Title: A Matter of Spiders
Characters/Pairing: Diana, Mozzie
Word count: 1800
Notes: For the Poisoning square on my hc_bingo card. I haven't written anything in this 'verse for way too long.
Summary: Someone is trying to kill Diana.
Sorrow-spiders can travel between mirrors. Diana recalled that in the frozen split-second before the cat-sized arachnid leapt at her from atop the previously empty dresser, clawing madly and hissing.
The struggle was brief but fierce. Diana grappled with its legs, but it struggled out of her grip and sank its fangs deep into her arm. She managed not to cry out at the blazing pain, slamming her fist into its many eyes as claws scythed towards her face. "Let go of me!"
The spider finally released its grip and she hit it again to knock it flailing to the floor. It let out an ear-piercing shriek and tried to scuttle away, but she leapt after it with a shout and stamped her booted heel down into the centre of its bulbous body, over and over, until she was finally convinced that it was extremely dead indeed.
It had made a horrible mess of the carpet.
Panting, her fringe plastered down by sweat, she lifted the window sash and flung the mirror from the dresser out, feeling a flare of satisfaction as it splintered on the cobbles. "Watch it!" someone in the street yelled indignantly. She ignored them and stood still for a moment while she mentally reviewed all the mirrors in her set of rooms, and then she briskly circled round to collect them all and consign them to the same fate.
Done, she ended up back in her office, closed the window, and at last allowed herself to collapse onto her desk chair while she appraised the damage. She was panting for breath, and shaking. Her grey gown was dirty and torn and her arm was bleeding freely from the bite, blood stains spreading alarmingly fast through the cloth. And there were all the…bits…of the spider trodden into the floor. She had no idea how she was going to get them out.
The blood loss and the venom from the fangs was making her lethargic. She had to fight against the urge to use her uninjured arm to pillow her head on her desk and simply hope everything went away. But her training overruled that. She wiped sweat out of her eyes and pulled her ravenglass knife out of her boot, cutting away a piece of her skirt (it was ruined anyway) and tying the fabric tightly around her arm. The hiss of pain she let out startled her. She usually had more control.
A rustling, rattling noise spun her around sharply, to discover that the messenger satchel hung on the back of a chair was beginning to quiver ominously. "Not more!" she snapped.
She grabbed the satchel by its base and threw the contents out. The tiny hand mirror she had forgotten about (useful for looking around corners) rolled over pushed by the three chitanated legs which had managed to force their way through.
Diana knocked the mirror face-up with the point of an umbrella, stabbing down. "Hold still!" A claw jerked at the fabric, tearing a slash through it and hooking on a strut, but Diana was more intent on trying to get a glimpse of where the spider was coming from. But it was a small mirror, and there was barely a spot of its surface now not filled by struggling spider. She bent as close as she dared, squinting at the silvered spaces.
The legs abruptly jerked and fell still. It took Diana a moment to realise that this was because they'd been severed from the other side with something sharp, like a meat cleaver. When she tentatively poked them with the umbrella point they toppled over, leaking ichor.
At least she'd already resigned herself to replacing the carpet.
The hand mirror was innocently showing nothing but the reflection of the ceiling. Nevertheless, it took the same route out of the window as its cousins.
And Diana wasn't planning on sticking around to see if something was about to try climbing down the chimney, not even to take time to bandage her arm properly. She stopped only to grab an already-packed bag of vital supplies and to pull on a large and slightly battered overcoat to hide the ichor stains on her dress.
Wilmot's End was where she ended up — too predictably, but she was dizzy and mazed from the spider bite and the urge to head somewhere familiar and relatively safe overrode her caution. She slipped though a gap between topiary (it was hidden until one pressed against it) and slid to the damp ground in the tiny space beyond. She leaned against the smooth, lichen-covered plinth. Of the statue that had once stood there, nothing remained but the hacked remains of feet.
Her arm was a mess. And, naturally, her kit held none of the appropriate anti-venom. Dying wouldn't be permanent, of course, but the thought of leaving her body vulnerable while she was gone was a much more potent fear.
The bat came tumbling out of the air and she almost attacked it on pure reflex, thinking it was something else sent to kill her. But she recognised the leathery flap of wings and sulky chittering just in time to catch it instead. It didn't fight. "Were you looking for me?" she asked. "What have you got there?"
It reluctantly divulged the scrap of paper tied around its leg, and crawled to her collar to nestle its little furry body against the warmth of her pulse.
The message read, simply, DON'T SHOOT! She blinked at it.
A moment later a rustling in the shrubbery made its meaning clear. Mozzie came crawling into her hiding place through the damp bushes.
