The candle was burning low, but that wasn't a problem; Medusa was used to writing by fading light. Especially in the home of her sister. Serving the Elder Witch, her resources hadn't been so limited, but if pressed to do so she had no doubt that she would still be able to take perfectly legible notes in complete darkness.
Arachne's relationship with the wizard Eibon, professionally speaking, seems to focus on a single project that is kept tightly guarded. I have yet to penetrate her defenses, as the traps she has set are too delicate to be navigated by my snakes and so must be handled in the flesh. The matter is further complicated by the fact that she keeps her eye on me as much as she can manage and each night weaves one of her spiderwebs across my bedroom door. Some variation of the Ouroboros Curse may have the potential to interrupt her magic without disturbing her, but to affect the curse without her notice is no small feat, either. I will keep trying.
From what I hear of the project, it is something that Death would not pursue due to moral or ethical concerns. Eibon does not say this directly, but I can see it reflected in the way Arachne smiles. She is pleased that he came to her. She does not seem to consider the possibility that he is using her, that perhaps even Death could be in on this scheme, letting Eibon run free and develop what he wants to develop so as to claim innocence later. She thinks she is immune to being used.
A rap on her doorframe. Medusa sat bolt upright and slid the missive she was writing to the Elder Witch underneath another paper without quite as much grace as she meant to have. She turned around once she had put a calm look on her face.
The wizard stood there.
Though still wrapped in the black robes that were more reminiscent of wingless flies than spiders, Eibon wasn't wearing the four-eyed mask of Arachnophobia. He had remarkably clear eyes, Medusa thought. So blue as to seem transparent. It was disturbing to be caught in their gaze.
"Can I help you?" she asked politely, disinterestedly.
"Your sister's occupied," he said. "She made a new friend at dinner and is showing him to her room at this precise moment."
Medusa grimaced at the non-sequitur. "Should I care?"
"It makes the two of us a little freer," he answered. "If you have any questions to ask me, now would be the time."
He stepped into her room; rather than catching around his body, Arachne's web of security magic dissolved at his touch like mist. His robes trailed behind him. Most Arachnophobia robes didn't do that, but Medusa supposed he wanted to be different from most Arachnophobia members. It left quite an impression.
He approached the desk smoothly as if he knew exactly what he was looking for, and before Medusa could come up with a counter-strategy or an excuse he had pushed aside the innocuous papers and lifted what she'd just been writing to his eyes. She cursed her clear handwriting. The paper incriminated her as a spy. There was no way it could be interpreted otherwise.
But when he folded the paper in half and offered them to her, all he said was, "Perhaps she thinks it is worth it to be used."
Medusa remained silent, her heart pounding. She couldn't agree here. She couldn't acknowledge what the paper had said.
"In a different situation, perhaps," he mused, "you might answer that it is never worth it to be used. To be used reduces you to a tool, not a human, and I suspect that growing up with Arachne has given you quite enough of that. But are you not letting yourself be used now?"
"I don't know what you mean," she said, her throat dry.
"You have come here with the help and blessing of this other power." He gestured to the paper that she held as if it were a wild animal about to bite her. "Let us pretend that the identity of this power is ambiguous. But it is certain that it wishes you well and your sister ill. Am I wrong?"
Could she kill him? No. No, there was no way she could take on this, one of Death's most trusted and powerful agents, with only her vectors. Not when he seemed to be reading every one of her secrets to begin with.
"Are you not letting yourself be used, witchling?"
"We have an agreement," she answered. There was little point in doing otherwise. He already knew. She couldn't understand how he knew, but he knew. "I'm not being used. I'm being useful. There's a difference."
"And your sister, you consider her to be used rather than useful?"
"Why don't you tell me?" Medusa asked, jutting out her chin. If she was doomed, she was doomed. She wouldn't play his mind games.
"I think for the relative lack of information you have, you've come up with some very good theories." The wizard moved from the center of the room to Medusa's bed and sat. "I don't intend to tell you which ones are accurate, but they're good ones."
"None of them involve trusting you," Medusa pointed out.
Eibon inclined his head. "None of them involve my deserving Arachne's trust. But she is not the only person in this equation."
"What's your point?"
"My work may have its benefits among witches even if Arachne herself will not be heavily rewar—"
"You work with Death," Medusa pointed out. "I can't imagine anything you touch will be of much benefit to witches."
Eibon nodded to her point. Then he said nothing.
"When are you going to tell her?"
Eibon shrugged, a harmless little smile on his face. "I haven't told her that you've been stealing peeks at my book, so I don't think I intend to tell her this, either."
A chill went through Medusa, settling in her stomach. Once again she found herself speechless.
"Was that for whoever that letter is for?" Eibon prompted.
Medusa shook her head. "No. That was my own curiosity."
Eibon raised one eyebrow. "Do tell me more."
"Why should I?"
"You look like you're practically bursting with the desire to, for one."
She was; had been bursting with the need to talk to the wizard about his work ever since he'd arrived. In a flurry, she turned back towards the dying candle flame and held the letter over it until it caught.
"Unnecessary," Eibon commented behind her.
