Metis, having watched the event quietly, stood uneasily. Karolina killed her... far faster than expected. Almost immediately, in fact. It was barely a scuffle, let alone a fight. The witch hadn't even hesitated. She didn't seem like the same person in here, even though only a short time had passed.
Disconcerted, but not sure as to why, the spider familiar dragged Karolina's book and witch cap to her, while the triumphant one stood staring down at the beheaded spade devil. Upon closer inspection, however, Karolina was covered with peculiar 'cracks' in her skin. And they seemed to be manifesting further by the moment. But why? She hadn't even been struck once during the killing.
Still, as per the rule of things, Metis would now officially be her familiar. The split in the spiritual essence of Karolina was resolved, and there was now only one. But as she stood patient, waiting for her 'new' master to turn around, she felt an eerie coldness from the witch. Like an emptiness that she didn't expect before.
"I've... brought you your things, Master," Metis said in a low voice, trying to appraise the situation. She was further unsettled by the fact she couldn't read Karolina's heart or mind at all, whereas even before with their semi-bond, she could get something. Now? It was like listening to static on a cold dry day.
"That word..." Karolina began, sounding raspier than usual, "Sounds so hollow from your lips, Metis."
Chagrined, Metis looked away briefly. "It was the way of things, Ma- Karolina. I had no choice. But I am your familiar now, and yours alone."
Karolina glanced over her shoulder at Metis. It was a baleful dubious stare. "This was an exchange for you, Metis. Nothing more. Your desire to be intact and 'real' is the only reason you're even here. You said it yourself in not so many words- I am not your ideal of what a 'Master' would be. But you know something?"
"...what is it?" the spider asked.
"I'm not sure I need or want you either, Metis. And it occurs to me... I can make you disappear too."
The familiar shivered. Karolina's tone was dark and heavy. There was no trace of her uncertainty or anxiety. "Master... I-"
"You made the agreement with the other me," Karolina said with an implied sneer in her voice. "Of course you preferred someone like her. She was a murderous pile of garbage who ruined everything in her wake. Isn't that just like your story? You sounded very proud of yourself when you told me that. How many men and women did you kill, Metis? Before the Herald Event took you... how many did you torture? Maim? Defile?"
Metis blinked and found herself taking a slight step back. What was this? This... feeling?
"You and I have a bond now, hm? Can you even go against my will now?" Karolina asked rhetorically.
Metis shrank further.
"You can't," the witch whispered, still staring from over her shoulder. "I could kill you and you'd just sit there and take it. Every beating of my shovel on your head. Every slit I inflict on your little throat. All you could do... is tell me no. And I'd just look at you and smile, with the tip of my spade snapping open whatever makes up your sternum. I learned a lot about anatomy in my time, Metis. And there's enough of you that looks human that I could... well..."
"Master..." Metis chittered. "This isn't like you... are you well? You have cracks developing all over your body, but you weren't hit- I... I don't understand what's happening."
"This is my mind, Metis. I just wanted to pretend. Just... to be human. Forget all of this. And try to live like like everyone else. Bali didn't know about this, I'm sure. And I had no way to recall it for specific reasons. But there's people like you and Kara... who wanted to drag me back to this place. Kara wanted to die, Metis. You were just a tool for her to get me to come here. She couldn't do anything on her own, otherwise. Not in a way that I'd realize, anyway. You got used. There's a reason she never summoned you. Despite as much as you two might've had in common, she was a selfish little mountain of ego. You never had a place with her. But you agreed to whatever Chernobog and Spider gave you, in exchange for being alive again, eh? I guess things didn't work out for you as much as you hoped."
Metis looked crestfallen. She had no defense. And Karolina wasn't going to hear anymore more suggestions of 'I was just following orders'. "I suppose that is correct..."
"You're about out of moves, little spider," Karolina said with a heavy promise in her voice. "You don't know how to stand up to someone who is stronger than you. And you're in a situation where you can't do anything even if you wanted to. I could unsummon you. Or kill you. And as long as I remain, you'll exist as the nothingness that you were before. Tell me... why do I want a self professed plague upon humanity as my familiar, when I just ripped the head clean off of the last one who played that role?"
At this point, Metis lowered her head. This was all very new to her. "What am I to say, Master? I cannot change what I've done. And I cannot change what I am. I am not made with the spiritual dynamics of humanity or Xibalban. You are developing into one of the Death Clan, as per Spider's blessing. You also walk the path of Chernobog. I have no such avenues. I am no magic user like you. And although Xibalban society might accept me, I would likely be labelled as a Killer under their caste system and be put down. But I lack free agency in the sense that you and your friends possess. My role is that of an implement to her Master's toolbox ... is that not enough? Am I still not low enough in the scheme of things? You can quite literally tell me not to kill wantonly and even though my impulses might wish for it, I would be unable to fight your word."
"No. It's not enough, Metis. You don't get it. I don't believe that things are as transactional as you see them as. Yes, you are fully my familiar now by magic law. But you are not like Tom Thumb is. As I can tell, he was made from a component and was never anything else. You existed already. You have more will of your own than you want to acknowledge."