Diana's hand, which had automatically gone to the handle of the tiny ratwork pistol in her pocket, dropped away. "Look, not shooting," she said.
"I should hope not." Mozzie's eyes flicked over her, and he grimaced. "So what got you?"
"Ah. That would be why your mirrors created such a sensation in the street. I heard that from the Cheesemonger."
"I do hope she's not spreading it around."
"What, when she owes her place in the Game to you? No, she only told me because she was worried. Her lips are otherwise sealed." Mozzie was frowning at her wounds from a safe distance. "Is someone trying to kill you?"
Diana sighed, and tipped her head back against the plinth. The stone was cold through her hair. "The thought's crossed my mind. Two spiders in succession crawling into my rooms seems rather a coincidence."
"Hey!" Mozzie said, sharply.
She blinked. "What?"
"Don't go to sleep."
"I'm not," she protested, opening her eyes again. Mozzie was peering at her worriedly. To prove it, she sat up properly, although pain knifed through her veins at the movement. She hissed. "Damn."
"The Royal Beth has some of the best security in London, you know," Mozzie said.
Mozzie's rooms in the Royal Bethlehem Hotel were even more luxurious than June's townhouse. Various cats had been reclining on the sofa, but they graciously gave up the space to Diana as Mozzie helped her lie down on it.
"Are you injured?" one of them, sleek and black, asked solicitously. It sniffed at her arm, and recoiled in disgust. "Ugh! I despise those spiders. Nasty, creeping things."
"Far worse than the Rattus faber," a grey tabby agreed.
"And the bats."
The bat which had remained tucked into Diana's collar all this time put its head out to exchange sulky glares with an unrepentant ginger tom. The black cat winked at Diana, and she dredged up as much of a smile as she could. She felt weak and sick, and everything hurt.
Mozzie had meanwhile prepared an ampule of anti-venom in a brass syringe. "Hold out your arm," he ordered, and injected it into the crook of her elbow with a smooth, practised motion.
The disparate pain dulled immediately. Her surroundings also settled from their slow spin, for which she was even more grateful.
"Brandy?" Mozzie offered.
"As long as it didn't come through the Brass Embassy."
Mozzie chuckled. "No, from the Widow. Which has its own risks, but the drink itself is safe." He took a bottle from a cabinet and poured two glasses without waiting for a reply. "So. Do you know who tried to assassinate you by spider?"
Diana accepted the brandy gratefully. It burned in her throat, and tasted of peaches. "Plenty of people would be happy to kill me. I'm not sure most of them would use such an esoteric method, though." Speaking of which, there were at least three mirrors she could see from her current vantage point.
"Quite," the black cat agreed. "It's a dangerous business, using mirrors. One can never be entirely sure of all the results."
"They won't get in here," Mozzie assured Diana, following her eyes. "The mirrors in the Royal Beth go… elsewhere."
That wasn't an especially reassuring idea, but Diana tore her gaze away from them. She felt strong enough to sit up now, and she dug through her bag for proper bandages to replace the cloth tied hastily around her arm. "I'll be off soon," she promised. "I know you're not fond of uninvited guests, but thank you for your help."
A couple of feline heads swung to stare at Mozzie. The tabby made a sound that was the cat equivalent of clearing one's throat.
"You aren't thinking of turning her out?" the ginger tom asked.
Mozzie flung up his hands, instantly exasperated. "No! When did I say that? She said it!"
Diana watched with some amusement.
The tom inclined its head to her. "I do hope you'll stay for supper at least. The food is very good, although I must say the coffee has little to recommend it."
"I don't recall founding a co-operative," Mozzie muttered, darkly, in the direction of several blankly innocent feline faces. He rolled his eyes. "Although they do happen to be right. You shouldn't be going anywhere right now."
"If you're sure…" Diana said. She might be feeling better, but she was still tired and wrung out, and the thought of walking across London was not an enticing one. "I could always head to the Foreign Office; it's not far from here."
She could have kicked herself — as soon as the words left her mouth she could practically hear every ear in the room perk up.
"The Foreign Office?" the tabby asked. "Interesting. I've heard some very peculiar rumours coming from there recently…"
Mozzie nodded in agreement. "That reminds me, I meant to ask. Is it true that half the staff are Snuffers?"
The tom loudly objected to the very suggestion.
The black cat rubbed sinuously against Diana's legs as an argument broke out. "Too late to leave now," she purred, sounding unduly cheerful about it.
Resigned but not overly objecting, Diana settled back. She also poured herself some more brandy. Despite first impressions, this might turn out not to be such a bad afternoon after all.
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