Sedena Vorobyova, assassin-for-hire, glared over the sights of her high-powered rifle. “You should be terrified,” she intoned evenly in her butter-thick but comprehensible Gorky accent. “It’s not every day that someone takes out a contract on your life, least of all goes to the trouble of hiring one from another story.”

“Oh, I’m terrified, I assure you, ma’am.” Priscilla “Prissy” Deerton said. Her elaborately embroidered duster was spotless over fine silk trousers and a matching blouse, with a glistening broach and a pair of fine hard leather boots to match–the benefits of being the daughter of the town haberdasher. “I will endeavor to keep Reynard calm, though I must warn you that, while terrified, I am not so much so as I’d be were you a spider.”

The assassin’s workaday cargo pants and combat jacket were certainly no match for Prissy’s finery–the drawbacks of being the daughter of a long dead Soviet apparatchik who’d drank himself to death. “Reynard?” said she, cocking her head. “Spider?”

“Where? Where?” Prissy shrieked. She undid the button on what looked like a small bulging at the bottom of her coat, revealing a fancy rat with a vaguely cow-like pattern of splotches. “Reynard! Spiders! Go to Pattern Delta!”

Her rat obligingly scurried up one of Prissy’s trouser legs, and Sedena incredulously followed the resulting rat-shaped bulge with her telescopic sight until it emerged above its owner’s starched collar to perch on her shoulder.

Reaching into her pants, Prissy produced a pair of small-caliber derringers—.32 caliber Sharps Pepperboxes by the look of them—and scanned nearby nooks and crannies for eight-legged interlopers.

“It was a question,” Sedena growled. “I didn’t actually see a spider.”

“Oh,” Prissy said. “Don’t scare me like that.”

“Thank you, though, for revealing to me where you kept your weapons,” Sedena added coldly. “On the ground, please.” The .32 caliber blackpowder bullets wouldn’t even make it to her position a short distance down the road, let alone pierce her ballistic vest, but it was always better to be thorough with a mark.

“Spiders are ruthless, you know,” Prissy continued, lowering the hammers on her Pepperboxes and placing them neatly on the ground. “Vicious, remorseless killers…not unlike you in that regard, but where you face my enemies down and kill them honest-like with bullets, spiders sneak around and use venom and poison like assassins in the Crusades.”

“I’m sure they do,” said Sedena, rolling her eyes. “I’m beginning to wonder if all the characters from your story are crazy or at least mildly imbalanced.”

“Don’t you know that aranea mactans, the black widow spider, has a bite that can cause premature birth, heart attacks, false death, actual death, agonizing pain, and pain like unto a thousand suns? They’re tiny, they wait for you under the bed or in the privy, always in wait, and the little red hourglass on their butts gets redder as the hour of your death approaches!”

“Then they must be awfully red right now,” Sedena said grimly.

Prissy, looking for a moment of distraction to dip down and scoop up her oft-abused Pepperboxes, saw something moving in the sand near Sedena—a very large, very brown camel spider. Her eyes widened.

“So where are the rest of your compatriots?” Sedena continued. “I’ve a contract to fulfill and if they’re as weak and pitiable as you, it should be the easiest I’ve ever had. I might even be able to claim a double bounty for bringing you all in alive.”

The camel spider began a leisurely scuttle up Sedena’s boot; for her part, Prissy had gone ashen-colored and could be heard hyperventilating, but with the assassin’s M14 trained on her more carefully than ever, she couldn’t cry out to Reynard to go to Pattern Delta.

“You’re right to be scared, but that’s not going to keep me from learning what I need to learn.”

Reaching the top of Sedena’s boot, the spider continued onto her cargo trousers, oblivious in the way that only arthropods can be that its presence was on the verge of shattering Prissy’s mind.

“I said-” Sedena began. Then she noticed the camel spider herself. The resulting scream echoed off the canyon walls, audible for miles around.

Prissy retrieved her fallen guns and aimed one at the rapidly diminishing silhouette of the assassin. “That’s right!” she cried. “You’d better run!”

The camel spider, flung far closer to Prissy by Sedena’s sudden retreat, began to scuttle towards the only remaining victim possible. Prissy, her face hard, blasted it with her other Pepperbox, flinching only when it seemed like the resulting spray of goo might splatter on her finery.

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A firefly met a spider at dusk once, and they exchanged a few words in the secret language of arthropods, a patois of gestures and pheromones that no larger creature could ever hope to understand.

“I have often wondered why it is you glow,” said the spider. She was busy spinning a fresh web for the wave of prey that would arrive with the dusk. “Surely it only attracts those who would eat you.”

“We find our mates that way,” replied the firefly, alighted on a nearby branch, with caution. “They shine in the dark and so do we.”

“But I find my mate without such blinking,” replied the spider. “He comes for my scent and my web, and does not speak or display anything but the utmost obedience as he dances, lest he be my next meal. None need know what passes between us.”

“Ah, but surely one of the big ones has seen the dew on your web in the morning sun,” the firefly said. “As great a light as mine, or greater, and worse because you cannot move it.”

“But I can move myself,” the spider sniffed. “And the big ones do not often seek me for their repast, as they know my fangs drip with venom. You have no such fangs.”

“My children do.” The firefly flitted its wings casually. “They eat the slimy garden-creepers below before turning to the sweet flower-juice in their old age.”

“But we are not speaking of your little worm-brood, but of you. What is to keep me from eating you now? I can leap farther than you can fly, and faster, and my sight is far beyond your little shining orbs.” Thus saying, she jumped.

The firefly had predicted this; what had seemed a mere idle twitch had really been the warm-up to his takeoff. “There is one thing you should know,” he said as he flew away. “Our lights are also a warning to your kind. A firefly is toxic to any who would eat it, as surely as your venom is. Remember that, and your manners, the next time you meet one.”

Anna returned to her sketchbook. There was already something written on it, even though she hadn’t begun to draw yet.

Two words: Sara Dinch.

“What the?” Anna said. “I don’t know anybody called Sara Dinch. Heck, I don’t know any Saras at all, or any Dinches either.” Still, the words looked as though they had been written in Anna’s thin, flowing handwriting; she picked the sketchpad up to get a closer look.

As she did, a spider, larger than the others, fell off of the bottom of the sketchbook where it has been hiding. Anna gasped, and the spider quickly scurried under the bathroom door.

Anna didn’t relish the idea of having the critter surprise her the next time she was in there, and scooped up a small coffee can to go after it with.

“Come here, little guy…” she said. “ “I’m not going to squash you, just get you out of here.

She flicked on the light, and screamed.

A spider was not more than two inches from her face, dangling on an invisible strand of silk. It was lowering itself to the floor, but Anna, regaining her composure, trapped it in the coffee can.

The bathroom was crawling with bugs; the one from her sketchbook was in the tub, while two more were on the mirror and another worked on a web near the light. Anna scooped each up in turn, though the big one in the tub led her on a merry chase before she clamped down the lid.

“What do you want?” Anna demanded of the can. “What is it in my place that keeps you coming in here?”