ALONG CAME A SPIDER
A Saint Seiya Fanfiction
By Sailor Mac
In the doorway of a darkened room, a woman stood looking out over Tokyo, one hand on the frame.
*Just like any other city*, she thought. *On the surface, it seems beautiful, but underneath . . . it's dirty. And I've always hated that . . . that hypocrisy . . .*
She turned away and walked back into the room, which was dusty and in ill repair . . . cracks ran along the walls in intricate patterns, floorboards sagged and creaked, large water stains were scattered along the ceiling.
It would do for her purposes. It wasn't as if she would need it for long.
Over against the wall were the only furnishings, the tools of her trade . . . a loom, a sewing machine, various dye pots. Considerably more sophisticated than what she had used back in the old days. Sometimes she missed the "hands-on" experience, the feeling that she was in complete control of her work.
But she needed tools that would help her get her work done as quickly and efficiently as possible. She wanted to make sure she was completely successful this time.
Not like last time . . . when that bitch had stopped her . . .
She picked up a spool of thread and ran it through her fingers. What a delicious feeling, silky and soft . . . the feeling she'd been denied for so long.
Thanks to *her*, she'd been denied feeling anything for literally centuries.
*But it ends now*, she thought. *I'm back, and I want my revenge*.
She put out her hand and concentrated. A strand of white thread began to form, delicate and thin. Spiderweb theads, shooting up into the air, then looping back on themselves, twisting around and around until they formed a rope. A flick of the woman's hand, and the rope twisted into a noose.
"You're going to be the one to suffer this time, Athena," the woman said, before letting out a long, loud, near-hysterical laugh.
* * *
Miles away, in a place as bright and sunny as the woman's lair was dark, a group of teenagers trooped through a wood. At first glance, they'd seem absolutely normal . . . well, a lot better-looking than typical kids, but normal nonetheless.
Until you noticed that the four boys in the group were all sporting a large number of bruises and bandages, like they'd been in an accident. But that wasn't the case.
You would never know that this group consisted of the avatar of a goddess and her four chosen warriors, who had just been involved in a battle for the future of the world . . . and were now taking a well-deserved rest.
"Okay, this looks like a good place," said the purple-haired girl who was leading the group as they headed into a clearing. Saori Kido knew these woods well . . . they'd been part of her family's property for years. Of course, most of the surrounding property for 10 miles around belonged to the Kido family, as well.
The four boys who had been walking behind her dropped the baskets, boxes and ice chests they'd been carrying on the ground with a loud thump. "'Bout time," the short, sturdy boy behind Saori mumbled under his breath, pushing back his perpetually unruly mop of brown hair. It seemed to him they'd walked from one end of Tokyo to the other.
"Open up the blanket over here, Seiya," Saori said to the boy, pacing out the area she'd chosen for their picnic. "We can start taking the food out . . ." . For once in her life, she was wearing something appropriate to the occasion, rather than the ball gowns that were her usual wardrobe. Her regal bearing still made the white short-sleeved sports shirt and khaki shorts look formal.
Another of her efforts to get us to cheer up, Seiya thought. Saori had been very concerned about her Bronze Saints since they got back from the Battle of Sanctuary, where they had fought against the powerful Gold Saints to retake Athena's sacred grounds from Holy Father -- the leader of all Athena's Saints -- who had been possessed by evil. Of course, they had all faced death -- Saori included -- so a certain amount of listnessness was to be expected.
Seiya watched as the others began settling down. His best friend, Shiryu, the tall, elegant one with the knee-length black hair, was unloading a container of drinks, not looking up. Shun, the willowy, sweet-faced boy with long green hair, was slowly taking out bento boxes from another cooler, not saying a word. Hyoga, the muscular blond, was just methodically unpacking chopsticks and plates.
*I'm wondering if they've been feeling the same thing as me since we got back from Sanctuary*, Seiya thought. *And that's boredom. We've spent all our lives either training to be Saints, or, these last few weeks, fighting . . . we're not used to being civilians! It's just boring!*
Across the blanket, Shun lined the Bento boxes up methodically, then looked at them with a rather sad expression on his angelic face.
*There's one fewer than there should be,* the green-haired boy thought. *There's one person who should be with us, but isn't . . . who none of us have seen since the Battle of Sanctuary . . .*
"I'm worried about Nee-san," he said, looking down at the boxes. "I mean, nobody has heard anything from him, ever since . . ."
Hyoga put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sure he's all right."
Shun gave a shy smile to the blond. *Does he know,* he thought, *what happened when he was close to death?* He could still remember what it felt like to hold his friend in his arms, pouring his own life force into him, trying to bring him back from the brink.
Shun wondered why that moment kept running through his own head. . . especially the part where he was holding Hyoga in his arms, pressing their bodies together as he willed his own head and energy into his friend.
"I wish I could be sure," Shun sighed. "He said he was going back to that island to renew himself, but . . . I wonder if he even made it there . . ."
"You'd have felt his cosmo disappear if he hadn't," Hyoga replied, settling back on the blanket. "All of us would have, but . . . you, especially."
Shun had to admit Hyoga had a point. After all, he and Ikki were the only family each other had left. The bond they shared was far greater than that between ordinary brothers . . . it was more like a parent and child.
Saori, meanwhile, was pulling something out of one of the boxes. "A TV?" said Seiya.
"I thought we could watch it while we eat," Saori said, setting up the portable set.
"Great," Seiya mumbled. "The last thing in the world I want to do today is watch TV."
"You, too?" Shiryu said.
"I'd rather be playing basketball, or baseball, or . . . something!" He flopped down face-first on the blanket, his head cradled on his folded arms. Why do the days all go so slowly now? he thought. When we were in training, or fighting . . . they just flew by . . .
Saori was adjusting knobs and buttons on the set, and a picture was coming in . . . a noon newscast. She started passing out the bento boxes as the announcer droned on.
". . . expect to have several hundred people at the protest. Police will be out in full force. In other words, police have stepped up their investigation of what has become known as the Borgia Killer . . ."
Suddenly, Saori's head snapped up, and her eyes became riveted to the screen. She moved a bit closer to the screen, as if what was being talked about was of vital importance to her.
"Seven people, all local politicians, have been found dead as the result of putting on garments that have been impregnated with poison. No clues have been found as to the identity of the killer . . ."
Saori remained riveted to the screen, looking like she'd been frozen in place. "No," she whispered. "No . . . it can't be . . ."
The others looked at each other, then at her. "Saori-san?" Seiya said.
She suddenly sprung to her feet. "I have to be alone for a few minutes," she said, walking off into the woods rapidly, looking straight ahead.
"Saori-san!" Seiya said, jumping up, starting to go after her. *This isn't like her, he thought. She's always cool and on top of things! Even when the Sagittarius Cloth was stolen, she didn't act like that! Something is very, very wrong . . .*
An arm came across his path, halting him. Shiryu.
"Let her go," he said.
"But . . . she's upset over something . . ."
"She said she wanted to be alone," Shiryu said, "and we have to respect that."
Deeper in the woods, Saori leaned against a tree, clutching her temples. Even though Athena wasn't always part of her consciousness . . . the goddess tended to come and go at will, often without warning . . . she was well aware of the memories of the goddess she channeled. Athena tended to leave a residue of cosmo in the mind and soul of her host, so the link was never entirely broken.
The memory which had come to her when she heard the news item about the Borgia Killer was as terrible as it was ancient. It seemed that one of the goddess's oldest enemies had returned.
* * *
The boys sat around the living room, trying to act normal.
Seiya was seated in front of the television, intent on a game that involved a lot of loud blasts of gunfire. Shiryu and Shun were seated on the couch, their heads lowered over a backgammon board. Hyoga was feigning interest in Seiya's game.
None of them were truly interested in what they were doing, because they were anxiously awaiting the return of their patroness.
"I still think we should go after her," Seiya said, punctuating his words with a loud blast to the gut of the onscreen monster.
"She'll come back when she's ready," Hyoga said, shifting his position in the chair. . . . but his voice betrayed that he was as worried as Seiya was.
"Yeah? What if she's in trouble?" Seiya said. "Look, the Sanctuary thing is over, and we took care of the people who stole the Gold Cloth, but . . . who's to say there's not other people out to get her? I mean, there might be some whacko out there with magical powers who found out she's a goddess and . . ."
"There is one," said a voice from the doorway. Instantly, all four boys leapt to their feet when Saori spoke. The girl entered the room slowly, sitting in her usual chair.
"Saori-san!" Seiya said, rushing over to her. "What's going on?"
She looked up at the boys around her. *They've already given so much for me, she thought, and suffered so much. I hate to make them do it again, to have to fight when they're not recovered from their last fight . . . but I may have no choice.*
"It seems that we have a problem," she began. "And old enemy of Athena might be back and after revenge."
The boys all looked at each other. This is what they were afraid of . . . that Saori might be in danger again.
"Who is it?" Shun said, sitting on the floor at her feet.
She took a deep breath, looking down at her clasped hands. Where to begin . . . "Have you ever heard the story of Arachne?"
"Yes," Shiryu said, sitting on a chair next to her. The others exchanged glances . . . of course, Shiryu, the walking encyclopedia of all mythological and arcane knowledge, would know the story. "She was a peasant girl who boasted she was a better weaver than Athena. Athena challenged her to a contest, and Arachne accepted. Arachne wove a tapestry showing Zeus at his worst, seducing one young woman after another . . . and Athena was furious . . ."
"And she turned the girl into a spider, didn't she?" Shun said.
Shiryu nodded in the affirmative. "She turned Arachne into a spider, so she would spin and weave forever."
Seiya frowned. "You . . . I mean, Athena . . . turned someone into a spider for an insulting picture?"
"No," Saori said, quietly. "The mythology books got this one wrong. There was an Arachne, and she was turned into a spider by Athena, but it wasn't because she was boastful, or because she insulted Zeus. Arachne killed people. A lot of them. People in government that she thought were taking food out of the mouths of the poor."
"What do you mean?" Shun said. "She was a political terrorist?"
"You could say that," Saori said. "Arachne hated politicians who lived in luxury while common people starved. So she decided to take drastic action. She became an adept in black sorcery . . . and then, she used her skill in weaving to create poisoned garments. She gave them to the politicians, they put them on and died."
Shiryu looked thoughtful. "Hercules died from poisoned garments, didn't he?"
"Yes," said Saori.
"Is there any connection?"
Saori shook her head. "The Hercules incident happened some time after this, and it was for different reasons entirely. That was a jealous wife who killed her cheating husband. This was . . . Arachne just became drunk with her own power over people, and her ability to kill, and . . . she started destroying anyone who she felt had slighted her for any reason. And their entire families as well . . ."
Shun winced in pain . . . he hated hearing about anyone suffering at the hands of anyone else. "Children, also?" he said, quietly.
Saori nodded. "Yes. Even children. And that's when the people began praying to Athena for help. So Athena set up the weaving contest to check her skill, and see if it were really her."
"And the rest happened like in the myth?" Shiryu said.
Saori nodded. "Arachne was turned into a spider because Athena was too compassionate to kill her."