Metis' eyes shifted away. Where was all this confidence and rationale coming from? She wasn't used to Karolina verbally sparring with her so effectively.
"Something like myself, if this is what you are implying... cannot be redeemed, Master. What stories exist of a wanton slayer and cretin going on to be anything else? If you do not condon these things I've done, and I have been no friend to humanity of my own will from my own earlier life... I can hardly change your mind. I am the tiger that hunts for meat, prowling the nightly forest. If I was ever anything but what I am, I have no recollection or inkling of it. In some slight variation or another, I simply am and have always been... 'Metis'."
There was a silence between them. The familiar could scarcely look at her Master now. But it wasn't out of the contempt and disdain she had before. Her Master, somehow, had grown much stronger inside. More than Kara. More than Karolina alone. Something further.
"What has happened to you... Karolina?" the spider asked.
The witch took a long deep breath, as more cracks manifested and a growing blackness appeared under her eyes. "You're one of the only ones who can see this. See me as I am, that is. It's a state of being that doesn't allow me to think very well after a time. But it's who I am. Only by being back here and facing it, was I given a sliver of clarity, for what it is worth."
"When I was born... I was born without life. My aunt Ruukunda who acted as a midwife, used some form of magic presumably to bring me back, so her sister (my mother) would not experience her only born child being 'still'. It must have been forbidden magic, because my aunt has cursed features... and more to the point, I was born as a curse through Chernobog, whom she also serves under."
"I understand it now... it's what Tom called a spell misfire, which is to use a spell incorrectly and suffer a penalty for it. I did something similar when I brought Siouxsie back a second time, something he regarded as unlikely to impossible. And had only something of an idea of what I was doing."
"I am... what you and others would call a 'shadowperson'. I exist as a flicker between here and a state of nothingness. The more I assume my normal form, however, the less mind I will have. And I cannot exist in the sight of others easily, so only in this immaterial place will I have any coherency. You and Siouxsie would only see me because of the magical bond we have. I should have realized it back in Xibalba when Atacama appeared. I don't remember her before that moment, but she was a shadowperson too. I believe now... that she hoped I could somehow gift the semblance of normal life I have to her and those like her... as I said, I have been pretending. I cannot remember this state of being when I am not here, so my presence as Karolina in Xibalba knows no differently. And I believe to be 'real and alive', is what all shadowpeople desire, perhaps. Not unlike yourself, hm? But this is all through my arrangement with Chernobog. I exude shadow essence uncontrollably, which he feeds upon when I use magic. He provides a sense of life for me, as per my aunt's magic. It is mutual enough."
Metis looked up curiously.
"I will go back to pretending soon when I leave this place. I will be as I was before, more complete inside, since I will take Kara's mental strength to reinforce my own. And I will know something of what happened here." She gazed at Metis, piercing into her black eyes.
"Why are you telling me this?" the spider familiar asked, wary. "I thought you were going to do away with me? If so, do not drag it out."
"Because you know what I am. And YOU will be able to recall what you've seen. I need you to inform who I am in Xibalba of what is going on inside. It's not good for me to be ignorant eternally. I will be better with a clearer head and less frivolous questions. You cannot read me now, yes? In Xibalba, I will also have my human heart and through the familiar's bond, I will know if you are telling the truth. This entire experience was set for me to learn. Whether the Mimi knew what would happen or not, I cannot say. But I do not want to waste this rare opportunity. I need to move on from this past. I need the closure."
Metis eyed her shrewdly. "You are putting a lot of trust into one you seemed to think so little of moments ago... yes, I cannot disobey, but there could be omissions of truth perhaps."
"I would think, Metis, that you would recognize the scent of your one opportunity to get something useful from this situation."
"Forgive me, but I am not used to hearing arrangements being made with me... what are you considering?" Metis asked, taken aback and puzzled.
"You and I do not have a great relationship back on Xibalba. Our natures are very different, to say the least. But, if you have done as I've asked in this instance, I will not command you as a familiar... I will only ask and persuade. Additionally, I believe I can free you from your minute body to something akin to how you are now, which I believe is your original body before the Herald Event, no?"
Metis stiffened, not expecting a relatively generous set of terms just for relaying information in good faith. She wasn't sure what to say at first. She wanted these things, unquestionably. Some measure of her own free will and her normal body to boot? It was hard to turn such a thing down. Especially when the other consideration was likely being unsummoned or slain into a Limbo-like state. She desperately did not want to be inert spiritual matter again. And she knew she would never get another chance to come back as long as Karolina lived, or even ever again for that matter. And what's more... Karolina knew.
She thought about it for a moment, as Karolina began to break down into raw shadow matter before her eyes. If Karolina came back from this, she wouldn't be dealing with the same wishy washy uncertain waif, but someone stronger. More wolf-like, perhaps. Someone worthy of leading a group. Metis' atavistic did allow her to respect a much stronger presence. Maybe Karolina could be that now? If not from all of this, then due to her gradual apothesization into a Death Clan? It was a bit easier to tolerate a Xibalban than a human, not that Karolina seemed to be entirely either now. Of course, if she remained a weak presence...
Metis shared a rare small smile. "Very well... Master. You have a deal. I hope it is the right one for both our sake's."