Another day...Ariadne turned in her bed, groaning. She'd been down here for weeks, now. Since...then. The mattress creaking under her, she sat up. Alas, she couldn't stay in bed all day, she had things to do. Business had to be attended to, and ill-equipped though she was, she must to keep some sort of living here. She rubbed at her face with a...a paw. Hrrmph. Ill-equipped indeed.
Things had not gone so well since her unfortunate transformation into a Pooka, caused by some fool of a druid she'd been adventuring with that, unfortunately, hadn't understood what 'irreversible' meant until it was far too late to change the former Araenid back. Since then, she'd had to run from her own kind, who she'd honestly expected to help despite her appearance, and then been forced to take shelter with these rodents.
Life since then had been dreadfully simple, much to her annoyance. These fuzzy pests were well below her preferred clientèle, and yet to keep from getting the boot or going mad with boredom, she'd had to set up shop down here. Alas, her business was a pale shade of her incalculably-vast business empire. She mostly found herself fixing up aprons and scruffy old vests, hoods, the occasional chef's hat...hardly work for a master seamstress of -her- caliber, yet it was all these pathetic rodents could present her with. Given that all their currency was being stockpiled to undo the curse, Ariadne wasn't so remiss about lack of proper payment, but it still irked her to do work for these sub-Araenid beings effectively gratis.
Hrrrmph. She yawned and stretched before sliding off the bed, shuffling over behind a veil. She tugged off her nightgown and worked on a dark-blue blouse, a meagre replacement for the clothes she could no longer hope to fit in, and with it a black skirt, long enough to hide her horrid, oversized legs from her view. Before working on her cowl, she turned to a mirror in the corner to comb out her bobcut, turned to grant her a view of any intruders at the same time they would see her. Araenids are innately a paranoid race, a trait promoted by their excessive tendency towards backstabbing and foul play to advance themselves. It was unnecessary here, but Ariadne wouldn't feel comfortable otherwise. Satisfied with her appearance, she tightened her cowl and turned to leave. Miriam should have had breakfast ready for her by now.
Miriam had quite the busy morning on her hands, meanwhile! The baker had to prepare the finishing touches on a wedding cake AND two birthday cakes, get them across town, ready some cinnamon rolls, the bread deliveries, several batches of buns...goodness, quite the long list of items to do, but she was confident she could meet the challenge with time to spare for her store's 'open' hours! Though she was tempted to hold off a bit longer...she'd prepared breakfast for Ariadne 15 minutes ago, and the darling still wasn't down! Where could--Her ears perked up at the sound of creaking on the stairs. There she was! The baker dusted off her apron and skipped over and stopped at the base, smiling wide.
"Good mooorning~, dear! Breakfast is waiting, I do hope you enjoy!" She chirped, bowing slightly to her neighbor. The new Pooka gave her the usual disinterested glower. Oof. Miriam's ears drooped a bit even as the former spider stepped past, seated herself, and picked at the breakfast briefly before finally digging in. Miriam couldn't quite figure out why the tailor always picked at her food like that, but she had felt it rude up 'till now to pry into her business. Though...a little small-talk never hurt. She glanced over and cleared her throat even as she put the final touches on one of the cakes. "So, off to the market, hrrm?"
Ariadne almost instantly stopped checking her food for poisons and shot a suspicious glance at her. "Why are you askeeng? Hrrm?" She'd been privately suspecting the baker to leverage some sort of rent against her for how long she'd been here, knowing full-well the former Araenid had barely earned a few gold over the past weeks. "I do not see how it ees your business..." She scoffed and quickly dug in, before giving Miriam the slightest nod. About the only sign of appreciation for the meal she gave the rabbit. And with that, she was out the door...such a gruff woman, Miriam thought. She didn't seem to trust a single person...such a sad way to live.
Ariadne had a very short shopping list today. All she'd needed was a few spools of silk and a few sheets of fabric in the more common colors down here. Alas, had she had her old form, this'd be entirely unnecessary, but as is, she could only be wistful and curse the idiot druid who'd done this to her, as well as lash out at these soporific, dullard rabbits.
The spider seamstress scoffed as she continued on. Some wee tot (goodness, they were actually breeding) had toppled over and scraped their knee right near the tailor's store and was bawling out like a banshee. She had to hiss out her order even louder than usual. She had to wait quite a while, but even as she was headed out, she noticed the crying had stopped. She stopped for a moment to look why, only to find one of the shopkeeps had abandoned her stall entirely to cradle the little tyke, cradling him and cooing to him to help him calm down.