"But if she were turned into a spider," said Seiya, "how can she come back? I mean, how's a spider going to hurt you?"
"Her soul could still have reincarnated into a human body," Saori said. "And if that human did any kind of past-life regression, and regained her old memories . . ."
Suddenly, there was a howling noise, like the voices of a hundred demons wailing at once. The front door burst open like a giant had kicked it, and a cold wind blew into the room, rattling pictures, vases and expensive knickknacks.
"What the . . ." Seiya leapt to his feet, instinctively assuming a battle stance, ready to give a Meteor Punch to the first even vaguely threatening person that would walk in that door.
But there was no person. Instead, something started to appear in the doorway . . . silken threads that rapidly wove themselves around and around, up and down, twisting and turning into a familiar spiderweb pattern.
Hyoga winced as he felt the air fill with a dark cosmo, a black energy that seemed to come from the very pits of hell. "Is this . . . some kind of a demon?" he said, watching the threads continue to twist, and turn, and suddenly start to form Greek letters. Reading Greek was part of every Saint's training, so all of them knew instantly what the words in the web said . . .
"Athena Beware," Shun read out loud.
"It's her," Saori said, quietly. "She's back . . . and she knows that I am the avatar of Athena . . ."
Seiya leapt in front of her. "Well, we're gonna take care of her! We're gonna track her down, and pulverize her before she even gets a chance to . . ."
"That won't be necessary."
The voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once, a rich contralto that echoed off the walls like a shout in the depths of a canyon. The boys all looked around the room, trying to find any sign of a newcomer . . . but there was none.
"Where are you, Arachne?" Athena said. "Show yourself!"
The spiderweb suddenly began to dissolve, melting into a silvery liquid which poured toward the floor like a shimmering waterfall. It began to mutate, to take form, to become the shape of a woman . . . then, there was a flash, and a tall woman in a black gown, embroidered with a silver spiderweb pattern, was standing there. She regarded Saori and her guardians with icy grey eyes as the wind caught her nearly floor-length black hair.
The woman's crimson lips twisted upward in a rueful smile. "You're much prettier this time, Athena. And I see you've managed to attract yourself a harem of sexy young boys."
"We are *not* her harem, you bitch!" Seiya said, advancing a step toward her and bringing his fists up menacingly.
"If you even *dare* to hurt her. . ." Shiryu added, putting himself between Saori and Arachne and assuming a battle stance.
Arachne laughed. "Tough talk from pretty boys. Better move out of the way, I wouldn't want to damage those lovely faces of yours."
"Those are my Saints, not my harem or my pretty boys," Saori said. "They're going to make sure you don't go off on your rampage again. And so will I."
"Rampage? That's a very strong word. Why do you think that's what I have in mind? Maybe I just wanted to see how my old friend was doing . . . " She raised a hand, almost casually, and thin streams of silvery silk began to form around her fingers. They rose up into the air, dancing and twisting like a rope . . .
The look on her face, the darkness that seemed to permeate the very air, told Seiya he couldn't just stand there. Slowly, he backed up, until he could whisper to the others, "Upstairs. Now." They ran up the grand staircase, headed for the large second floor bedroom where their armor boxes were kept.
"This is the first time we're going to use them since Mu repaired them," Shun said, when he reached the row of five bronze boxes, each one bearing the constellation symbol of the armor contained inside.
"Well, we're going to find out how well the repair job went," Seiya said. He concentrated, sending out his cosmo to the box, and felt the others do the same. The lids opened, and four small, metallic statues rose from them . . . a dragon, a winged horse, a swan, a woman in chains . . .
Then, suddenly, the statues broke apart, and the pieces flew toward the Saints, transfoming into their armor and landing on their bodies piece by piece . . . leg guards, breastplates, arm guards, headpieces. Each Saint felt his natural cosmo energies multiplied hundreds of times over as the armor became part of their bodies, part of their very souls.
But they didn't have time to savor the effects of their armoring for long, because a loud cry sounded from downstairs, followed by a thump. All five jumped.
"Saori-san!" Seiya shouted, running for the stairs. He vaulted over the banister, prepared to strike, the others following. If something's happened to her, he thought . . . if that bitch did something . . .
The sight that greeted his eyes, however, was a welcome one. Saori was holding the long, gold, eagle-topped staff that symbolized the authority of Athena and was her primary weapon, and she was pointing it at Arachne's gut. The sorceress, meanwhile, was glaring at the divine avatar, one hand raised with the fingers curled, looking like she was about to cast a spell. It was a deadly standoff, especially since Saori was glowing with golden cosmo . . . a sure sign that Athena was present within her.
"Call off your attacks and your threats," Saori said, "or I will turn you back into a spider right now."
Arachne laughed. "Do you think that's going to bother me one bit? You actually did me a favor by turning me into that form, Athena. It allowed me to make a lot of . . . interesting friends. Shall I demonstrate?" She waved the hand that was in the air, and a soft, buzzing noise began.
The four Saints looked around themselves . . . they saw nothing amiss. "What is she doing?" Shun said. "If that's an attack . . ."
"Up there," said Shiryu, pointing to the ceiling. "They're tiny right now, but . . ."
The others looked where the Dragon Saint was pointing . . . and saw a cluster of cocoons, balls of spider silk that looked like cats' playthings gone out of hand. They swelled by the second, mutating, taking vaguely human shape . . .
"This . . . can not be good," Seiya said.
With an earsplitting tearing of cloth sound, the cocoons burst open, and five creatures tumbled to the floor. Their bodies looked humanoid . . . except for the four pairs of spider legs growing out of their backs. But their heads . . .
Shun cringed, moving closer to Hyoga. This was *not* what they were used to. They'd taken on any number of human warriors, but . . . these were not human. "Hyoga . . . look at that . . . the eyes . . . they have eyes all over . . ."
"Spider demons," Hyoga said. "Huh . . . they'll be no trouble." He began to concentrate on burning his cosmo, feeling the energies of the universe flowing through and around him turning into ice within his soul, building up and getting ready to blast out of him . . .
But before any of them had a chance to attack, the spider things shot out streams of silvery liquid, which splashed all over Saori, looking like someone had upended a large can of metallic paint over her head. There was a cracking noise, and the liquid dried, forming silken ropes that bound Saori head to toe.
"Saori-san!" Seiya shouted, launching himself at the nearest creature, furiously burning all the cosmo energy he could possibly muster. "Eat this, bastard!" He launched his Meteor Fist attack, his hand streaking toward his enemy with the light and velocity of a comet, as he shouted, "PEGASUS RYU SEI KEN!" But the attack never reached the thing, because it instantly threw up a shield that looked like a giant spiderweb.
"What the *hell*?" Seiya said, preparing another, stronger attack . . . but his fist couldn't move. His whole body couldn't move. He was bound in the same wrappings that trapped Saori. The thing gave a chortling, snorting noise, and waggled a leg . . . and Seiya was catapulted out of the wrappings like a bullet out of a gun, slamming hard into the top part of the wall. He gritted his teeth . . . it was far from the first time something like that had happened to him, and the armor always cushioned the worst of the impact, but it still hurt like hell. He felt himself sliding back toward the floor, slowly . . .
Meanwhile, Shiryu had chased another of the things outside. It was trying to douse him in silver liquid, but he was able to dodge each jet, and caught another with his shield.
"It's no use," he told the thing. "My shield is the strongest in the world. Whatever you will throw at me, I will be able to block it." He concentrated, feeling the energy of the universe fill him, start to mix with the energy of his own soul, and charge up into an attack . . .
. . . when another spider dropped a load of liquid on him from above. He tried to move, but it was hardening already, and he could feel it constricting on him like the coils of a snake, threatening to choke the very life out of him. The more he struggled, the tighter the webbing got . . . and then, he realized his feet weren't on the ground anymore, and he was rising into the air.
"Shiryu!" Hyoga shouted from the ground, as he saw his friend being pulled up toward the roof. He began to charge up an attack as fast as he possibly could, willing himself to burn the most cosmo he possibly could . . .
And then, something hairy and clammy came up from behind him, wrapping around him in a wrestling hold and holding his arms in place. "Dammit!" he shouted, struggling against the thing . . . but it was to no use. The legs tightened more, and more, and then, there was the sensation of something sharp biting into his neck and beginning to suck, draining the very energy from him. Hyoga found himself starting to drift in and out of consciousness, his surroundings becoming more blurry, less distinct . . .
A voice that seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere at once shouted, "NEBULA CHAIN!" A flash of silver streaked through the air, and there was a solid impact as the arrowhead end of the large, thick chain attached to Shun's wrist guard collided with the creature.
"You will not hurt Hyoga," Shun told the spider demon as he pulled on the chain, trying to force the demon off his teammate. "I usually do not like having to fight, but . . . I just can't forgive this." He pulled again . . . but the thing pulled back, growling and snarling, showing a mouthful of fangs that looked like they could easily chew up a boy of Shun's size. Undeterred, Shun began to concentrate on burning his cosmo, on pulling the energy of the universe itself into his body . . . and he gave one last, huge yank. The thing loosened its grip on Hyoga and went flying, hitting a tree and collapsing to the ground with a groan.
Shun exhaled a deep breath. He'd done it. He'd destroyed the thing, and saved Hyoga . . .
And then, the creature started making a hideous chortling noise. Two of the legs sprang to life, reaching for the chain that bound it . . .
Before Shun had time to react, he found himself being jerked by his own weapon and thrown into the air, screaming as he flailed his arms and legs, trying to regain his balance . . . but to no avail. He slammed into the wall of the house, hard.
"Shun!" Hyoga shouted. He began to fire up his cosmo again . . . the thing was too interested in his friend to care about him . . . He brought his hands together in front of him, and pushed the energy out, firing off a blast of pure concentrated ice as he shouted, "DIAMOND DUST!" The crystals enveloped the creature, freezing it into a solid block of ice.
Shiryu, meanwhile, had been dragged all the way to the top of the house by two of the spider creatures. They held him there for a moment, as if trying to decide whether to eat him or just kill him .. . then, they dropped him toward the ground, where he sank like a stone, rushing onward to certain death.
Seiya had managed to get back to his feet, and was about to check on Saori . . . when he felt something was wrong outside, terribly wrong . . . with Shiryu . . . He streaked out of the house at his top speed, holding his arms out, and caught his friend before he hit the ground.
"Seiya," Shiryu said, weakly.
"I'll get the bastards," Seiya said, tearing at the bindings. "Where were they?"
"No, you won't get them," Shiryu said, managing to wriggle the rest of the way out of the ropes. "At least one of them's mine."
"You're in no condition to attack!" Seiya said, trying to hold his friend back. Dammit, he thought, why does Shiryu have to be so noble all the time? He constantly sacrifices himself for us . . . for me . . .
"I'll be fine," Shiryu said, getting to his feet. They were still on the roof, it looked like . . . probably pumping up a massive fluid attack to dump on them . . . He calmly assumed his battle stance, burning all the cosmo he could manage . . . He raised a hand toward them, forming the image of a water dragon, his constellation symbol, in his mind . . . and pushed the energy outward, shouting, "ROZAN SHO RYU HA!" A dragon made of pure energy streaked away from him, flying toward the roof and connecting with the creatures, which exploded.
