They are only four sweeps old, but Vriska is already an independent little girl, and she doesn't want her lusus to scare off another new friend. So she steps into the blue-green glade alone. The clean, raw smell of rain and grass is all around her, and overhead the leaves rustle, whispering secrets. She turns back, seeing the skull-white chalk of the path winding away, out of the forest and across the scrubland, like a large pale serpent. Nightbirds hoot and coo in the branches, and in the not-so-distant darkness, ferns rustle in the wake of larger beasts.
Vriska will not be afraid. She stamps further into the glade, trampling a growth of pale, bulbous mushrooms underfoot in revenge. And then she hears a faint, high-pitched sound nearby, and shivers run up and down her spine like a regiment of ghosts. The sound is high, harsh, savagely musical. Vriska doesn't know the word predatory, but if she did... For a few interminable moments she is frozen to the spot, her skin prickling, and then she realises: it's laughter.
"Hi, Vriska," says a small voice, when the laughter stops, and a little girl peeks round from behind a tree. She is grinning broadly, showing a mouthful of sharp pearly teeth. And this is her first sight of Terezi. Vriska is deeply embarrassed, blushing blue as the night sky. Nobody scares her. Nobody. If Terezi notices her shame - and it doesn't seem like much gets past her - she makes no comment, and Vriska throws off her annoyance as quickly as she can. The two of them play together for hours, concocting an increasingly complex game of Pirates And Threshecutioners, until eventually Vriska realises that if she doesn't get home soon her lusus might come and get her, and that would be an unmitigated disaster. She says her goodbyes as casually as she can, and has to stop herself skipping home.
Once she's safely back in her hive she manages to convince herself that the pale, ghostly girl drifting in and out of the spindle-trees is only half-real. Someone like that couldn't possibly exist in Vriska's world. She spends the next few weeks searching for musclebeast carrion large enough to feed her growing lusus. It's never enough, and she's had enough of washing dried mud and blood off her clothes, but daydreaming about visiting Terezi again fills her with a quiet, secret joy that makes it all a little more bearable.
She plans to make the trek back to the forest before Perigee. Every day she allows herself half an hour to plan what she'll take with her, what route she'll take, the drawings and character sheets she wants to show Terezi. When they talk online she tries to keep her elation hidden, and she wonders whether the other girl is as excited as she is.
The day Vriska is due to start her journey, she awakes before sunset, already buzzing. At speed, she rinses sopor slime out of her hair and bounces down to the cave to say goodbye to her lusus. When she arrives, however, rather than the usual welcoming click of pincers, she is greeted by a silent and ghostly image of her spidermother, propped up on the rocks at a crazy angle, translucent and papery-white.
"Portia?" she says, frowning at the note of alarm in her voice. From the depths of the cave comes a skittering, clicking sound, like the clatter of small bones, as if in answer. Vriska reaches out to rest a hand on the foremost leg of the ghost-image spider, expecting to feel the soft bristles of Portia's carapace. Instead her hand tears through fragile, papery membrane. Vriska shrinks back, for a few stupid, terrified moments thinking that she's somehow killed her lusus, and then a huge black shape scuttles forward from the back of the cave and she realises the truth. Portia has shed her skin. Vriska didn't know that was even possible, but her lusus must really have needed the space to grow, because... because now she's... she's enormous. Her shed skin, now crumpled in the corner, was taller than Vriska, but this new form looks almost the size of her hive. A mountain of chitinous joints and mandibles.
It's not that Vriska's afraid of spiders. Fuck no. She loves them. They're awesome. All the way. But Portia is going to need to eat, and there just isn't that much dead meat lying around.
meat? says Portia in her head. It's not so much a word as a raw chunk of perception smeared against the surface of her brain. Rich, bloody flesh, freshly killed.
"I'll see what I can do," she mutters. The big spider crawls a little closer, brushing one of her forelegs against Vriska's shoulder. So hungry. She doesn't know the city, can't hunt for herself here. Can't look after her young. "Oh, shut up, Spidermom," Vriska hisses, "Lame and boring and lame. I'll get you something to eat. That snooty highblood next-door told me there's a dead cholermoose out on the plains."
noooooooo, says Portia, and the next flash of spider-knowledge hits Vriska like a stench. Her lusus can't get by on carrion any more. She needs fresh meat. Troll meat.
Vriska curls up on the floor of the cave and buries her face in her hands. She can't take this any more. She's already exhausted from foraging. She's lazy, she's a bad hunter, she deserves to be culled already. Sharp tears well up in the corners of her eyes and she bites her lip until it bleeds, the salt-sea taste of her blood filling her mouth. To her utter horror and disgust, she senses Portia's interest stirring at the scent of troll blood. And then she lets herself go limp, a faint sigh of despair escaping her.
"Go on then," she says, "You may as well just eat me. I'm never going to amount to anything now, am I? Ugh!"
She squeezes her eyes tightly shut and tries not to hear the click of pincers on stone as Portia approaches. Her lusus rests the tip of one leg on her shoulder with surprising delicacy, and Vriska tries to think of something nice. Forests. Blue twilight filtering through the leaves. Her glasses fall to the ground and smash with a sad little shattering noise, and she opens one eye, only to see her lusus's jaws opening, mere feet from her throat. Row upon row of murderous grey mandibles. The worst of it is the great thundercloud of grief that is Portia's mind. She doesn't want to do this any more than Vriska wants to die.
With a huge effort, she wrenches herself up from the rock, rolling away as fast as she can and pulling swiftly into a sprint, out of the cave and back up to her hive as fast as she can. No looking back.
The first thought which hits her with any real permanence is the fact that she isn't going to be able to go and visit Terezi now. It's so unfair. She's been looking forward to it for weeks. For months. Months and months of planning and scheming and now her stupid lusus has ruined everything! Terezi probably doesn't want her anyway, but it's okay for her, with her nice sleeping dragon lusus, living in the woods and getting to do whatever she wants all the time.
Stupid lucky bitch. One day Vriska will turn the tables.
But that's not the point, is it? The point is... well, it's a very simple equation, isn't it? Portia needs to eat. Vriska needs Portia, or more baldly she needs Portia not to eat her.
Arrangements will have to be made.