Temple carefully squeezed the spider's red abdomen between his bony thumb and forefinger, counting the tiny drops of venom--two, three, four, five--as they fell into the hot crucible with the tiniest hiss and mingled with the nettle sap and bat's milk. He licked the sharp edge of one broken tooth as the fumes turned from misty gray to mustard yellow, but the corners of his mouth twitched when he felt a tight pull behind his eyes.
It had been years since he had felt it, but he recognized the pull the way a child recognizes the voice of its mother. Temple let his eyes unfocus. The crucible on the glowing coals gave way to a velvety purple outline of fingers--young, soft fingers--tracing a curve. He felt the grit and ash, the skin binding the pages together, the imprint of the vine and the serpent.
"I see," he grumbled. His voice like a sack full of gravel.
The spider clawed at his fingernail, dragging his attention back to his smokey chamber. Temple eyed the spider as if noticing it for the first time, then popped it in his mouth and chewed, his jaw muscles the only thing moving for several minutes as he made a decision.
In one sweeping motion, he snatched a several small bottles from his workbench and swatted the crucible from the fire. It clattered across the bare stone floor, spilling its vile contents, but Temple paid no attention. He bent over an iron pot, and worked the stubborn cork from one of the bottles with his bony fingers.
"It seems I have been given another chance."