Another spider demon leapt off the ground, heading for Shiryu . . . but it didn't get very far. "PEGASUS RYU SEI KEN!" Seiya shouted, launching his meteor punch attack . . . which connected solidly with the thing, sending it spiraling to the ground.
Hyoga, meanwhile, was checking to see if Shun was all right. The younger boy was lying on the ground, where he'd fallen after hitting the wall.
"Shun!" Hyoga said, kneeling next to him. "Are you . . ."
Shun sat up, slowly. "I'm okay, Hyoga. The thing didn't throw me all that hard. I . . ." He suddenly felt something . . . a dark presence, nearby them . . . He looked down, and saw his chains were moving of their own accord, lifting off the ground, pointing . . .
"There's another one hiding in that clump of bushes over there," Shun said, standing up. "My chain detected it . . ." He moved toward the bushes, slowly . . .
A stream of silver liquid shot toward him. Thinking quickly, Shun quickly made a spiral out of the round-ended, defensive chain, making it twirl continuously around him in his "Rolling Defense" move. The thing seemed stunned that its attack was repelled. Good chance, Shun thought . . .
"NEBULA CHAIN!" he shouted, throwing the other chain at the thing, and encircling it. He felt it start to pull on the chain, to try to throw him . . . you're not going to do it this time, he thought. He increased the speed of the Rolling Defense, pulling tighter on the other chain . . . Finally, he felt the thing go limp. The familiar pang he always felt when having to take a life shot through him . . . even though this one clearly wasn't human.
When he dropped the chain, he saw Seiya and Shiryu heading for the house . . . oh, gods, he thought, Saori-san's still in there! And Arachne was holding her prisoner . . .
The boys rushed in the living room, to find the avatar of their patron goddess on the floor, struggling her way out of the cocoon.
"Saori-san!" Seiya said, kneeling next to her. "What happened?"
"Arachne's gone," she said. "Right after you went outside . . . she just vanished. I think she realized we were a match for her."
"Vanished?" said Shiryu. "No clues?"
"None," said Saori. "Just dissolved into thin air . . . and she said, "Don't think this is over, Athena. It isn't."
"She's not a problem," Seiya said. "We'll kick her butt!"
"Unless what we saw today was just a test," Shiryu said, kneeling on the other side of Saori."
"What do you mean?" Shun said.
"She may be trying to gauge how powerful Saori is . . . how much Athena power she can access . . . and how strong we are . . . so she can ready her *true* assault."
"In other words," Shun said, "what we just went through may be . . ."
"Just a taste of what we can expect in the future," Shiryu replied, frowning.
"Feh," Seiya said, waving a hand dismissively. "So, they figured out what we can do. So? We can still take them easily. Hey, we took on all of the Gold Saints, right?"
"The Gold Saints were *human*," said Hyoga, who had been leaning against the wall, arms crossed. "These things . . . we have no idea what they are."
"Ugly," Seiya grumbled. "That's what they are."
Saori got to her feet, slowly. "I think we all need some rest. We don't know what's ahead of us now . . ." Seiya and Shiryu quickly moved to assist her, but she waved them off. "I'm all right."
"But, Saori-san . . ." said Seiya.
"No buts," she said. "I'm fine. You should worry about making sure *you're* all right." And she headed up to her room.
Seiya flopped down on the couch, leaning over so his hands dangled between his legs. "Damn," he said. "She barely recovers from the magic arrow . . . and now *this* has to happen . . ."
"For all we know, Arachne might have been waiting for a time when she would be vulnerable," Shiryu said, moving toward the window, looking out to see if there were any signs of enemy activity . . . but the coast seemed clear.
"I'm just wondering . . . if she knew about us," Shun said, leaning back in his chair. "Did she count on her having help?"
"Tatsumi said we were reincarnations of ancient warriors," Seiya said, referring to Saori's ill-tempered butler. "If we're Saints now, we were probably Saints then. We probably encountered her."
"So she's sizing us up to see if we've still got it," Hyoga said, sitting on the floor next to Shun.
"And," said Shiryu, turning away from the window, "she's still got it as well . . . in fact, she has more of *it* than she ever did. If what she says is true . . . we may be up against the equivalent of a dark goddess."
The others fell silent. They were in unfamiliar territory, up against an unfamiliar type of enemy . . . and even with all the combat experience they'd gained, suddenly, it was as if thy had no experience at all.
* * *
Saori woke up and rolled over. The clock said it was 1:30 a.m. She had hoped that her dreams would give her some information, that the goddess she hosted would let her directly see the first encounter with Arachne many years ago. There had been nothing. . . and she didn't feel like sleep would be coming back right away.
Leaning over, she pushed a button on her bedside lamp. The large room became dimly illuminated, just enough for her to make her way to the bigger light switch. She picked up a white silk robe that matched her nightgown from the foot of her bed and put it on as she made her way across the tasteful, muted blue rug that perfectly complimented the darker blue of the wallpaper. Every piece of furnishing in that room, from the ornate wardrobe to the king-sized canopy bed, was either an antique or a one-of-a-kind designer piece, all lovingly chosen for her by her grandfather.
When the room flooded with light, the first thing that greeted her was the old man's portrait on the opposite wall. He had been the only parent Saori had ever known . . . the people who had adopted her in infancy had died shortly afterward. She wondered if ancient enemies of Athena had been responsible.
"Grandfather," she said to the picture, "it's started again. We have to face another enemy. And I'm worried about my Saints. They gave so much for me in Sanctuary, and they're not fully recovered from that yet . . . I don't know if they're going to be able to go into another battle. I guess I could send the other Bronze Saints after Arachne . . . Jabu, Ban and the others . . . but . . . they wouldn't be able to handle it. They just don't have the experience these boys do."
She suddenly felt an urge to go somwhere, to do something, to take her mind off the situation. Stepping into slippers, she headed down the hall and the stairs.
*I'll try to be quiet,* she thought. *I don't want to wake all of them up.*
In the center of the living room was a huge grand piano. Saori had spent many hours practicing on it as a child, dreaming of someday being a concert pianist, of playing in the grandest concert halls on the planet . . . not realizing then that a very different destiny lay in store for her.
She sat on the bench, fingering the keys. *I should have known even then that there was something different about me,* she thought. The blackouts had started about the same time she'd started her piano lessons. She'd be going about her day like normal, and suddenly realize an hour or two had passed that she couldn't remember . . . and people around her were telling her she'd just done something grand, or heroic . . .
*I used to get upset about that*, she thought. *I was mad at myself for having those blackouts, and it made me mad at the world.* She winced when she remembered the many times she'd mistreated the Saints-in-training as a way of taking out her own frustrations . . . like when she'd tried to force Seiya to be her living hobby horse.
When she'd found out that she was the avatar of Athena, that her blackouts were the times the goddess was using her body, it came as a relief.
She now could stay conscious when Athena was in control, and at least was aware of what was going on. But it was still unnerving, not knowing when you'd be able to control your own body . . . and there were times when she worried that Athena would take over totally, and there'd be no Saori left at all.
She couldn't show her weakness, of course. She had to be the strong leader of the Saints, as well as the head of her grandfather's companies.
But at least she still had her music to express herself with.
Softly as she could, she began to play, a rapid piece that required total concentration. She needed the distraction, badly . . .
She lost herself in the music as she swayed back and forth slightly to her own rhythm. She was miles away from ancient enemies, from constant danger, from more responsibility than any girl her age should ever have to bear.
She almost jumped when a quiet voice behind her said, "Can I join her?" She turned, and there was Seiya, in shorts and T-shirt, guitar in hand.
"Seiya?" she said. "You didn't go back to your apartment?"
"I didn't want to sleep there tonight," he said, sitting on the bench next to her and tuning the strings. "Not with what's going on now."
"I'm fine," Saori said. "But, you're right . . . we can't be too careful."
"And I couldn't sleep either, and I was playing anyway, so I thought I'd come down and see if you wanted to do a duet."
She nodded, and began to play a different tune, something slow, more like folk music than classical. He began to weave a melody around and through it, contrasting with what she was playing, then playing in harmony with it.
*We'd make a great professional duet team,* Seiya thought. *I wonder if she ever wishes she could be in music for a career like I do. If I wasn't a Saint, I'd probably have formed a band a long tine ago. We'd be pounding the pavement, looking for a record deal . . .*
He knew better than to indulge dreams like that. After all, his trainer, Marin, had yelled at him innumerable times for daydreaming. That was before he'd been told why he was training so hard, who the Saints were supposed to be protecting. All he knew was he had been chosen for *something*, and it didn't involve his guitar.
Saori increased her speed of playing, and Seiya kept up with her easily. *Maybe the fact that we can link cosmos while I'm fighting makes it easy for us to do this,* Seiya thought. *We know instantly what each other is thinking, what we're going to do next.*
At the top of the stairs, someone else watched their duet. Shiryu couldn't help but think that the two of them looked good together . . . almost that they belonged together .. . . and that made him feel a small pain deep in his heart.
Shiryu cared for all his fellow Saints, but the Pegasus Saint held a special place in his heart. When they'd met for the first time as teenagers . . . ironically, as opponents in the Galaxian Games fighting tournament . . . he'd known instantly Seiya had become someone unlike anyone he'd ever met before. His own life and training on Rozan Mountain in China had been all about quiet strength and wisdom. Seiya was boisterous, bursting with life, his enthusiasm for everything and anything as strong as his extraordinary powers.
He wondered if he was jealous, if he thought Seiya and Saori were more than friends . . . and just why that bothered him . . .
Just as quickly, he pushed it aside. There was no time to be emotional and confused. They were facing a dangerous new enemy that could strike at any time. His main focus right now had to be finding this enemy and making sure she and her henchmen did nothing to harm the avatar of Athena.
Quietly, he turned and headed back to his room. There were some excellent meditation exercises he'd learned from his master that would help him get back to sleep.
* * *
In an upstairs bedroom, Shun sat in the big easy chair by the window, staring out at the stars.
On a night like this, when the moon was just past its new phase, it was easy to look up at the sky and make out the constellations. Constellations were the most important thing in the world to a Saint; they were the source of his power.
*Or at least that's what my teacher told me,* he thought. *When I burn my cosmo, it doesn't feel like it's coming from the stars. It feels like it's coming from . . . everywhere. Like it's the source of the entire universe, the thing that makes the flowers grow, and the planets revolve in their orbits, and animals choose mates and reproduce . . .*
"One of these days," he said aloud, "I'll ask Nii-san what it's like for him, if he feels the same things I do."
*I'll ask him,* he thought, *if I ever see him again.* Ikki had never stayed with the other Saints for very long. He'd lived at the Kido mansion for a brief time after joining the team, then left, saying he had to do things his own way.
Not that he'd exactly been social before being sent off to train in the living hell that was Death Queen Island. But since he came back . . . Shun sometimes wondered whether Ikki was the same person anymore, or if the island had stolen part of his soul. He'd never forget when his brother had appeared in front of them as their enemy, and the leader of the Black Saints . . .