Ariadne...wasn't so sure what to make of this. In Araenid culture, kindness was viewed with contempt. Then again, spider children rarely cried. They mostly hissed and skittered, but even then, they were expected to fend for themselves until they were old enough to be taught. Even as adults, everything was a matter of self-interest. There were no such things as gifts, not really, nor was there anything like a simple favor. Everything was a matter of calculation, caution, and equivalent payback. If someone gave you a gift, it was either a hidden trap or it was expected to be paid back -somehow-. So to see this selfless mothering...Ariadne was tempted to simply shrug it off as mammalian naivete, but ...something about it wouldn't leave her mind.
...Bah. She'd forget about it by tomorrow. She hrrmphed and simply returned home, barely clearing her lunch (A dish of chicken au gratin) before bolting back upstairs. The day otherwise became a massive doldrum; she'd only one order ready, and a few other hoods to begrudgingly work at. It wasn't 'till late in the evening that her client came in, opening the door a crack.
"Ah...good eve, miss. I heard you had my apron fixed up?"
The former spider huffed, rolling her eyes. "Oui? Ah, you, yes, I've had eet fixed up for a while now."
"A-ah, good! Then I'm here to pick it up, ma'am!" The Pooka stepped in, beaming a bit as she walked up to the spider's desk at the back of her shop. "Hopefully it wasn't too much trouble, miss."
"Hrrmph. Of course eet wasn't. It was somesing barely worth moi's attention." The spider turns and sighs, looking about before retrieving the apron. A typical, frilly thing, and indeed, the repair was ultimately something she could've done in her sleep. She huffed and flopped it down on the desk, huffing.
"Ooooh, it looks almost brand new! Thank you, I dearly appreciate your work!"
"Ooof course you do, miss...?" The spider snarked, leaving it hanging for the rodent's name.
"Ah, Meliene. But indeed, my dearest thanks! I simply don't have the time or knowledge on how to do so myself, and I..." The Pooka prattled on and on, and Ariadne affected an increasingly-disinterested look, which devolved into annoyed, and then further into open scorn. Eventually, she slammed a paw down on the desk, finally cutting her off.
"MISS. I don't know what you are expecting of me. I have already done my service, and as I cannot ask for payment, you are -already- indebted to moi. If you think kissing up to me will fix zat, You have anozah think coming!!" Ariadne's sharp shout of an interruption made Meliene shudder. "NOW. Do be so kind and leave. Our arrangement for ze moment ees -done-. Psh. You lot are all so naive, too nice...it makes no sense how you survived zis long," the tailor muttered, turning away as she did, arms crossed.
Meliene was...offput by this, to say the least, but something didn't seem right. She cleared her throat and nodded. "Ah...my apologies, then. I'll just be going, ma'am." The former spider sighed and shook her head as she left, before getting ready for bed. These rabbits...they honestly confused the hell out of her. What -did- they want?? It just didn't make any sense. She slid into bed and pulled the covers up, but she could barely sleep. This was troublesome...
Tomorrow proceeded much more slowly. She awoke, got dressed, and simply carried on with her work. Breakfast was left at her door as it usually was with a quiet knock, an a muffled invitation for tea. Ariadne barely muttered out a reply before returning to her tiresome work. She used to rant about it being poisoned, but...now, even that seemed ridiculous, she had to admit. These rabbits were too weak-willed for that, the thought of poisoning someone like that was...bah. Why did she even care? Point was they were weak-willed suck-ups, not threats. It was only her current predicament that prevented her from capitalizing on it.
Something still didn't feel right about all this. she'd just need to forget about it. Focus on her work. A cross-stitch here, a patch there...nothing else. She shouldn't really trouble herself with it. But her mind refused to let go, now. Something just wasn't right about all of this, this entire place...
It wasn't until late in the afternoon that another knock came at her door. She ignored it at first, but when the door came swinging open that she finally stopped working.
"Miriam, -please-, did I sa--?" She began into a reproach, but...that wasn't Miriam at the door. It was Meliene and two other Pookas. They had heavy-looking bundles and baskets, and even more piled up outside in the hall. Ariadne was puzzled, even as she hesitantly rounded her desk, stepping forward. "Yes...? What is it? What do you want?"
Miriam shook her head, smiling sadly. "Oh...darling, we don't want a thing. We just had some gifts to deliver. I...well, me, Magnolia, and Colrun here, we spent all of today gathering things for you. We figured you just hadn't really been reached out to before, so a little something like this might help." She offered one of the baskets out to Ariadne. In it...in it, to Ariadne's complete astonishment, were dozens upon dozens of spools of fine silk. A gasp slipped past her lips as she realized; not just -any- silk, but Araenid silk. They'd definitely had to have spent a fortune for this. She looked the trio over again, scrutinizing them...what could...what could this mean? Why? Why were they doing this? What were they expecting from her? Setting the basket aside, she was offered another, wrapped in checkered cloth. Unwrapping it revealed a bottle of deep, rich wine. A very fine vintage, too, improbably old.
