Good evening. Welcome to my splendid, arachnocratic lair. Be warned, entertainment here is not for the faint hearted. Observe those cocoons, danging from the classical beams of our ceiling. Those are the resting places of my Valentines; beautiful youths, who’ve willingly offered themselves to me. I drink deeply of their passion, their romanticism, and their idealism. As I feed from them, their skin becomes translucent. Sometimes, the skin crackles, as I sip too much of their life force, but most of them take on the consistency of marble. Once the process is complete, my Valentine takes a place in my garden. Everyone can admire his beauty there. Do get that expression off your face! You look just like my nephew, or his little Christopher, when the subject of my Valentines is discussed. I never take the unwilling. Damian and Christopher would argue that my Valentines didn’t know what they were agreeing to, when they consented. I did have their consent, though. Even Gabrielle admits to that. My ‘Brie can be quite the stickler, when it comes to morals. It’s one of the reasons she left me. Yes, after I sheltered and cared her at a time, when she was completely alone. She abandoned me, because she found my practices ‘too dark’! She even lured my beloved nephew away! Well, both Gabrielle and Damian will regret it. As if either of them could ever be happy, working in that dinky little Navel of a shop! Damian will grow restless, given time. He’s still an Ashelocke, one of my blood. His discontent will eat at him, just as it ate at him at the Ashelocke estate, no matter how many pretty boys Gabrielle shares with him. As if I’d ever believe that Christopher was ‘Brie’s son! It’s truly uncanny, though, how much that boy resembles my lost marriage feast. The one that got away, slipped through my fingers, disappearing into the Shadow Forest. Even their names are the same. He was called Christopher, too. I wonder if Damian found him and hid him in the Navel. It was a clever ploy, handing him over Gabrielle, so he’s under her protection. I can’t claim him in her Place of Power, unless I want to start a war with ‘Brie. This is the last thing I want, although it may be exactly what Damian desires. Stirring up conflict between Gabrielle and myself may have been his intent in bringing Christopher to the Navel. It’s what an Ashelocke would typically do. It’s a lot more likely than an Ashelocke trying to protect someone! Well, let my little Damian scheme. He’s only a boy, after all, while I’m old and cunning. I’ve had Vanessa Ashelocke nipping at my heels for years, but I’ve kept her at bay. (see ‘V is for Vanessa’ on April 22, 2016). I’ve defeated far worse enemies. Some of them I’ve even kept as pets. (see ‘U is for Una’ on April 21, 2016) You don’t exist for as long as I have, without learning how to survive. I’ve not only survived, I’ve thrived. I’m more than ready for anything my Damian has planned. The only question is how shall I deal with him, once I’ve caught him, again? Perhaps Vanessa is right. Perhaps I’m too soft on the boy. Something within me revolts at the idea of offering him up as a marriage feast to some other arachnocrat. Vanessa is more than willing to take him as her bridegroom. She believes feasting on Damian’s magic is the key to defeating me, taking my power, and my lair. Her motives are quite predictable. Damian’s are not. I’m not entirely sure what the boy is up. It’s better to wait and find out. Part of me is looking forward to whatever he has planned. I know it will be worthy of an Ashelocke, whatever he’s plotting. Why am I so much fonder of my nephew than I am of Melyssa, my own daughter? (see ‘M is for Melyssa’ on April 13, 2016) It’s not normal for an arachnocrat. Our daughters are our future. I have to agree with Vanessa on that point. Ah, but what an Ashelocke my nephew could be! If only he would stop wasting his time with silly things, like art! Damian could be so much more than what he is, now! I suppose he’s taking a little longer to grow up than most boys. This might explain why he still cleaves to other boys, shunning marriage feasts. Damian has an almost girlish cunning, though, which my own daughter lacks. I can’t help hoping he’ll do something with that, even if it’s impossible.