A shiver passed through the boy's slender body, and Shun hugged himself. He didn't know whether it was physical cold -- having trained on the tropical Andromeda Island had left him rather intolerant of even mildly chilly temperatures -- or a reaction to the unpleasant memory. Either way, he knew he didn't want to be alone anymore.
In one swift, graceful motion, the green-haired boy stood up and headed across the hall, to the room where he always knew he'd be most welcome. He tapped lightly on the door, and was rewarded with, "Is that you, Shun?"
He automatically thinks it's me, Shun thought, and that made his heart leap. "Yes, it is. May I come in?"
"Of course," the voice inside said, and Shun twisted the knob and entered. Hyoga was sitting up in his bed, clad in a plain white T-shirt, the covers pulled up to his waist. The light came from a bedside lamp.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Shun said. "Did I wake you up?"
Hyoga shook his shaggy blond head, sitting up further. "I couldn't get to sleep anyway."
Shun walked over, settling cross-legged at the foot of the bed. "You, too? I was just thinking . . ."
"About your brother?" Hyoga said, pushing the covers away and sitting in the same position as Shun.
*He knows me too well,* Shun thought. "Yes. He hasn't contacted me at all since we left Sanctuary, Hyoga. I'm . . . well, worried. He was just as badly hurt as the rest of us."
"Your brother is the Phoenix Saint, remember," Hyoga said. "One of his powers is that he can renew himself. You'll see him again." He leaned forward, and flinched a little as a ripple of pain went through his back . . . an injury from today's battle? From Sanctuary? From a fight even before that? Who knew? Their life was a constant series of battles.
"Are you all right, Hyoga?" Shun said. "Did that thing that bit you poison you?"
"I'm okay," Hyoga said, rubbing at the sore spot. "Just something minor."
Shun noticed the look on his companion's face. There was physical pain there, all right, but there was also something deeper, something stronger. He couldn't sleep for a reason, Shun thought.
"Are you *sure* everything's all right?" he said, softly.
"Eh," Hyoga said, turning so he was sitting at the edge of the bed, not looking at Shun. "I'm just sick of fighting. I don't want to go back to it . . . it's too soon."
"I know," Shun said, shifting to the edge of the bed himself and inching closer to his friend. "I hate fighting, too. I'd rather not have to do it again as long as we live."
*You were never meant for battle, Shun,* Hyoga thought. *Someone as gentle and beautiful as you should be helping people, or doing something artistic . . . not fighting and killing all the time. Me, I'm different . . . I don't think I'm capable of anything else. And sometimes, I hate it.*
"I just wish all the people in the universe that are after Athena would give it a rest, just for awhile. Just long enough to deal with all the crap that happened before."
Suddenly, Shun realized what must be bothering his friend. Hyoga didn't talk about it, but during the long war over control of Sanctuary, he'd been forced to kill his own teacher, Crystal Saint, and his childhood idol, Crystal Saint's mentor, Gold Saint Aquarius Camus.
*Gods,* he thought, *what kind of guilt is he carrying around? The rest of us were forced to kill enemies, but it was people who meant nothing to us. He had to destroy someone he cared for.*
"Hyoga, none of it was your fault," Shun said, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Seiya told me everything that happened with Crystal Saint. He was possessed. When he died, that wasn't *him*. You didn't kill him . . . the evil side of the Holy Father did."
"The Holy Father wasn't the one who fired the attack," Hyoga said, looking away from Shun again.
"No, but if it wasn't for him, you wouldn't have had to fight your teacher in the first place!" Shun said, tightening his hand on Hyoga's shoulder. "You did what you had to . . . to save the people in the village , , , we always do what we have to."
"And now, a spider woman," Hyoga said, softly. "Another enemy of Athena. How many does she have, anyway?"
"Too many," Shun replied, not taking his hand away. "But we have to deal with them. I look at it this way . . . I hate fighting with a passion, but I know that if I fight Athena's enemies, and I'm successful . . . well, Athena took a human avatar in order to bring peace into the world, right? If her enemies are all gone, she'll be able to do that, and nobody will have to fight at all anymore."
Hyoga reached up and covered Shun's hand with his own. *Where do you get the strength, Shun?* he thought. *How can you stay optimistic despite everything? Gods, I remember when we were kids, in the first stages of training . . . how some of the boys used to taunt you and call you a weakling . . . but you're not weak, not at all. In many ways, you're the strongest one of all of us.*
"Shun," Hyoga said, "do you ever wish you weren't a Saint?"
"Sometimes," Shun said, relishing the feel of Hyoga's hand covering his. It made a flutter of excitement run through his belly, a promise of something more . . . He quickly reminded himself that he should keep to the topic at hand. "When I've had to hurt or kill someone . . . I've wished that I could be anywhere in the world but there. But I believe in Athena, and what she stands for . . . and I figure that's worth it."
*I want your faith, Shun,* Hyoga thought. *I want your belief in Athena, and in humanity. I guess all I can do is believe in *you*.*
"Besides," Shun said, "if we weren't Saints . . . we would have never met each other, would we?"
Hyoga turned slowly toward his companion. Shun was giving him one of his little smiles, eyes shining with pure caring.
*He's the only person in the world I can show this side of myself to, he thought. The rest of the world thinks of me as a tough guy, but only Shun knows how soft I can be . . .*
Suddenly, he found himself throwing his arms around the younger boy and pulling him close, breathing in his scent . . . Shun smelled like new-mown hay and mountain air, of purity and renewal. *Gods, he thought, what would I do without him . . .*
"It's okay, Hyoga," Shun said, hugging back. "You'll be okay. We both will."
*This feels so good,* Shun thought, *being close to him like this . . . I know I shouldn't be thinking this way when he's suffering like this, but still . . .* He let one hand wander up to stroke the thick, blond hair, so soft, so inviting,
He remembered holding Hyoga in his arms before, burning his own cosmo, pouring his life force into the other boy to keep him from dying. *I was willing to give everything for him,* he thought, *and I still am.*
Slowly, reluctantly, they eased away from each other, gazing into each other's eyes, both secretly wanting to take it further, but holding back . . .
"I think I'll be able to sleep now," Hyoga said, quietly.
"Me, too," Shun said, getting up from the bed. "I'm right across the hall if you need me . . ."
Oh, the invitation those words carried. Hyoga fought the urge to grab the boy, pull him down to the bed and show him just how much he "needed him." *But that wouldn't be right,* he thought, *to take advantage of a creature like that . . .*
"All right," he said. "Good night, Shun."
"Good night, Hyoga." He leaned over, gave the older boy another quick hug, and headed for his own room.
Once he was alone again, Shun let out a deep sigh. Hyoga's warmth still lingered on his body, warming him from the inside out. He knew he wasn't going to feel the chill of the evening anymore.
*If only,* he thought, *I were warm from having him in the bed right beside me . . . Maybe, someday. Right now, we have an enemy to think about.*
And he walked back into his bedroom and closed the door.
Seiya walked into the living room of the mansion, still yawning. The "jam session" had gone late into the night, and then he'd been up a little while after that, playing solo in his room.
The end result was he'd gotten very little sleep. Not that he needed much. Shiryu always told him he had enough adrenaline to keep half the planet running.
He found Shun sitting on the floor next to the table, looking through a stack of newspaper clippings. Shiryu was on the couch behind him, looking over his shoulder.
"Hi," Shun said. "We're trying to figure out any kind of pattern to the killings."
"You'd think the fact that a bunch of people turned up dead would be pattern enough," Seiya grumbled, flopping down on the couch next to Shiryu. The clippings all seemed to be from papers put out over the last few weeks, all showing posed portrait shots of the victims, the type politicians usually have taken for their campaign materials.
"We think we've come up with something," Shiryu said. "All of the victims were government officials who had voted against a campaign funding reform bill."
"So?" Seiya said, stretching his legs out in front of him.
"It fits Arachne's patterns of killing in Greece," Saori said, coming into the room and sitting in the big easy chair near the fireplace. "That's what she hated the most, politicians who took money out of people's pockets."
"Politicians who vote against a campaign finance reform bill . . . they might be doing that to cover up their own questionable ethics," Shiryu said. "And to Arachne, they'd be no different than the ones in Greece."
"She may even think they're reincarnations of the same people," Shun said, putting the clippings into a neat pile. "And, for all we know . . . they could be."
Saori got up in one swift motion, her long, white dress swishing on the floor. "I'm going to call the police," she said. "Perhaps they'd know something."
Shun frowned. "They'd tell you something like that?"
"A last name like 'Kido' can open a lot of doors, Shun," Saori said, turning and walking out of the room.
Seiya leaned forward and stretched his arms over his head. "Okay, so we know about this bill thing. Now what?"
"We have to find out who else voted against this bill," Shun said, "and where they live. Hyoga went to talk to the Steel Saints about that."
That makes sense, Seiya thought. The Steel Saints , as befitting a team whose armor and weapons were created by pure technology without the aid of magic, were all experts at all things cyber . . . including information-gathering and hacking.
"Once we find out, we can put them on warning," Shiryu said.
"What are we gonna tell them?" Seiya replied, slumping down in his seat again. "Look out for crazy spider ladies who travel with demons? Think they're gonna believe us?"
"I didn't like fighting those demon things," Shun said, running the sheaf of articles through his hands as if they were protective ofudas. "We've only fought humans before. We've never dealt with something that just acted on instinct."
"Those things were sentient, at least to some degree," Shiryu said. "They did seem to have at least some kind of strategy."
"Yeah . . . attack everyone in sight," Seiya said. "Even if they did have brains, they weren't using them very well."
Saori walked back into the living room, holding a piece of paper on which she'd made notes. "Good news," she said. "The police told me that all of the victims died after receiving a package of white shirts from the Triangle Factory. " She help up the paper, on which she'd written an address. "They said it's in a rather seedy section of town."
"I think, after what we faced yesterday, anything would be easy to take on," Seiya said, getting up and walking over to Saori, taking the paper. "Huh, they're not kidding, this is *really* in the nastiest part of town." He knew that part of town well . . . a lot of people in the orphanage where he'd spent his childhood had grown up there, and their lives had been so horrific that the orphanage had looked *good* to them.
"When Hyoga gets back, we're going," Shun said, laying the newspaper clippings aside. "Even if it isn't her lair . . . we should be able to find some clues."
Seiya laughed. "You make us sound like boy detectives, Shun."
"We have been detectives, haven't we?" said Shiryu. "We went off looking for the Gold Sagittarius Cloth after it was stolen, didn't we?"
Shun remembered the theft of the armor, and shuddered a bit. It was his own brother, Ikki, twisted and perverted by his horrible life on Death Queen Island, who had stolen the armor, as an act of vengeance against those who had forced him into a living hell.
*A living hell that was originally intended for me,* Shun thought. *I was supposed to be the one sent to Death Queen Island . . . but Nii-san went in my place . . . * He swallowed hard, trying to contain the feelings of guilt rising up inside him, as they did from time to time.
He pushed it back, firmly. I can't think of that kind of thing now, he thought. We have an enemy to deal with.
But again, he found himself thinking, *Nii-san, where are you? *
"What do you mean, there's no such thing?"