She dropped the letter on the desk and turned back around. "It wasn't for your eyes to begin with. You shouldn't care that I've destroyed it."
He shrugged. "I wouldn't say that I care. It just seems a pity that you might have to write it again in such poor light. Here."
From the folds of his robes, he produced a small orb and shook it. A bluish light burst forth from it, almost too strong to be looked at. It cast deep shadows into the corners of the room. Medusa held one hand up to her eyes to shield them and looked towards him.
"Would you like to see?" He offered it to her.
She took it and squinted. It seemed to be made of glass or crystal, and was covered in circles upon circles of witch writing calling for the light of the most distant stars. That bit was ornamental. Hidden beneath those symbols were others that spoke of flames and candlewicks. Less poetic, but more utilitarian. Thin vectors crept out of Medusa's fingertips as she observed the interplay of magic. Suddenly, the room was dark again.
Eibon cleared his throat and held out his hand for the orb. As soon as it touched his skin, the magic flared back into existence and the light returned. "There. If you don't irritate it, it should work just fine. Where did you pick up such skill for magical deconstruction, witchling?"
"I've been practicing," she answered. "On your work, more often than not."
"It finds its way to-" She stumbled over what she'd been about to say. She couldn't let him trick her.
But he only waved his hand. "To your compatriots."
With a flush of her cheeks, she said, "It finds its way to my compatriots frequently. Analysis has become my specialty."
"And what is your assessment of my work, Witchling Medusa?"
A tiny thrill in her stomach, to hear her name in the mouth of a wizard whose name she'd known for so long. He was looking at her with those intense eyes again; now, caught in the blue light of his invention, they looked like sapphires set in the face of an idol. Standing up straight, she said, "You have a respect for magic that many of your colleagues lack. So many wizards cobble together whatever spells they think will do the trick, but you work systematically. You seem to understand it better."
Beneath his beard, a smile tugged at his lips. "You flatter me."
"As opportunistic as it might be to do so, that's not my intention."
He couldn't know how it had felt to hear that he'd come to work with the sister she despised: burning furor and resentment, enough to turn her face red and make her hands shake. Arachne was full of lies, and almost as sloppy as a wizard herself. She didn't deserve access to Eibon's genius. And so when the Elder Witch had mentioned that she wanted a spy, Medusa had jumped at the chance to see what they were doing together. It was worth being near Arachne again to have access to the Wizard Eibon's work.
Considering all of that, it seemed almost insulting that he might think her a mere spy. "I admire your Magic Tools," she burst out suddenly, her face turning a deep red. Hopefully it was invisible in the strange light of his invention. "They're masterful work."
"Even the ones that are used against your kind?"
She shook her head. "That doesn't keep them from being good work."
"Of course it doesn't." Eibon seemed proud, almost smug. "You are a sensible sort, Witchling Medusa. I wish more people were inclined to understand things the way you do."
She didn't have anything to say to that. She felt like Eibon's eyes could see right through her, through the strange embarrassment she felt. It wasn't shame. It was too pleasant to be that.
He patted the pouch at his side. "All that said, Witchling, you never did tell me why you were looking at my book. It's no mean feat to gain access to it. Was curiosity your only motive?"
"Yes," she answered. "Curiosity and—"
He raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"
"Never mind." Longing was the word that had almost rolled off her lips, but she didn't like it. It seemed too starry-eyed and too forthright. It wasn't sensible. He was tied to her sister—she had to remember that. All this friendliness was more likely than not a ploy to find evidence of her spywork and bring it to Arachne. His kindness was meant to lower her guard so that she would suspect nothing when Arachne came to condemn her. And besides that, the likelihood that he was still working for Death was too great to be ignored.
She shook her head and stepped aside so that she was no longer standing directly between him and the door. "I think you should probably leave."
He blinked in surprise. No, mock surprise. Better to assume that he was faking all of it. There was no reason for him to be interested in her for her own sake—not when Arachne was around.
When she didn't retract the demand, he shrugged and stood. "A few things before I go, Witchling."
"Are they quick?" she asked.
"Most certainly. First I wanted to assure you again that your secret is safe with me."
If she could believe that, she would be glad. If not—if not, she had faith that she could at least defend herself for long enough to get out.
"Second, my book is always open to you. Metaphorically speaking, of course. To navigate around your sister is troublesome at times, but whenever you feel like taking the chance, it's only her ire that you risk. Not mine."
Her skin felt warm. "Is that all?"
"Not quite. There's one more thing I'd like to tell you, if you're willing to hear it."
He reached out his left hand and she stiffened, her snakes roiling beneath the skin of her arms in anxiety. But he only touched the top of her head. "You interest me just as much as your sister does, Witchling. Don't underestimate your own ability."
And before she could ask him what he meant by that, the blue light went out. By the time her eyes had adjusted, he had gone—but he'd left his crystal orb resting on her pillow. Holding her breath, Medusa picked it up and nudged it with her magic. Obediently, it let loose the blue light again, and she felt a smile come to her face at the perfect workings of mechanical magic. She set it down on her desk and took out a fresh sheet of paper.