Night patrol is always the best and the worst. The worst, because you have always to be doubly on your guard; the most dangerous hunters come out in the dark. And the best, for broadly similar reasons.

You've been tracking the thing for days now, by the deep divots of her footfalls. Usually she prowls near the village wall, drawn by the scent of warm living creatures which would make her lovely prey. But not now, not these last few days; the moon overhead this cloudless night is brilliantly full, and that means it's time for things like these to find their mates of the moment, and through trees and brush you've caught glimpses enough of her to know that she's heavily gravid, belly full nigh unto bursting with the same grape-sized pearlescent eggs you've occasionally seen stuck to bark or spilled on the earth—eggs scattered amid a spray of some thickly gelid fluid, when such a beast as this could not find another of her kind which would accept the burden.

Indeed, you've actually seen one of these things in the moment in which she could no longer restrain her, and for want of choice spewed her burden onto the unwelcoming ground. You've seen the great haunches shift and settle, the spiderlike legs dig and clutch at the earth as the plates of chitin part before the ovipositor pushing forth. All armor outside, these things—but within, tender pinkish-purple vein-traced flesh, thick ridged and gleaming slick and turgid with exertion as the thing's belly pulses—once—again—and suddenly a great hot spurt of eggs and slime bursts forth from the pointed tip of her member, its distal orifice expanding widely around the jet, and then again, and again, and again, until the belly is full no longer, and the creature shudders, and gathers herself, and staggers on her way, leaving behind only a great pile of hot thickly gelid slippery strangeness.

You were so close—almost close enough to touch it—

So of course you've been tracking the thing. You know she will find no mate of her own kind, for there were not many near here before, and you've seen to it that your fellows drove them all off—all, that is, save this one.

This one is yours, tonight.

You've been making in toward her for almost an hour, now. You know how these things think, almost—after so long hunting them, you should do!—and in your kit tonight you brought an uncommon sort of tool: a rattle, taken from the body of one of the hand-sized insects which pounce in swarms on the things, pounce and pry their armor apart and feast upon their unprotected flesh. The beasts know that rattling sound—know it, and fear it, and you have used it to drive the thing all unawares toward your very favorite clearing, wherein there wait nooses sprung to saplings which will catch the thing's limbs and halt her flight. Only for a moment before she frees herself—but you will be close behind, and a moment is all you need to pinion the thing securely enough that you may relieve her of her burden without risking that she will relieve you of your life.

It's been going very well, so far—exactly as you planned—and shaking off a moment of déjà vu you note you're nearly there, only thirty feet behind her now. As the thing draws ever nearer your clearing, spurred on by tiny ominous rattles in just the right places at just the right times, you've found yourself more and more distracted by memories of the other night. You're safely downwind, and the beast will thus not smell your arousal on you—but you're not watching out as well you might, and the suckerbush is a very unwelcome surprise.

A small one, this, and clearly hungry—at its size, it can't easily catch the prey these favor, but you've almost stepped on it, and your warm blood will make a welcome change from insects. Its grasp is a sudden tight hot bracelet around your ankle—only two tendrils, but its needles are no less sharp for its small size, tiny pinpricks of unexpected pain as they sink into your flesh.

You snarl and snatch your foot away—with a bigger one, you'd only risk losing skin this way and fail to free yourself, but this one's tendrils are still very thin and you easily pull them loose of its rhizome. Limp, they're easy to peel away, and the dribbles of blood from the tiny wounds barely even darken your fur. But as you cease to be distracted, and begin again to tend to your surroundings—uh-oh.

The forest around you has gone deathly silent. You know what you're going to see, when you look up. But not looking at it won't make it go away, so you do look up, and—

—yes. She's heard you, and turned, and from barely ten feet away the two great compound clusters of tiny black eyes regard you. She might be a statue, as still as she is in the hunter's preparation to pounce. But her jaw is half open, needle teeth glinting in the moonlight as her forked tongue flicks the air. And you know very well what that signifies.

Your leap and hers begin in the same instant—hers, to fall upon you and drive needle-tipped limbs through your body and pin you to the ground so she may feed; yours, to dodge that killing dive and place yourself between your beast and your clearing. She'll be a moment, turning—eight legs, hard to manage—and if you can only get a little distance on her, and flee as far as the clearing, then maybe this night can turn out as you meant it to after all—that, and all the better for the liveliness of the chase that now begins.