Seiya kicked at a garbage can in frustration. They'd been to every former factory in this part of town . . . and every other run-down area of Tokyo. It had not been a pleasant experience. There'd been no Arachne, no spider demons . . . but Seiya had already used his Pegasus Ryu Sei Ken against a few outsized rats.
"There's no sign of a Triangle Shirt Factory . . . of anything that was ever called Triangle Shirt Factory . . . anywhere," said Shun. "We've been over every square inch of ground."
"She hid herself very well," said Shiryu, looking around them to see if there was anything they missed. There wasn't.
"Spiders do that," Hyoga said, leaning against the side of a cracked brick building. "They hide from their prey so they can lure them in."
"Great," said Seiya. "Now what?"
"Maybe we can track down one of the actual packages?" said Shiryu. "There might be a return address on them."
"Yeah, and where are we going to find one of *them*?" said Seiya, sitting on the back steps of the shabby building. "Everyone who got one of them is kinda dead."
Shun walked to the end of the street with a sigh. The day was frustrating, and felt like a total loss. They should have known that Arachne wouldn't be direct with them, that she'd lead them on a wild goose chase . . .
He scanned all the buildings they had been in. And they'd been in all of them. The only ones they hadn't were the former apartment houses, and a couple of warehouses. He frowned . . . how could those warehouses stay up? They were crumbling even worse than the factories, especially that oddly-shaped building off to the right . . .
Suddenly, his eyes returned to that building. There was something about it, something he couldn't put his finger on . . .
And then, it occurred to him. The building had three sides. It was literally a triangle.
He pointed to it. "Maybe we'd better try there."
"That thing?" said Seiya. "It's just some beat-up warehouse."
"That just happens to be in a triangle shape," Shiryu said, starting to move toward it. "This may be it."
Seiya was going to protest, but decided better of it. He shrugged, and followed them to the abandoned building. . . . which, he determined when he reached it,
When they arrived, the found it had definitely seen better days.
It stood in the middle of a block of buildings that may have been glorious examples of modern architecture four or five decades ago, but were now crumbling wrecks. Roofs sagged, windows sported wide cracks and ample dirt -- when the glass was there at all. Paint was scarred, chipped and faded, doors hung crazily off hinges as if they had been given a hard yank by a giant in a rage.
The factory itself was in the saddest state of all. Its brickwork was cracked and faded, maybe a third of the windows were still there, and as for its door . . . well, one hinge and a bit of the wood next to it were left . . .
"I don't think this is exactly a high-rent place," Shiryu observed as they made their way into the building, peering around at a vacant, dusty room.
"No shit," Seiya replied, kicking at a clump of decaying leaves that had blown into the building. "Doesn't look like anybody's used it for years."
Hyoga suddenly stopped in his tracks, frowning. Something had just happened to the currents of energy in this place . . . something had turned them very dark, and cold . . ."We have to get out of here," he told the others.
They stopped and turned around. "What's wrong?" Shun said.
"Don't you feel that?" said Hyoga. "That cosmo . . . strong and dark and . . ."
He got no further, because a stream of silken material flew through the air fast as light, twirling like a lethal lariat, wrapping itself around his body before he could move. He could hear the others cry out, hear Shun yell his name . . . He struggled against his bonds, but the more he struggled, the more they tightened.
"Hyoga!" Seiya ran over to him and pulled at the bonds, tried to tear at it . . . but a second strand came shooting out and wrapped around the Pegasus Saint, binding his arms to his sides. "Dammit!" he shouted, twisting this way and that, trying to get away . . .
"Don't move, Seiya!" Shiryu said, looking around, trying to pinpoint where the threads were coming from. Whatever it was, its aura was impossible to detect. Of course it would be, he thought, if it wasn't human. "Shun . . . are the chains reacting at all?"
Shun shook his head. "Not a thing . . . I can feel the cosmo this thing is putting out, but other than that . . ."
There was a rumbling noise, and the floor trembled slightly. The cracked wall opposite them cracked more, and more, and there was a rattling noise as chips of plaster bounced their way down to the floor . . .
Then, it burst in, and an enormous spider crawled into the room. This monster had no trace of humanity whatsoever, just huge, hairy legs, like misplaced tree trunks, jutting out from a torso that seemed to be made of barrels.
Shun stood frozen on the spot for a second. Nothing in his training, nothing in the hours of meditation, sparring, working out with practice chains until his arms felt ready to drop off, had prepared him for something like that. Saints were supposed to do battle with other humans, not with . . .
"Shun! Look out!" Shiryu yelled. Shun sprang into action, bringing one arm up to launch the chain . . . but it was a second too late. A strand of silver was heading toward him. He tried to leap out of the way, but it followed him like a heat-seeking missile. He fell to the floor, starting to struggle . . . and the threads tightened around him, more and more . . . Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Shiryu fall to the floor, encased in a similar cocoon.
The thing was advancing on them, slowly, clacking the pincers on its face, and Shun remembered with sickening clarity their conversation about facing something that just went on instinct.
*The instinct of a spider,* he thought, *is to drain and kill its prey. I can't let that happen!* He mentally willed his chains to move, to tear through the silk just enough to get one arm out, but the slight movement just made the threads tighten more, and more, until he thought he was being choked to death . . .
And then, there was a sudden burning sensation, like someone had dropped small hot coals on him, and the threads dropped. Shun opened his eyes, and saw burning metal feathers . . .
"Nii-san!" he cried, leaping to his feet. He came, he thought. My brother knew I was in trouble, and he came.
There, facing the spider, was a figure in blue and silver armor, three long tails trailing from the back of the cloth, the usual steely look on his handsome face . . . which softened when he saw his brother.
"Get the rest of them out," Phoenix Ikki ordered Shun. "I'll hold this thing off."
Shun nodded and spun the pointy-ended chain over his head, willing it to skim lightly across the cocoons that bound the others, just hard enough to cut the threads . . .
Ikki faced the thing without fear. It was unlike anything in his experience, either . . . but he didn't care. If it was threatening his brother, it was dead.
Meanwhile, the others were peeling away the last remnants of the spider silk. "Yes!" Seiya said. "Okay, now I'm gonna. . ."
Shun quickly put a hand in front of his friend. "No! That's how it got us the last time!"
"What?" Seiya said.
"It detects vibrations," Shiryu said. "Different kinds of spiders detect their prey in different ways, and this one just happens to respond to movement."
"So we just stand here?" Hyoga said, peeling away the last of the threads that bound him.
"Let Nii-san handle it," Shun said. "Look . . ."
Ikki and the spider were still standing stock-still, looking at each other, as if they were sizing each other up . . .
Then, the thing shot its threads . . . but they never got anywhere near Ikki . Fast as lighting, he brought his arms around in a gesture resembling the flapping wings if a phoenix, shouting, "HO YOKU TEN SHO!" A wave of fire blasted from him, flying toward the spider, singing the webbing . . . and then hitting the creature itself. It collapsed to the ground with a hideous shriek . . . but not before letting out one last blast of silk. The Saints all scattered, thinking it was heading for them . . .
But instead, it stuck on the doorframe above them, the threads twisting and spinning, quickly weaving itself into a web, then one strand twirling this way and that as it formed words . . .
"Athena Beware," Shiryu read. "Again."
Ikki rushed over to his brother. "Shun . . ." he said, tenderly. "Are you all right?"
Shun threw his arms around him. "I'm fine. How did you know . . ."
"I sensed you were in trouble," he said. "What's going on?"
"Seems an old friend has come to visit Saori-san," Seiya said.
Ikki frowned. "There's an enemy after her . . . and you left her unguarded?"
"She told us to go here!" Seiya said. "We have to do what she asked us to do, right?"
"Seiya, why don't you and Shiryu go back to the house?" Hyoga said. "Shun and I and Ikki will stay here, and make sure there's no more of those things . . . or if we can find anything interesting."
Seiya was relieved at the offer . . . he hadn't felt entirely comfortable with leaving Saori unguarded to begin with. "Okay!" he said. "We'll see you back there . . . and if you find anything interesting . . ." He reached down to a small pocket in the jumpsuit he wore beneath his armor, and withdrew a slim object, handing it to Hyoga.
Hyoga frowned. "A cell phone?"
"Saori-san wanted me to start carrying one," Seiya said. "I don't know why . . . does she think we're gonna call the police when gods start attacking us?"
"Well, it'll come in useful now," Hyoga said. "All right, we'll call."
He walked back over to Shun, cell phone in hand. His friend was talking in an animated tone to his brother, filling him in on the details of the Arachne case. A small pang of jealousy formed in Hyoga's heart. *Shun is lucky to have his brother,* he thought. *All I had was Mama . . . and she's gone . . .* At the thought of his mother, the pain intensified, threatening to tear him in two.
He steeled himself, telling himself this was no time for that. Not with Arachne and whatever the hell was working for her still at large.
As he headed toward the two brothers, a voice at the back of his head asked him if his jealousy was *just* because Shun had a living relative . . . or if it was something else . . .
* * *
Seiya sat on the living room couch, leaning forward intently. His thumbs flew over the control panel in his hands as his eyes fixed on the screen with a steely gaze.
Combat games were a way of blowing off steam for him. One would think that a boy who spent so much of his life facing odd and dangerous enemies wouldn't want to engage in similar activities as recreation . . . but with a video game, you could keep your reflexes sharp, polish your combat skills, and not risk getting slammed into any stone walls.
Besides, in real life, he didn't get to go after his enemies with a Big Freakin' Gun.
Shiryu came into the room and sat on the couch next to him, looking at his companion's activities with bemusement. Seiya really was a big kid. It was something Shiryu found fascinating, in a way . . . because there were times when he wondered if he, himself, had ever really been a child at all. He couldn't remember a time when people weren't referring to him as "the serious one," just as Shun was "the cute one," Seiya was "the wild one" and Hyoga was "the quiet one."
"What's up?" Seiya said, not taking his eyes off the screen. There was a loud booming from the set as he eliminated several more creatures.
"Saori-san just got a call from the Steel Saints," Shiryu said. "They're E-mailing over a list of names and addresses."
"Cool," Seiya said, leaning over to the right as his character ran to the right of the screen. "Did they find out anything else interesting?"
"Just that on the last delivery, there weren't just shirts to fit the politician in the box. . ."
Seiya, who was leaning forward again, suddenly let out a whoop as there was a huge explosion. "YES! Got the boss!" He hit "save game," tossed aside the control and turned so he was facing Shiryu, settling into a cross-legged position. "Sorry about that . . . what were you saying?"
"I was saying that there were also shirts that looked like they were designed to fit the man's wife and children in that box."
"That . . . is just sick," said Seiya, twisting the cord connecting the control to the Playstation around his finger.
Shiryu nodded. "It fits Arachne's old pattern. It sounds almost like a serial killer."
Seiya frowned. "What do you mean?"
Shiryu sat back, hands folded on his lap. "The deliberation, the picking of specific targets, the taunting of authority figures, in this case, Athena . . ."
