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Ensnared: Chapter 6


They’d told Ivy there would be dreams aboard the Somnium—vivid dreams. And she knew there’d been many, even if they were all hazy and far away now, but this…

This was a nightmare.

Ivy squeezed her eyes shut and hugged herself tighter. Her body trembled, wracked by fear and chills. The last thing she remembered was lying in the cryochamber, staring at the technicians as they prepped her for cryogenic sleep. She’d been apprehensive but excited to be taking part in the Somnium’s voyage, to be amongst the first colonists to leave Earth and form a new colony on Xolea—to make a new home, a new life, a new start.

She wasn’t supposed to wake up to this.

I’m not awake. I’m still sleeping, still dreaming. This can’t be real.

Ivy pressed her lips together, grasped her forearm, and pinched hard. A cry tore from her. She let her forehead fall against the woven branches of the wall and drew in one heavy, ragged breath after another. The air was thick and humid, smelling of earth and wood and something more, something spicy, like mahogany.

The thing that had carried her in here made a low, uncertain rumble, one she might’ve thought expressed concern were it not so close to a growl.

“This can’t be happening. It’s a nightmare.” Ivy brought her hands up to her hair and clenched the strands close to her scalp, producing another flare of pain. Tears stung her eyes, and she released a soft whine, but she only grasped harder. “Not real, not real, not real.”

The nest swayed. Ivy felt the monster moving closer, but she didn’t want to look anymore, didn’t want to see it. She curled up even further and nestled against the wall; she would’ve squeezed herself right through it if she’d been able to.

A large, rough, strong hand caught her wrist and drew it away from her head. She flinched, opened her eyes as she turned her face toward the creature, and yanked her arm out of its grasp.

The creature retreated, making the nest sway more harshly, and stopped with its body bathed in the soft blue light cast by the crystal on the wall. Ivy’s eyes widened. Eight glowing violet eyes stared back at her.

Monster.

Spider.

Nightmare.

Those words and a thousand others tumbled through her foggy brain as Ivy raked her gaze over the creature. It was huge, even hunkered down as it was now. Six and a half, maybe seven feet tall, its body was a blend of hard angles and lean muscles. The torso was humanoid, with a broad chest leading down to a narrow waist, but its backside… It was like the rear end of a spider.

The monster had two sets of arms, one over the other, and six legs—long, multijointed spider legs, plenty long enough to reach her from anywhere within this nest. Its hands each had three fingers and a thumb, all of which were tipped with black claws. There were more limbs, smaller ones, tucked against its lower abdomen between its two front legs.

A thick neck led to the creature’s head, and its face… The parts were arranged like a human’s might have been, except it was anything but human. Its face had a hard, almost masklike look, with two pointed crests sweeping up and back from its forehead and two more layered beneath, positioned behind its temples. Its mouth was a slash cutting across its face broken only by a pair of fanglike protrusions on either side, but those were nothing compared to the powerful mandibles jutting from between where the cheekbones and temples would have been on a human. Strands of long black hair with white streaks flowed from behind the headcrest and hung over the creature’s shoulders.

Despite all that, there was an immediate beauty to this monster. Its skin was black, but there were markings on it—on its headcrest, at the joints and tips of its front legs, even around the upper portions of the wicked fangs on its mandibles. And those markings were glowing cool white and intense purple in the same way some things glowed under ultraviolet light.

Ivy cradled her hands against her chest and shook her head, unable to take her eyes off the creature. “Y-you’re not real. You’re just a…a dream. A nightmare.”

Kir ven’dak unir kess’ani ikarahl,” the creature said. Its voice was low, layered, raspy, and run through with subtle clicks and gentle buzzes. Though its jaw opened as it made the sounds, its lips didn’t move.

It didn’t have lips.

But it did have sharp teeth inside its mouth, and a long tongue that was the same color as its purple markings.

Ivy shuddered. Then she remembered. This wasn’t the first time it had spoken to her. She vaguely recalled it speaking when she’d first woken to find herself in its clutches. It…it had covered her mouth as though it wanted her to be quiet. What was the word it had repeated?

Sheevix?

She released a shaky breath. Maybe…maybe it didn’t plan to eat her? It hadn’t hurt her yet.

Keyword there is yet, Ivy.

This creature appeared more…curious than anything.

“What are you?” she asked quietly.

Its head dipped slightly, and though Ivy couldn’t tell for sure, she swore its eyes were on her mouth. The mandibles on the sides of its face twitched, rising just a bit before relaxing again. The spikes at the ends of those appendages were at least as long as her palm, and each ended in a deadly point.

“Are you going to hurt me?”

Why was she even bothering to speak to it? It wasn’t as though this creature could understand her.