You almost don't make it far enough to even begin that chase—one razor-edged foot brushes its tip against the back of your ear, parts the fur along the back of your neck: it is that close. Another two inches and she'd have torn you open. But those were two inches she didn't have, and you hit the soft earth in a roll that brings you to your feet behind where she hoped to land on you.

You don't look back, of course. You don't need to see her rounding on you to know she's doing it, and even if you did, it'd slow you down too much. You just run, hurdling fallen trunks and dodging dangling mosses and pulling out every trick you know to make up distance ahead of the great furious beast you hear crashing its way through the woods behind you, using the bulk and weight of itself to make up for its lesser agility.

And all the while—mad as it is, you can feel yourself responding ever more strongly, heat rising from your sex through your belly and chest—as if the hectic terror of running for your life, from a thing which will murder you if she catches you, is in itself cause for the sort of pleasure against which the village parson never tires of warning his congregation in the most thunderous of terms. Not something you understand about yourself, and certainly you haven't the leisure for introspection now! But you've never been tremendously given to such concerns, anyway. And even if you were—even if you could, just now—you are enjoying yourself far too much to bother.

There!—the treeline, and beyond, the little glade in which you've so often made time with the larger of the monsters which haunt these woods. Just a few yards more and there, and then to dodge and flirt around the periphery until the beast takes a wrong step, and she'll be caught up and your night's intended purpose can begin in earnest—

—where did that branch come from? Fallen just on the verge of the clearing, where you certainly should have seen it when you tended this little place of yours, only yesterday—but see it you did not, and wherever it came from, it is in just the wrong place now. Your foot lands on it, and it rolls, and that's your balance gone, and instead of running nimbly into and through the clearing you only sprawl and tumble.

Sprawl, and tumble, and oh damn it—and now you're in real trouble, because you've put your hand through one of the noose-traps, and tripped it, and it's snatched you back up to your feet with the force of the springy sapling and sent you stumbling further into the clearing and—oh no

Well, now. That's your right hand and foot caught, and the saplings have snatched you painfully half spread-eagle, balancing on the toes of your one free foot—for a beast of the size you've been hunting, it'd be fine, but that beast is much larger than you, and so you set your traps widely, and your hip and shoulder joints are screaming.

But that's not the worst of it. Not at all. Not as the beast smashes her way through the brush at the edge of your clearing, right in the same place you did. The fallen branch doesn't trouble her, of course—not in the slightest, not with four times your number of legs. She sees you, caught up helpless in your own traps there as if staked out as a treat of prey for her, and her stride into the clearing is not rushed but almost stately. And all the while, her great jagged head tilts this way and that, as if to give each of the ocelli that make up her great eye-bulges its own individual good look at you.

You swallow in a throat suddenly gone dust dry. With only one of the traps holding you, you'd have been out already. With two, it shouldn't be much harder—but you rigged them so widely, and they're dragging so at your limbs, and it's your dumb hand that's the only one free—

And you're out of time, in any case, because the beast is here. Dead in front of you—and 'dead' is a word that just keeps forcing its way to the front of your mind, right now.

Her eye-bulges are massive—each the size of your own head. And her jaw is massive, too—needle-sharp teeth as long as the first two joints of your finger, and between them that thick fork-tipped tongue flicking out to taste the air around your face, its points almost brushing against your fur each time.

Her breath—as acrid as yours, but differently so, and where your panting breaths stink of curdled arousal and terror, the scent of hers is alien, sharp and otherworldly and stronger with each hissing exhalation as she inspects you.

You dare not move. To do so would invite swift death—or worse. You can only stand there, too frozen with shock and horror to even silently berate yourself for your foolishness, right limbs pinioned and balancing on increasingly sore left toes.

And perhaps these beasts are less wholly creatures of instinct than you've credited them with, previously. She doesn't seem anxious to dive upon you and meet those deadly needle teeth in your flesh, as she might well with prey free and running—maybe it's only flight, or movement, or such, that triggers the instinct. But you are doing none of those things, and so she is almost leisurely with you, sampling the air around each part of you as if forming some vastly complex and detailed scent-picture of your form.