"What the hell would make someone do something like that, anyway?" Seiya said. *Gods and supernatural beings who wanted to rule the world were bad enough,* he thought, *but a human who does the same thing . . . hell, that's even scarier. Because the gods are a lot more predictable.*
"There are a number of theories," Shiryu replied. "Many psychiatrists think that serial killers suffered some kind of sexual trauma during childhood . . ."
Seiya put up a hand to stop him. "Shiryu . . . is there *anything* you don't know everything about?"
Shiryu raised his eyebrows. "I don't know *everything*, Seiya. If I did . . . "
The ringing of the telephone on the table next to the couch cut them off. Shiryu picked it up. "Kido residence . . . oh, Hyoga! Did you find anything?"
"I'll go get Saori-san," Seiya said. He sprang to his feet and rushed down the hall, to Saori's private study. She looked up from the stack of printouts she was perusing.
"Shiryu's talking to Hyoga," he said. "Pick up line 1."
Saori reached across the immaculate desk to push a button on the telephone. "Hyoga, it's Saori, I have you on speakerphone. Can you hear me?"
"Yes," the Russian-accented voice said from the speaker. "I was just telling Shiryu, we found something on the wall . . . a list . . ."
"What kind of list?"
"Names . . . and some of them are crossed out."
Saori picked up the sheaf of printouts again. "Read me off some of the names, Hyoga."
"Kazuya Okasoto . . . Hiromi Nishioka . . . Kouichi Tomioka . . . Nobuo Otsuka . . ."
Seiya walked behind the desk, looking over her shoulder. "They're all on this list," he said.
"Hyoga, we have a list of the politicians who voted against the bill here, and the names seem to match the ones you found."
"So the crossed-off ones . . . are the ones that were killed," Hyoga said.
"Hyoga, what's the next name on this list, under the crossed-out ones?" Saori asked.
There was a pause, then Hyoga said, "Shohei Kouka."
"There he is!" Seiya said, pointing to the politician's name and address on the list. "We gotta go over there!"
"Not so fast," Saori said. "It could be a trap. Arachne could have left that list on purpose."
"Yeah, but what if she's on her way over there right now?" Seiya said, rushing back to the other side of the desk to face Saori.
"She could be waiting in ambush!" Saori said, standing up.
"And then we nail her!" Seiya said, thumping the desk for emphasis, making the photo of her grandfather and the owl-shaped paperweight jump. "There couldn't be a more perfect time!"
"I have to agree with Seiya," Shiryu's voice said on the speaker. "If Arachne *is* a serial killer, they sometimes leave clues for the authorities because they *want* to be caught."
Saori considered this for a moment, then let out a deep, resigned sigh. It was hard to reason with Seiya when he was fully revved up, anyway . . . and the fact that his eyes were burning like coals was a pretty good indication he'd reached that point.
"Go, then," she said. "And be careful."
Seiya grabbed the sheaf of papers and read off the address to Hyoga. "We're on our way now, meet us over there!" he said, then pushed the button to hang up. Rushing for the door, he called over his shoulder, "I'll get Jabu and the others to stay with you while we're gone to make sure you're safe. Don't worry, this'll all be over soon, Saori-san!"
Saori straightened out the scattered papers, frowning to herself. She still didn't like the idea of them rushing off there. Because her cosmo senses were picking up something very black, and close.
*Arachne's planning something,* she thought. *And the way things feel now, she'll probably strike before the end of the day.*
* * *
Shun leaned back against the tree, looking around him. There was no sign of anyone . . . save for the two children peeking out the window at the strangely-dressed men all over their front lawn. He gave them a smile and a wave. They giggled and ducked into the house.
He felt like they'd been out there for decades, even though it had only been hours. And there was no sign of activity at all, no spiderwebs, no demons, no questionable packages . . . not even a ripple of suspicious cosmo.
They'd already warned the family in this house about what to look out for, and the Steel Saints were busy E-mailing all the other politicians on the list.
*There's just something not right about all this,* he thought. *I still think that list was too easy to find. Tacked right up on the wall, in plain sight . . . especially after the wild goose chase we went on to find the factory itself . . . *
Hyoga walked over to him, and leaned up against the other side of the tree. "This is a waste of time," he said.
"I agree," Shun said, "but we had to come. If we didn't, and something happened . . ."
"I'm not going to think about that," Hyoga said. *I don't need any more guilt,* he thought.
Shun let out a deep sigh, sagging against the tree a little more. "Hyoga, why do all the other gods and demons and creatures come after Athena? Don't they know she's not a threat to anyone?"
"That's why they do it," Hyoga said, peering across the lawn. Seiya and Shiryu and Ikki were patrolling various parts of the lawn, and they all looked equally bored. "Because she's peaceful, and she want to bring peace to the whole planet. And they just don't like that."
Shun shook his head. "It doesn't make sense. I mean, you'd think gods would want a peaceful world."
"Hn. If the gods did . . . we wouldn't have any war at all, would we?" Hyoga said. "That's why she keeps coming back . . . because she has to save the world every 200 years."
"Do you think . . . we all reincarnated along with her?" Shun said, turning his eyes toward the house again. He could see the family all sitting down at the dinner table through the large living room window. It was a sight that pained him a little . . . his parents had died when he was still an infant, and Ikki a toddler. They'd never known a life like that . . . just foster homes, orphanages, and ultimately, the Graude Foundation's Saint training program.
"Well, if you believe we keep coming back . . . we probably did," Hyoga said, sliding down to sit at the tree's base.
"I think we did," Shun said, not taking his eyes off the happy family. "It just . . . feels right, the idea of us being together."
*Does he mean all of us as a group,* Hyoga thought, *or just him and me?* He found himself wishing it was the latter. "I've always thought so."
Shun slid down until he was sitting next to Hyoga. "Really? You . . . do?" He turned shy, smiling eyes on his companion. "Hyoga . . . "
But before he could get out another word, there was a rustle near them, and they felt a presence. "Come on," a familiar voice said. "We're leaving"
Shun got up. "Nii-san . . ." he said.
Hyoga frowned. Ikki's timing was just perfect to spoil the moment. Or maybe . . . that was deliberate.
"Seiya and Shiryu decided it wasn't going to happen," Ikki said. "We gave the family a beeper to contact us . . ." He took his brother's arm and steered him off the lawn, ignoring Hyoga. . . . although Shun looked over his shoulder at him.
Hyoga grumbled to himself, but he followed the others off the property. Jealously could wait . . . at least until this spider-people business was resolved.
Above them, a spider hung from a single strand of thread. When Hyoga left, it crawled back up into the tree, then began to scurry off in the direction of the Kido mansion. Its mistress would be very pleased to hear her plan was working perfectly.
* * *
Delicious smells greeted them as they walked into the house, meaning that the kitchen staff had dinner in full swing. "At least something is going right today," Shun observed.
Shiryu sat down on the couch. "I'm looking forward to eating."
"I can't wait to eat!" Seiya said, making a beeline for the kitchen.
"Seiya!" said Shun, picking up the TV remote. "We're going to be eating in a few minutes!"
"Like having a snack has ever spoiled my appetite," Seiya said from the kitchen doorway. There was no reply . . . they knew how right he was. Seiya could pack away food like a squirrel storing supplies for the winter.
He pushed into the huge, all-white room that looked more like a restaurant kitchen than one for a private home . . . complete with walk-in refrigerator. Servants scurried here and there, carrying steaming pots, empty platters waiting to be filled, bottles and jars.
His eyes fell on a block of cheese on a cutting board. I'm sure they won't miss it if I have a little piece of this, he thought. He reached for the knife . . .
A hand shot out of nowhere and grasped his wrist in an iron grip. "And what do you think you're doing?" a female voice barked. Seiya looked up and saw the owner of the voice . . . a woman in a white apron over black clothing, black hair drawn back in a bun, steel-rimmed glasses on her face.
Huh, Seiya thought, I've never seen her in the kitchen before. But that wasn't unusual. The Kido household frequently gained and lost servants.
"Just cutting myself a little snack," Seiya said, smiling broadly at the woman. "Want some?"
"Out of this kitchen, young man!" the woman snapped. "We'll be ready in just a few minutes, and I won't have you getting in the way, or ruining anything!"
"Okay, okay, geez! I'm going!" Seiya walked slowly out of the kitchen, calling a breezy, "Abayo!" over his shoulder. He could fairly hear the woman bristling behind him . . . after all, the form of "goodbye" he'd used meant, "Goodbye, asshole, and I hope I never see you again."
He came back out into the living room. "Geez," he said. "Saori-san needs to choose her help a little better."
Hyoga was hanging up the phone. "The family is still all right," he said. "No sign of trouble whatsoever."
"So it wasn't a trap," Shun said, "and it wasn't a real attack, either."
"Unless Arachne knew we were on to her," Hyoga said, sitting on the couch and stretching his legs in front of him.
"Or . . . unless it was a decoy," said Ikki, who was sitting on the arm of his brother's chair.
That got everyone's attention. Four heads swiveled toward him. "What do you mean?" said Seiya.
"She might have sent you on a wild goose chase . . . so she could attack somewhere else," said Ikki.
Tatsumi, Saori's butler, came into the room. "Dinner is ready," he told the boys.
"We'll talk about this at the table," Shiryu said. "Meanwhile, it may be a good idea to put the news on and see if there were any more deaths."
When they entered the dining room, Saori was already standing at her customary place at the head of the table. The others filed in . . . Seiya and Shiryu on either side right next to Saori, Shun and Hyoga next to them, Ikki next to Shun. As they all sat down, Saori said, "I understand that nothing happened this afternoon."
"Not at all," Seiya said. "And that may be the problem."
"It's been *too* quiet since we met up with that giant spider thing this afternoon," Shiryu said. "And Ikki thinks we may have been set up with a decoy."
"Decoy?" said Saori, as the servants brought out salads and set them in front of everyone.
"She might have left that list where you could find it, and attacked someone else .. . someone who isn't even on the list," Ikki said.
Saori frowned. "Tatsumi," she called, "put on the radio . . . find us a station that's broadcasting news."
They listened as they ate their salads, and then as the servants took them away and brought out a course of sushi, then the main course of a shellfish stew. The newscaster talked about the campaign finance reform bill . . . the rescue of two children from a car that had plunged into a lake . . . a developing sports betting scandal at a nearby college . . . but not a word about death, poisonings or the Borgia Killer.
"If she did something," Saori said, "she's got it well-hidden."
"Maybe they just haven't found . . . the people yet," Shun said with a shudder.
"Perhaps we should check TV, then," Saori said. "I'll go get the little portable . . ." She stood, wobbled on her feet and grabbed the table for support. A collective gasp went up. "Saori-san!" Seiya said, leaping to his own feet and attempting to support her.
"I'm okay," she said. "Just a little dizzy . . . I didn't sleep all that well last . . ." Her face suddenly turned ashen, and she tumbled to the floor.
There was a collective cry, and all the Saints jumped up and rushed to their fallen goddess. Seiya gingerly lifted her head and shoulders. "Saori-san!" he shouted, feeling her throat for a pulse. It was faint, but still there.
And then, there was a sound from the kitchen . . . a laugh, small and far away at first, then, louder, more distinct, like a radio being tuned to the correct station.