Because talking is calming me down.

Talking was also helping clear the fog away from her mind. Yet more than either of those reasons, it seemed to be keeping this monster at bay, at least for now. The creature clearly didn’t understand her, and she couldn’t understand it, but it seemed fascinated by her words.

The creature’s spidery legs bent, lowering its body closer to the floor. That was good, wasn’t it? It didn’t seem tensed to pounce or anything. As long as it remained calm, Ivy would have time to think.

She was supposed to have been awakened by a medical tech after landing on Xolea, which had been described as a deep-space paradise. Ivy and the other colonists had been told… What had they been told? They’d be asleep for the entire journey, dreaming in stasis. If there was an emergency, there were protocols in place to ensure everyone’s safety.

But where were the others, where were the techs and crew? Where was the ship? What had happened?

A sharp pain lanced through her gut. She winced, closed her eyes, and dropped a hand to her stomach, pressing down as though it would relieve her discomfort.

Arvok elad kess’ani zikarn,” the creature said. Something in its tone sounded questioning.

She opened her eyes to see the creature leaning toward her with its lower arms braced on its legs and its shoulders hunched, those violet eyes still gleaming in the eerie blue light.

Thankfully, some of the tightness had eased in Ivy’s chest. Breathing slow and deep, she raised a hand, palm out. “Stay.”

The creature tilted its head to the side, mandibles shaking briefly. “Sss-tay?”

Her eyes widened. “Did you…did you just understand me?”

Arvok elad et unixt sss-tay, Vel?” the creature asked. “Kir ven’dak unir kess’ani ikarahl.”

It adjusted its front legs, shifting its body toward her.

Ivy’s heart quickened. She thrust her palm at it again. “No. Stay back.”

The creature stilled, eyes dipping to look at her hand. Tentatively, it extended one of its arms. Ivy watched as the creature straightened its fingers, flattened its palm, and pressed it against hers.

That hand was twice as long as hers, with thick, powerful, claw-tipped fingers. The skin was rough and hard, but it was warm, and the creature’s touch was surprisingly gentle. For a few seconds, Ivy stared at the comparison. Her pale, tiny hand against the creature’s, so different and yet somehow…somehow similar.

Then she realized that the giant spider-thing was touching her.

She gasped and yanked her hand back.

The creature’s fingers bent slightly. It turned its palm toward its face, staring as though in awe before curling its hand into a loose fist and lowering it.

Kess elad ahn’vi, ahn’jesh. Noth ven kess elgath, Vel?” The creature’s voice was softer now, still wholly alien but tinged with wonder and curiosity.

Ivy shook her head with a frown. “I don’t understand you.”

There was intelligence in its eyes. She couldn’t deny that no matter how frightening the creature’s appearance was. It was speaking a language—one she couldn’t understand, but a language all the same. Surely if it meant to hurt her, it would have done so already?

She struggled to recall the months of training she’d received before boarding the Somnium, but it was still lost in that cryosleep haze…not that there was likely to have been anything about establishing first contact with an alien species in those seminars and workshops. Xolea was supposed to be uninhabited. That was part of why it had been chosen, wasn’t it?

A baseline understanding—that was what she needed with this creature. Some starting point from which they could develop communication. If they could both speak, they could both find ways to better imply their meanings.

She touched both her hands to her chest. “My name is Ivy.”

The creature reached toward her again, moving very slowly. A tremor swept through Ivy. She tensed and pressed back against the wall as firmly as she could.

Keeping its fingers bent so its claws were directed away from her, the creature tapped her shoulder with its knuckle. “Vel.”

Vel? It had said that before. Relaxing only slightly, she kept her eyes locked with the creature’s and shook her head. “No.” Swallowing thickly, she touched her fingers to her chest again. “Ivy.”

Another of those rumbles sounded from the creature’s chest as it dipped its face closer to her. Its eyes narrowed—at least the larger, central ones. Those big mandibles squeezed as though about to close. The creature tapped her with its knuckle again, this time on the center of her chest. “Ay-vee.”

She nodded. “Yes. Ivy.”

Ay-vee. Ay-vee…Fawz-tor?

Ivy gasped. “You know my name? Ivy Foster?”

Ay-vee Fawz-tor,” the creature repeated, turning her name into something exotic with its deep, inhuman voice. It tilted its head so its eyes were more directly angled toward her face. “Et althai’ur ikar Ay-vee Fawz-tor. To wun oh.

Had she gone insane in the cryochamber, or had this alien spider really just told Ivy her name and colonist number? That…that wasn’t possible, was it? How could it know?

Her brows creased. “Do you know where the Somnium is?”

