Another episode of Man Raised by Spiders, the coming-of-age story of Valentine Shelawn.
Valentine is sworn to Lolth, and the ceremony is truly strange. The priestess administers a strong drug beforehand, so Valentine remains uncertain about what actually happened, and what was a hallucination.
He remembers being covered in spiders, but surely that didn’t happen. He knows that a lidless eye and a theta were added to his slave tattoo — making it a token, not a brand — and that he turned to Inglorion in shock and protest as the priestess plied the needle. “We have to mark you,” says Inglorion. “It’s for your protection, in case you’re captured. You can’t carry a separate token.”
He finds himself back in the cell, pupils still dilated, high as a kite. Valykria reaches out to steady him as he stumbles through the door. He shrinks back from her, says hoarsely, “Don’t touch me! I’m not safe.” And indeed his senses are unbearably acute — he’s convinced he can hear both their hearts beating.
He curls up on his side at the far side of the cell, tries to focus on his breathing, settle into trance. The darkness shimmers with strange and glorious figures. A mask of Inglorion’s face floats just outside his reach. He can hear Valykria’s breathing, the slight rustling she makes moving around the cell. He knows he has failed to protect her, and he wants to apologize, but all he can do is say, “I’m sorry — I’m sorry — I’m sorry…” He feels ashamed of his lack of control. At the same time, he’s not certain whether he’s spoken aloud.
As he comes down he feels terribly cold, begins to shiver. He realizes that he was hot throughout the ceremony, that he’s sweated through his shirt again and again, soaking it multiple times. He can’t stop shaking.
Valykria whispers, “Valentine, what happened? Are you OK?”
“I’m OK. It was part of the bargain.” He’s wringing his hands. As he looks at them, he realizes that they’re covered in tiny welts — spider bites. On the back of his left hand, the tattoos are swollen, oozing blood and clear ink. Each one is a little bigger than a silver piece. In a day or two, they will be invisible.
Valykria touches his shoulder lightly. He’s sitting up, leaning against the wall, unsure of how he got there. “Really, Valentine. Are you OK?”
“Yeah.” This time he doesn’t shake her hand off. She leaves it there for a moment, and it soothes him. Presently he turns to her, tries to smile.
“What happened? You scared me.”
He doesn’t answer except to say, “It’s part of the bargain. It’s not what I expected, that’s all.”
He doesn’t tell her that he has a new name, tattooed in clear ink and dripping cold across his left breast:
Charon Pallas Proioxis
Pallas, for care and strategy in war; Proioxis, for blood lust and recklessness in battle.