"It's her!" Seiya said. They burst in . . and nearly ran into a bundle of white on the floor.
Shiryu knealt by the thing. "It's a person!" he said.
There was the sound of laughter again, and there was a flash of light across the room. They turned to see a black-haired woman, clothed in black, sitting on the counter.
"You'll find them everywhere," she said. "They're the kitchen staff. And Pegasus . . . you've got to cut out the before-meal snacking. It's unhealthy for a growing boy."
"You!" Seiya cried, leaping toward her. "You were the person who grabbed me in the kitchen!" But before he could reach her, she raised a hand, and a spiderweb shield appeared in front of her. Seiya hit the webbing like a brick wall and fell down.
"Seiya!" Shiryu kneeled down next to his friend.
Seiya struggled into a sitting position, rubbing his jaw. "You . . . you put poison in her food . . ."
Arachne laughed again. "Really, do you think I'd do that? Poison in food isn't my style."
"You poisoned her somehow!" Seiya said, jumping to his feet and going into attack stance.
Meanwhile, Shun was mentally running through the dinner, trying to think of anything that was unusual . . .
"The napkin!" he yelled, suddenly. "The linen napkin she used . . . it was a different color from the rest of ours . . ."
"What a smart boy," Arachne said. "Too bad you're on the wrong side. You're going to *pay* for ruining the little game I was playing with the politicians."
"You're the one who's going to pay!" Seiya shouted. He concentrated . . . formed the image of his armor in his mind . . . and sent out tendrils of cosmo at it, willing it to come to him . . .
There was a flash of light, and the statues representing the Saints' constellations appeared, hovering in the air, seeming to give off a life of their own. Then, with a brighter flash and a whooshing noise, they broke apart, the pieces flying to the wearers' bodies, slapping into place one by one . . . breastplates, shin guards, arm guards, headpieces.
Arachne watched with bemusement. "Put on all the shiny armor you want, boys, it's not going to help."
"What are you going to do?" said Seiya, standing in battle stance, glaring daggers at her. "Send more of those big bugs at us?"
The evil sorceress slid off the table, slowly. "Now, why should I send other people to do what I can do myself?" She held out her hand and a ball of blue light appeared, hovering over the palm. She gave them a sly smile, then blew on it, like a child blowing on a dandelion.
The light ball broke up into five small comets, which streaked at the Saints with whistling noises. They tried to leap away, but the comets followed them, slamming into their bodies and sending them tumbling to the floor . . . at which point, they turned into nets of pure, crackling blue energy, which clung to them tightly, making it impossible for them to move.
Shun tried to lift himself to his feet . . . nothing happened. He willed his chains to move, to cut through the thing that bound him . . . but they stayed at his side, cold and still. Darting his eyes to the left, he could see Hyoga, struggling against a similar trap.
She's got us good, he thought. She watched us burn and cut out of the spiderwebs her lackeys used before . . . now she made sure she used something we couldn't cut.
On the other side of Shun, Seiya was frantically trying to move every muscle in his body . . . but the more he tried, the more paralyzed he felt. I can't let her trap me! he thought. I have to save Saori-san! She'll die if we just leave her there! He concentrated on burning his cosmo, on pulling the energies of the universe within his body, mingling them with his own soul power, and pushing them back out . . . but even cosmo seemed inaccessible . . .
Shiryu decided to try a calmer approach. He took a deep breath and said in a tone muffled by the restrictions of his prison, "Arachne . . . why are you doing this?"
The sorceress was taken aback. Struggling, she expected . . . begging, pleading, bargaining for Athena's life . . . but not this. She wheeled toward the Dragon Saint, eyes burning. "What did you say?"
"I said, why are you doing this? Years ago, in Greece, you poisoned people, and now you came back and you're doing it again."
*What makes him think it's any of his business?* she thought. "I'll tell you why," she said, stalking toward him with her arms folded on her breast. "Back in Greece, I lived in a village where the people were always poor, and starving. What food we had, we had to grow or hunt ourselves . . . and if we had a bad growing season, we didn't even have that. I saw a lot of people die because of our living conditions. And what little money we had . . . went in taxes for the politicians."
She began to pace the room, as if the agitation caused by the memory would not allow her to sit still. "I watched those fat cats living in luxury while we starved. They'd come through our streets in their fancy chariots, wearing their expensive clothes, and they looked at us as if we were vermin. In fact, one day . . . I saw one of them run over a child . . . my next-door neighbor's daughter . . . and he just looked at her with disgust and told his servants to 'clean up the mess.'" That did it . . . I vowed I'd make them pay."
"But did you have to make them pay by *killing* them?" said Shiryu. "There's other ways to show your disapproval . . . like civil protest . . ."
Arachne wheeled around to face him again. "Civil protest? I'll give you civil protest!" She raised her arms and made a rapid circle with her hands, and the energy holding all five Saints blazed brighter, hotter, stronger. The imprisoned boys let out shrieks of agony as burning sensations tore through their very souls.
*We'll be killed,* Shiryu thought through the haze of pain. *If we didn't have the armor, we'd be dead already.* He struggled, trying to fire his cosmo, but that only brought more pain . . .
And then, a voice at the back of his mind was calling his name, soft and ancient, seeming to carry the wisdom of the ages. His eyes snapped open. His teacher, Roshi, had sensed he was in trouble and was contacting him telepathically.
"Master," he thought back. "We're trapped, and Athena is dying . . ."
"Shiryu, you are trapped because you are all making individual efforts to get out of Arachne's trap," Roshi's voice replied. "You are doing exactly what Arachne is expecting you to do. She watched your previous battles with her spider creatures, she knows what you can and cannot do. What she isn't counting on is the power of all of you working together."
"But . . . how can we combine cosmo if I can't communicate with them?" Shiryu thought. "I can't just say it out loud!"
"Shiryu, remember the moment when you were able to reverse the course of a waterfall," Roshi said. "You were able to reach deep within yourself and find the highest level of cosmo. Find that level again , , , and push your thought outward with your cosmo . . ."
Shiryu took a deep breath, willing himself to forget the pain of his body, to look within, to connect with the very seat of his power . . .
He felt a deep pulse of energy, that seemed to come from the center of his soul, an energy as old as time, yet still very much a part of his youthful self, a spark of the divine . . .
He reached out to the universe again, finding the power, pulling it deep within himself, to that very center of his soul . . . then focused on mixing the message with the energies . . .
He pushed it outward, and felt the reaction as it connected with all the others, a solid feeling as mind touched mind, then a tingling as they signaled back that they understood.
Arachne leaned against the counter. This was too easy! These supposedly all-powerful Saints were in her power, writhing with agony, totally helpless against her attack. She chuckled to herself. If this is the best Athena can do against me, she thought, it's a wonder she was able to get anything done at all.
And then, the sorceress saw something out of the corner of her eye that took her aback. There were streams of light emitting from each imprisoned Saint. Pink, white, blue, green, red, like shooting stars, meeting at a point near the ceiling . . .
And at that point, a ball of gold began to form, a pure energy of concentrated power . . . and it expanded, glowing brighter, sending out waves of power that almost felt godlike.
Arachne stopped, shocked. "WHAT?" she cried.
That one break in her concentration was all they needed. The electronic webbing weakened, the pain fading away, the blue lights winking out. The Saints leapt to their feet, and Seiya stretched out his cosmo toward the combined cosmo ball they'd formed, ready to hurl it at Arachne . . .
She saw him look up at the ball and raise his hands slightly. "You will *not* do that!" she shouted, pushing her hand out in front of her, palm raised. A black thunderbolt rushed toward the Pegasus Saint. The others all shouted and jumped . . .
The next thing Seiya knew, he was on the floor, unhurt . . . and Shiryu was lying atop him, shuddering with pain, his breathing shallow. The other three were all shouting Shiryu's name.
Seiya gently moved out from other his friend. He gasped when he saw that the blast had covered Shiryu's entire right side in black and nearly crumpled his armor. Blood leaked from multiple wounds.
"Shiryu," Seiya said in a hoarse whisper. He did it again, he thought. He sacrificed himself for me. Why, Shiryu? Why do you keep doing this?
Arachne raised her arms, a huge ball of black energy forming between them. "And now, I'll take care of the rest of you."
"Quick," Shiryu gasped to the others. "Before . . . she can . . . something she . . . won't expect . . ."
They looked at each other. They knew what Shiryu meant . . . but what kind of attack could they do that Arachne wasn't anticipating?
Shun looked up. Their combined cosmo ball was still there, hovering in the air . . . and an inspiration hit him. He concentrated, and threw a lance of cosmo toward the thing . . .
But instead of pushing it toward their enemy, he batted it toward the living room, out to where Saori lay dying.
Arachne laughed. "Your incompetent Andromeda Saint just bungled your last hope of attack. And now . . . you die."
In the next room, the golden ball streaked toward the prone girl on the floor. It slammed into her, and the room was bathed in a flare of golden light for a moment as poison was burned away and something sleeping deep within the soul of the girl was awakened.
When she opened her eyes, they were gray, instead of their usual purple. She sprang to her feet rapidly, holding our her hand and willing her eagle-topped staff to materialize in it.
There was no time to waste. *You just saved me, my Saints,* the incarnate goddess thought. *And now, I will save you.*
She burst into the kitchen just as the sorceress was releasing her energy ball. She pointed her staff, willed the power to launch from her . . .
A bolt of gold streaked across the room, smashing into the black ball and obliterating it.
The boys turned. "Athena!" Seiya shouted.
"It worked!" Shun cried aloud.
The goddess stalked toward the evil sorceress, still pointing the staff at her. "Arachne," she said. "this is it. I'm putting an end to your evil, again."
Arachne summoned a smaller black energy ball, tossing it casually from hand to hand like a child playing with a toy. "Very impressive, Athena . . . but you've got to know by now that I'm no longer the weakling you changed into a spider."
"Are you really so powerful?" Athena said, not wavering. "Tell me, who are your allies?"
"What has that got to do with anything?" Arachne said in a voice like an annoyed child, hurling the ball of energy at Athena like a softball. The incarnate goddess merely swung her staff, and it connected with the ball, sending it hurling into the wall. There was an explosion as it connected with wood and plaster, sending debris showering into the kitchen.
Seiya, who was kneeling next to the prone Shiryu, leapt to his feet. "I'll take care of her!" he cried.
Athena put out an arm to stop him. "No, Arachne is my opponent," she said.
"Going to let your harem go to bat for you?" said Arachne, gathering another attack.
"They are not my harem, they are my Saints and my friends," said Athena. "And you, Arachne . . . you don't seem to have anyone at all."
"I don't need allies," she said.
"And that is why you will fail. Again." She concentrated, summoning divine power, then sent another bolt of gold streaking toward Arachne. The sorceress threw her black energy ball, and it collided with the gold in mid-air, causing a loud explosion. Arachne raised an arm, made a motion like a rodeo rider twirling a lariat, and spiderwebs appeared in the air and rapidly wrapped themselves around Athena, holding her fast.
The Saints didn't even have to communicate this time . . . they knew what to do. They concentrated, focusing their cosmos, pushing them toward Athena . . .