The creature’s mandibles sagged as it lowered its hand. “Kess’ani ikarahl, Ay-vee, othan elad tharashi. Kir ven’dak unir othan.

Okay, we’re losing that moment of understanding. Let’s step back.

She lifted her hands and touched her chest, repeating her name. Then she gestured toward the creature, palms up, and lifted her eyebrows.

The creature glanced at her hands. It raised two of its own, mimicking her palms-up gesture before touching its own chest—which looked more like armored plating from this close. “Ketahn tes Ishuun’ani Ir’okari.

Ivy blinked. That…was a lot. “Ketahn tes Ishuun a…uh…”

The creature extended an arm again and, with the same gentleness as before, took hold of Ivy’s wrist. Whether due to fear or curiosity, she didn’t resist as the creature shifted closer to her and guided her trembling hand to its chest.

“Ketahn,” it said, bowing its head.

“Ketahn,” Ivy repeated. Her gaze was fixed on her hand and the alien flesh around it. Ketahn’s skin had a thick, leathery feel, but it was surprisingly supple. There was definitely hard muscle and bone beneath, but on the surface, it was warm and even had a little bit of give. Her thumb twitched, brushing across that skin.

She wasn’t sure how she knew, and had no reason to believe it so firmly, but she was certain Ketahn was male.

Another noise vibrated in Ketahn’s chest, one Ivy felt more than heard—part content purr, part tiger’s growl, but so much lower and quieter than either.

Tipping her head back, Ivy slowly lifted her gaze until her eyes once more met his. He cocked his head, spilling more of his hair over his shoulder to brush across her forearm. That touch tickled, sending a tingling thrill up her arm, and she flinched, withdrawing her hand from his grasp.

Ketahn displayed all four of his palms to her and eased back, keeping himself low to the floor. “Kir kala’dak zakash kess, Ay-vee.”

When he’d reached the far wall, he twisted his torso to draw a piece of cloth across the nest’s round entry hole. Ivy wasn’t sure if she was grateful to have that barrier, however thin, between herself and the alien forest outside, or if it was a terrifying confirmation that she really was trapped in here with this thing.

No…with him.

He kept his eyes on her as he removed the bag that had been slung over his shoulders—and the weapon along with it. The spear was nearly as long as she was tall, with a coil of white rope attached to it and a large, barbed shard of what looked like sharpened obsidian for its head. Ketahn stood the spear against the wall and placed his bag on the floor.

Ivy leaned against the wall and wrapped her arms around her legs, hugging them to her chest. She glanced around for the first time since Ketahn had carried her in here. The place was like a hanging bird nest on a huge scale, shaped like an oval, but she doubted an animal could’ve built anything so intricate.

The branches and vines comprising the walls were woven in repeating patterns like a huge wicker basket, with more of that white rope stuff threaded through it. Tentatively, she ran her fingers over one of the ropes on the wall beside her. It was surprisingly soft to the touch, nothing like what she’d imagined, but it had little give.

There were pieces of cloth with a silken sheen hanging here and there, and the floor was padded with soft furs. Higher up were numerous baskets woven directly into the wall that held clay pots and jars, pieces of fur and hide, and more tools and weapons, some of which were made of the same materials as Ketahn’s spear.

Between the craftsmanship—craftsspidership?—of this place and the items within, Ketahn’s spoken language, and his mannerisms, it was clear that he was part of an intelligent species. Obviously, they were a bit far from being a spacefaring people…but they weren’t exactly living in caves and worshipping fire.

She hunched forward and rested her forehead on her knees. There was a dull throbbing in her head, concentrated behind her eyes, and even though she’d done little more than try to wrestle free of Ketahn’s hold earlier, she was exhausted. Had the cryosleep not been enough?

How long had she been in stasis?

Her chest constricted as she recalled another piece of information—she and the other colonists had been told many times that the journey to Xolea would take sixty years. By the time they arrived, many of the people they’d known on Earth were likely to have died.

Ivy pushed those thoughts away. She’d known the consequences when she’d decided to sign on for this journey. But she couldn’t help but wonder…

Had her parents missed her?

Her eyelids drooped, and her head lolled, but she forced her eyes open, fighting the weight dragging her down. This wasn’t time for sleep—there was a spider monster ten feet away from her, and she wouldn’t be able to defend herself if she was unconscious.

She tried to ignore the sounds coming from Ketahn, the soft trills and rough, low mutterings, but she couldn’t. She was torn between wanting to pretend he wasn’t there, that he wasn’t real, and wanting to remain vigilant.

But eventually, her body relaxed, and her eyelids grew too heavy. The last thing she was aware of was a long, sighing breath escaping her before she succumbed to sleep.


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