...WHY. WHY where they doing this!? How could she hope to repay THIS sort of gift!? "I...it...zis is...too valuable...I couldn't hope to return ze favor in a million years..." She stared at them, shocked, and a little bit unnerved. Her legs...oh, how they shook, now! Something was welling up, but she honestly couldn't grasp it.
Again, Meliene shook her head, stepping forth to rest a paw on the former Araenid's shoulder. "Hun...no, dear, that's the point, you don't have to. We did this because ...because we care. You don't have to repay a single coin of it, that's the idea." She grinned a bit more, then turned and stepped out. "Don't be so hard on yourself. No matter what, we'll be glad to help." And with that, she was gone. The others set their gifts down amongst the scattered wraps and baskets before nodding to her and departing as well, leaving Ariadne alone, shivering, staring at the door. She slowly shambles forth. Something...it...it's at the tip of her tongue. She could see why, now, but it was something so rare that she couldn't form the name for it. She sets the wine bottle down atop a very plush blanket, besides a small jewelbox. She...it...what was the word she was searching for? It was tearing through her. Her entire body shook. It didn't make any sense to her, even as she knew perfectly well what it was.
Stumbling back, without a word, she closed the door behind her. It didn't make sense. As much as she looked at it, it didn't make any sense.
Compassion. Appreciation. It was what they felt, and it was what she felt. ...It made no sense. It made...perfect sense.
...For a while, Ariadne...lost herself. She began to flail and stumble, screaming. The realization of her own self and of her neighbors was not one her mind had been ready to make, not just yet. It had felt something aching under the surface, but now she understood it all too well. The rest of her was just trying to cope, flushing out the painful disconnect. With no other recourse...it funneled it through a violent, traumatic fit. She kicked, screamed, shoved. She tore at bolts of fabric, she slammed into mannequins, she punched at the wall, threw whatever she could get her hands on...books, papers, her old coinpurse, everything flew. Her mind was desperately trying to hold together as she realized how absurdly stupid she'd been, how -wrong- she'd been. She next resorted to trying to block it out with pain, but the truth was evident, firm in her mind now. By the end of things, she was simply rolling on the ground, panting, kicking, flailing...and slowing down...it was clicking in place...now there was little left of her old refusal, her old prejudices...she took a few heaving breaths and sat up, shivering with her back to her desk. So heavy, it'd survived the onslaught. Not that it mattered right now. Tonight...
She had...not been gentle on herself, tonight. She sat in the shattered remains of her room. She shuddered, her cheeks stained with tears, her chest aching as she heaved, fighting, failing to stifle the harsh sobs racking her frail figure. Why...? Why...She leaned against her desk, shivering, arms wrapped tight about her legs.
"Wh-why...how...It..It doesn't make sense..." She sniffled out, burying her face in her arms, ears hung low over them. They...they hadn't simply been trying to appease her, they'd been...they'd been trying to reassure her. They'd been treating her as one of their own...treating her so well not out of fear or...empty formality, but because she was in the same straits and just as cherished as any other.
Her ears twitched. Someone was knocking at the door. Then a muffled voice came through the hard wood.
"A-Ariadne? Are you alright? I heard crashing and-and shouts, is everything okay, dear?" Miriam called out, knocking again. Then she tried the handle. With a tinkle of shattered glass, the door slid open. The baker gasped, staring at the chaos Ariadne had made of her home, her workshop...ink vials shattered, the glass drifting in the black fluid. A mannequin rested on its side, forced over in her grief, papers were flung all about, and spools and sheets of fabric were strewn all across the floor. "Oh...Oh goodness, dear, what ...what happened?!" She hopped in, stepping carefully around the debris. Near the tailor, she crouched down and, hesitantly, laid a paw on her shoulder. "A...Ariadne??"
"Why...? Just...I...why were you...you all actually care...s-so.." The pooka sniffled, rubbing at her little nose. "S-so sincere...so kind...truly expecting nothing in return. Not even the slightest thing...Why...?" The pooka tailor unfurled slowly, peering up at Miriam. Her fur matted, cheeks stained with tears and her blushing. This was...no. No, she must admit, now. She was shaking. She stared at Miriam, at her concerned expression...so...so genuine. So re-real...The tailor reached back up, resting a paw on her shoulder, then pulled her in tight, wrapping both arms around her caring friend. Warm...soft, warm and loving. She'd been so -wrong-! "I'm s-so...so sorry. S-s-so sorry-ee-ee-ee..." She blubbered out, bursting once more into heaving sobs.