Her golden aura glowed with the other colors . . . red, blue, white, pink . . . as they hit her one by one. She pulled them in, mixed them with her own, pushed it out . . .
The webbing burned away like steel wool on the terminals of a battery.
"You BITCH!" Arachne shouted, holding up her arms, summoning more power. "You got in the way of my mission before, and you're getting in the way now! You ruined everything for me! EVERYTHING!" She swept her arms down and out, and an enormous wind immediately formed, like a miniature tsunami, and rushed toward Athena with deadly velocity. The Saints rushed to shield her . . . and the whole group was hit with the wind, which slammed them into the wall. . . . and kept pressing. The boys felt their chests being pressed down on, making it impossible for them to draw a breath . . .
"See where the power of friendship got you?" Arachne said. "Nowhere! This wind will kill you . . and in that human body, you're as vulnerable as all of them, Athena!"
Saori reached out with her mind, found the minds of all her Saints . . . I need your help again, she told then. Send me your cosmo . . .
One by one, again, the powers entered her. She drew them into her body, mixing them with her own soul energy. She began to push outward, and the wind moved away from them . . . at least far enough so that the boys could keep breathing. But it wasn't enough to destroy it completely. Athena pushed against the wind current, feeling it resist her.
"Why were you so bitter about life in general, Arachne?" she said.
"What do you mean, why was I so bitter?" Arachne snapped, pushing harder with her wind . . . only to feel Athena push back. "It's because of the government fat cats that YOU sponsored and loved so much!"
"Was it really that, or was that a convenient way for you to express your anger?" Athena said.
"Why would I need THAT!" shouted Arachne, pushing again.
"You were always alone, weren't you, Arachne?" Athena said, quietly. "You were shunned by the other people in your village, they thought you were strange and odd because you were an independent woman . . so you developed your weaving skills to make yourself seem superior. And when you went around boasting you were a better weaver than me, it only drew my attention to your other activities . . ."
Arachne let out a shriek, falling to her hands and knees. The wind stopped. "Bitch!" she shouted. "Why do you know so much? Why?"
"Because I have always looked out for my people," Athena said. "and I want to know anything about someone who poses a threat to them. Arachne, do you remember what happened when I turned you into a spider?"
"You were evil, that's all I remember!" she snarled, still on her hands and knees, looking up at the incarnate goddess with narrowed eyes. Seiya thought she looked like a predatory animal.
"You had hung yourself," Athena said. "I confronted you, and you hung yourself. And I felt sorry for you, because I knew what drove you to become what you did. So I changed you into a spider, so you could weave forever, and trap and kill mosquitoes that suck the blood out of people like you claimed the politicians were sucking the money out of people."
Arachne collapsed to the floor, sobbing, her head in her hands. The Saints just stood, stock-still, ready to go into attack stance if she made any sudden moves . . . but Arachne just lay there.
"Why did you reincarnate as a human, Arachne?" Saori said.
"Revenge," she gasped. "I wanted my revenge . . . on you, on everyone . . ."
"Or, maybe . . . for a second chance?"
Arachne sprung to her feet. "There is no second chance!" she shouted.
Ikki stepped forward from the group of Saints. "There can be, if you want there to be."
Shun looked alarmed. "Nii-san, no . . ."
Ikki put out an arm to silence his brother. "I thought there was no second chance for me, either. My master had raised me to be filled with nothing but anger and hate, and for awhile . . . I was like you. There was nothing else in my life. But then, my brother and his friends . . . they changed me. I learned a lot about how valuable life is from them."
Arachne looked back and forth, from Ikki to Saori.
"If you let your hate from the past eat you alive . . . then you'll never be really *human*," Ikki said. "You might as well let Athena turn you back into a spider right away."
"Never!" shouted Arachne, leaping toward him.
Ikki sent a fist screaming toward her head, shouting, "PHOENIX GENMA KEN!" The others winced, because they knew what he had just used on her . . . the Hammer of Delusion, an attack which usually gave the victim nightmarelike hallucinations.
Arachne staggered, her eyes unfocused. Her mind was no longer in the present, it was way in the past.
She was sitting at her spindle under an olive tree, working wool into a long thread, humming to herself. This was going to be the best tapestry ever, she knew it.
Two of the neighborhood girls approached her. She smiled and waved . . but they walked right past her, talking . . .
"Yes, it's *that one*. Arachne. She'll never get a husband if her life depended on it," said the tall, thin one.
"Oh, yes," said the petite one with the long, flowing black curls. "She's just odd. What kind of woman talks about politics and philosophy?"
"The men all think she's another guy, they do!" laughed the first.
"Except no man can weave like her," said the second.
"So, she can weave," the first girl said, tossing her golden hair back. "She still looks and acts like a man. She'll die a shriveled-up old maid, definitely." Both of them laughed, loudly.
Arachne leapt to her feet, the wool ball falling to the ground. "I'll show you!" she shouted at their retreating backs. "You may laugh at me, but I'll show you! I'll be a better weaver than Athena herself . . . and I'll take care of those fat cat politicians while I'm at it!" She fell to the ground, covering her face with her hands and sobbing aloud, "Why am I different? Why can't I be like everyone else?"
The present-day Arachne's eyes blinked. She stood rooted to the spot, trembling, feeling the eyes of everyone on her.
"Athena," she said, quietly, "do you think I *can* have a second chance?"
"Yes," the incarnate goddess said. "This world is a lot more tolerant of strong, independent women than the one you came from, Arachne. You can find other outlets for your talents, your passions . . . men today find a strong, active woman interesting, in fact."
She looked away. "But . . . oh, gods, what I've done . . . the lives I've destroyed . . . I don't deserve a second chance. I'm a murderer."
"You have only to forgive yourself," Athena said.
Arachne shook her head. "Perhaps in the next life, I'll be ready to come back as a human . . . born in a fresh body, with a fresh start, but now . . . I feel like I have to serve penance before I deserve the kind of life you were talking about . . ."
She raised her arms, and black energy began to pulse around her body. "Athena, thank you," she said. "Please . . . help me to come back as a human in the next life . . ."
The goddess smiled. "You will, Arachne. You'll have the kind of life you always wanted."
"Thank you," she said . . . just before the pulses of energy grew stronger. Arachne's body began to mutate. The torso grew elongated, rounded . . . multiple legs sprouted out of her back . . . the head shrunk, and the jaws began molding into pincers . . .
Shun winced, and moved closer to Hyoga. "What's happening?" he whispered.
"Arachne is turning herself back into a spider," Hyoga replied. "She did it herself this time, rather than having Athena do it for her."
The thing that had been Arachne fell to the floor, and began to shrink, more and more, until finally, it was the size of a common house spider, which scurried away. Everyone watched it go, silently, until it had disappeared beneath a crack under the door.
Athena paused a moment, as if deep in thought. Then, she walked over to Shiryu, kneeling beside him.
"Shiryu," she said, softly, putting a hand on his back, "thank you for your sacrifice. You will be well now . . ."
The goddess's golden cosmo expanded until it enveloped her and her wounded Saint. The whole room grew warmer as the light got brighter and brighter . . . then, finally, it faded.
The avatar of the goddess collapsed in a faint, exhausted, as Shiryu opened his eyes and sat up, all traces of his injury gone.
"What happened?" he said. "Where's Arachne?"
"Shiryu!" Seiya cried, kneeling next to him and embracing him. "I'm so glad . . . but . . . Saori-san, look at her . . ."
Shun knelt next to Saori and felt her pulse. "She's all right," he said. "She's just exhausted. We'd better get her upstairs."
Hyoga picked up Saori in his arms and lifted her. Seiya helped Shiryu to his feet, and the followed.
And in the glow of moonlight outside, a spider was starting to spin an intricate web.
* * *
Seiya set the picnic basket down with a thump. Another day, another attempt to keep us busy and happy, he thought. This time, he didn't mind the peace and quiet, though. After the Arachne affair, they needed the rest.
He watched Shiryu created meticulous place settings from paper plates and disposable chopsticks. *I still can't thank him enough for saving me,* he thought . . . *every single time he does it. Why, I wonder . . .*
Shiryu, adding napkins to his place settings, was having similar thoughts. *It was worth what I went through to make sure Seiya is safe,* he thought. *If something happened to him . . . that would hurt me more than any physical pain I went through to save him.*
"Shoulda known Arachne was bad news when she chased me out of the kitchen," Seiya joked.
"I felt very sorry for her," Saori said, starting to take the food out of the basket. "She was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, even with the corrupt politicians . . . her cause was just, it was just her methods that were extreme."
"Do you think she has the power to change herself back into a human if she wanted?" Shiryu said, unwrapping a platter of small sandwiches and starting to pass them out.
"I don't know," Saori replied. "I do hope she does have her second chance, in this life or the next."
Meanwhile, Shun was opening the case he carried with him and taking out the sports equipment. "Nii-san said he might be joining us later," he told Hyoga.
"You feel better now that you know he's okay?" Hyoga asked, helping Shun untangle the badminton net.
Shun nodded. "He helped a lot. If it weren't for him . . . Arachne might have killed us."
*He may kill me if he finds out what I feel for his brother,* Hyoga thought. He'd fought against Ikki once, when Ikki was the leader of the Black Saints, and it was not an experience he was looking forward to repeating. But maybe, like Ikki said . . . he'd totally changed, and he might be more forgiving of the idea of his brother falling in love.
Saori was pouring lemonade into glasses, and handing them out to everyone. She raised hers. "A toast," she said, "to friendship and working together. It was because of our teamwork that we were able to win this battle."
"Kampaii!" they all said, and clinked their cups against hers.
As Seiya drank from his, he looked up and saw a spider hanging from a dragline above the party, as if it wanted to join in. Maybe it did.
With this fic, I celebrate five years as a writer. In a way, Saint Seiya is an appropriate venue in which to mark the milestone. My first story, "Soul of Fire," was about a girl and a god, this one is about five boys and a goddess. I started out writing about a five-girl magical team, now I'm writing about a five-boy magical team. Full-circle, you might say. What a long, strange trip it's been, and I've loved every bit of it.
About my approach to Saori: I am of the opinion that she isn't a full-time Athena, that she channels the goddess part-time and is a separate person the rest of the time. There is just too much about her that seems un-Athena like (such as the very fact she needs Saints to protect her, while the mythological Athena was an invincible warrior) for her to be a true incarnate goddess, in my opinion.
Although I did not specifically mention it in this story, I have also moved up the ages of the characters from what canon materials say they are. The boys just look too developed to be 13-15 years old, and Saori definitely seems older than 13 she's running an international corporation, for God's sake! So I decided to make them the ages my eyes told me, which is: Seiya, Shun and Saori, 16; Hyoga, 17; Shiryu, 18; Ikki, 19
Thanks tons to my editor and dear friend, Steve Savage; to my friend Sonya-chan, my fellow Saint Seiya addict; my friends Cheyne and Lady Cosmos, and the members of the Saint Seiya Yaoi ML.
Saint Seiya is the property of Masami Kurumada, Shueisha and Toei Animation. These characters ain't mine, I'm just borrowing them for a little while.