, hesitating.

He laughed. “I’m not trying to make a move, Cal. We need to see how bad it is.”

I nodded, pulling up the shirt. The bite was level with my lower ribs on the right side of my body. I strained my neck, but I couldn’t get a good look over my shoulder.

Shay gasped.

“What’s wrong?” I twisted further and caught a glimpse of my flesh. Bile rose in my throat.

“How can it do that?” His voice was tight.

I shook my head. “Damn. That’s right . . . I forgot.”

The trembling of my body had become shuddering jerks. “The recluse has a necrotic bite.”

“Necrotic?” Shay breathed. “It kills your flesh?”

“Looks like. I remember reading something about rapid tissue breakdown.” I closed my eyes against the wave of nausea that crashed through me.

“Oh God, Cal. It’s spreading; I can see it happening,” he groaned. “It’s like it’s eating away at you.”

I tried to smile but only managed a grimace. “Thanks for the update. I feel much better.”

“Why aren’t you healing?” He sounded panicked. “I thought that’s what Guardian blood does.”

“My own blood protects me . . . but not from everything,” I gasped. “Venom is tricky, and venom from an enchanted spider is something I’ve never had to deal with before. I might not be able to heal fast enough without help.”

“What can help?”

“Only another Guardian,” I said. “Pack blood.”

“Can we call Bryn? Or Ansel?”

“How fast is it spreading?”

He didn’t answer.

“I guess the answer is no, then,” I said. My arms couldn’t support my body any longer. I rolled back against the cave floor.

“Calla!” Shay wrapped his arms around me, drawing me against him. “Come on, there has to be something we can do.”

I shook my head. “There isn’t. Just get out of here.”

Prev Next