It took almost a quarter hour for her to calm down again. All that time, Miriam remained kneeling there, hugging the mewling pooka tight, rubbing and patting her back. Simply letting her grief drain away.
Finally, Ariadne spoke coherently again. Taking deep breaths, she pieced herself together, even as her face remained pressed to Miriam's shoulder. Her voice hoarse, throat strained, she finally continued.
"I...It...oh gods, to think...weeks before, had we met...I ...the -things- I would have done t-to you...horrible, cruel things...j-just because I th-thought y-you were l-..were l-less...were hideous.." She sounded on the verge of collapsing once more, but she took a sharp, gasping breath, and settled down, continuing. "And...and I thought, all this time, y-you were just...going to take advantage of me. Th-that it was a trick...b-but...I s-see now, you were just being k-kind...actually caring...you all were."
Miriam sighed, patting at the back of the shivering pooka's head, holding her close. "Dear...Ariadne, I'm...we...we all do care. We care so very, very much, because we've all seen it time and time again, and some of us have experienced it. It hurts so much at times, but...because we care for each other so much, we pull through. We're...we've all pulled together and love each other. It doesn't matter what we look like right now, it's that we care for each other. I'm...We just wanted you to feel loved too, dear." She smiled softly, pushing back a bit to meet Ariadne's gaze. She cocked her head to one side ever-so-slightly, smiling a bit more. "Now...I'm going to go down and brew some tea. If you want, you can come down and have some too. Take however long you want, dear. I'll wait." With that, Miriam slowly rose and turned, stepping back out of the room, leaving the door open just a crack as she left.
Ariadne watched her leave, blushing, wiping at her blurry eyes. She was...she was cold. She'd only had the lanterns lit in here. Her heart settled, her breath calmed. Legs still shaking, she rose up and approached the door.
Miriam blew on her tea before taking another sip. She was out on the steps, with a small wooden tray besides her, sporting an empty teacup atop a saucer, and a small kettle, steam still wafting out the top. Would she come down? Was she really alright? Maybe I should--Her ponderings were stopped as the door behind her sluggishly swung open, creaking on its old iron hinges. There she stood, looking unsteady, but calm. The tailor nodded to her meekly, trudged down, and seated herself besides the tray. Miriam watched her, still smiling, offering the teapot as Ariadne hesitantly took the cup and saucer. Tea was had, but for a while, no words were traded.
Ariadne, paws shaking, cup rattling against the saucer, finally broke the silence. "S-so. Th...I...thank you. I just wanted t-to say that first. Thank you. Very, very much, for what you've done. All y-you've done." She let out a pent-up breath, and took a long sip from her cup. The warmth...it was pleasant, soothing.
Miriam nodded, briefly sipping from her own cup. "It's no problem, I'm more than happy to help, dear." The silence resumed, as cups were quietly drained, poured, and drained again. Ariadne's shaking had stopped, but she still seemed nervous.
Finally, wanting to put herself at ease, Ariadne broke the silence. "So. I...my room's in shambles right now. Suppose I should go...clean that up. Then, figure things out, most likely."
"Mmm. Does sound like a good start, dear. And if you want any help, I'm always here."
The tailor stared out across the road, then up at the cavern roof. It took her a moment to reply, but the appreciation was palpable in her quivering voice. "Mmm-hmm. I'd...be very grateful, ma cherie. Th...thank you kindly."
It took the rest of the day and most of the next to clean up, but even as Ariadne fell into bed, she did so with a meek smile. Finally, she could rest easily, knowing the sort of support she had here. She was with friends here, and she started acting like it more often. When Miriam came calling, though it might take her some time, she'd always come down and have tea with her. She was extremely happy to have her company. She didn't concern herself as much with how anyone looked, knowing what sort of friends she could have, now. She even started feeling sincere joy when she got commissioned to craft an outfit or even simply fix an old one, once more feeling the rush of her work. She was working for respectable people once more, after all. How they looked didn't change that about them.
Something I was inspired to write recently, as part of my incredible fascination with Odin Spheres' Pookas, the adorable little rabbit folk they are.
Hence, I had Ariadne cursed into being one of them, and having to come to terms with this and her pre-existing prejudices. It's less about the fetish and more about some...heartwarming morality and soul-searching on her part.
(Copied over from FA)