After a little while she ceases to be so dainty with her tongue, and it does begin to flick against you, here and there—your cheek, your eyebrow, the inside of your ear...your teeth grip your tongue as if by instinct, because of all the absurd dangers you were taught and have learned as a woods scout, no one ever warned you that some day a giant spider-thing might try to tickle you to death.

And funny as it is, it's not funny at all, because if you laugh—if you so much as giggle, or even breathe too hard—you are certain she will upon the instant murder you. There is nothing you can do to relieve the urge to laughter that wells ever up inside you, as her tongue flicks at the tip of your ear, down the side of your neck, along the curve of your throat below your muzzle—it is very much to laugh, more and more of that, and before long it has become the most exquisite of tortures, poising you on what feels to be a razor's edge on which to balance seems your only hope of life.

It goes on, and on, and on—she's tasting your muzzle with the most extensive care, the touches overlapping and the stimulus overwhelming—as if she knows what she's doing to you.

And just when you are sure that you can stand no more—in the very instant when the gasp of deadly laughter begins to well up and force itself out of your throat—the great beast dips her head, and begins to taste your garments.

Thank God you chose tonight to remain clothed until you had her where you needed her to be! There've been times you chose otherwise, and to move sinful naked through the woods, bare to the light of the moon and to the creatures which haunt these forests, is a dark sort of pleasure of its own. But with a thing like this, it'd be far, far too dangerous to risk—not that that's made much difference, you think, the way it's worked out after all. That you should fall foul of your own traps—are you a woods scout, or an idiot child? What a mortifying way to die, and when your fellows find you, they'll think you such a fool, and—

—and why is the beast so interested in you there? Your musk still paints your thighs, to be sure, and your trousers hardly mask it, but why would she take such an interest? Only because it's such a strong odor, or...?

Much later, washing yourself in a stream nearby the clearing, you reflect that these great spider-beasts must not be so completely driven by instinct, after all. She can't possibly have imagined you a suitable mate for her, or a host for her brood—the males of her species are specialized for that purpose, their birthing sacs visible even deflated beneath the thin and translucent chitin of their backs. And you're hardly shaped, or sized, like a spider-beast, in any case...

You wince, pressing your belly as you try to disgorge more of that with which the beast engorged you. Maybe she was only looking for some better way to discharge her eggs than into the cold air, unto the unwelcoming earth? If so, then certainly you have obliged her! And she you—but under all your joy, it was still a fearful moment, as she held you down with needle feet through your torn clothes, with razor-edged limbs either side of your chest—turned, though, not cutting you to ribbons as they could so easily do, but only exerting the pressure necessary to keep you on the ground where she'd thrown you, after biting through the ropes. Not that you sought to flee, in any case...

...but in that moment after she settled her haunches and thrust herself shockingly deep inside you—painfully deep, and filled you so thickly full of her—when the pointed tip of her ovipositor settled against the mouth of your womb, and you felt the whole unspeakable length of it writhe as you saw her belly begin to pulse above you, readying to expel her eggs—had you not the presence of mind to shift and wriggle beneath her, just enough—then she might well have impregnated you in truth, and not only packed your sex full to freely overflowing with the thick gelid mass of her eggs. And full, and full, and full again, squirting out of you around her shaft and stretching you nigh unto bursting, you felt—

—such overpowering pleasure, as you came and came and came, and—

—even in the instant and not less strongly now, a kind of wistful regret, that you cannot completely give yourself over to the moment, and let yourself be made a proper host. The males are not harmed in giving birth, after all, and neither you think would you be; they are tiny when they're born, barely large enough to stand on the tip of your littlest finger—surely even a thousand of them would be still easier to birth than the tearing agony you've seen and heard your elder relations suffer at the end of their own confinements. To carry the spider-beast's eggs, and in the fullness of time give them birth—

You could never take the chance, of course. It would be impossible to conceal from the village—your belly full of those eggs, gone from virgin—hah!—to heavily pregnant in the span of a single night—they would know. They'd all know. And what they'd do to you then does not bear contemplation.'s a shame, that. It really is. Because the thought of what it'd be like to mother such a monstrous brood—to be on such intimate terms with such strangeness—is compelling. And the knowledge you'll never have the chance has you almost weak at the knees, almost weeping, with an unaccustomed mix of passion and regret, and—

—the strangest déjà vu—