Abode of the Spider

Abode of the SpiderDuring Theft of a God (Great War 1):

     Greta’s Step Lightly spell kept Mudbeard from sounding like a styrac tromping through the trees on the way to a watering hole. Dwarves had a hard time navigating through the woods without being detected. The road, overrun with brambles and weeds, offered no shelter from the multitude of buzzing mosquitoes and gnats.

     Greta’s uncle through adoption, Mudbeard had promised her father he’d look after her during this dangerous journey, in search of a statue containing the missing God. He never felt shy around humans, even though short and stout by comparison. Mudbeard made himself at home everywhere he went, even Hinterland Forest.

     She turned to see how far back he’d fallen, and tried to signal Retter to slow down. Greta didn’t want the group separated when they caught up with the dark elves and the statue.

     Retter, one of the barbarian people, joined their company in Madcap City. He was in search of the same answers, the same object. Taller than most humans, he towered over the dwarf. His sturdy presence calmed Greta’s fears as much as his prickly personality irritated her. 

     He puzzled over a plan to overcome a party of dark elves, one likely a mage. Strange there were so many tiny flying insects with all of the spiders in these woods, every tree adorned with spider leavings. Loose strands of web floated in the breeze like strands of ribbon in an old woman’s hair. 

     Greta kept a look out for the scary things. More webs occupied this part of the forest than along the river. Nets arced between trees and balled in the brush.  Up ahead, Retter paused.

     She caught up and peered around his arm. Something moved in the web infested clearing. “What is it?”

     “Don’t know.”

     “Time to stop for lunch then?” Mudbeard shouted from behind. 

     Retter frowned and raised a hand in warning. The movement stopped.

     “Something’s ahead,” Greta said as Mudbeard caught up.

     “Is it our prey?” Mudbeard asked, lowering his voice.

     “I can’t tell what it is, but I don’t think it’s the dark elves.”

     “Let’s check it out then,” Mudbeard said as he took a step out into the clearing.  

     Greta opened her mouth to argue, but was too late. As Mudbeard crossed several dozen feet in the open space, stopped and looked back, she held her breath. She didn’t know where his focus lay, them or the source of the increasing chittering noise in the trees. Then she saw them. Her heart dropped. A group of five dark brown spiders the size of horses crept along the edge of the tree line in the canopy, eyeing the dwarf. Two more peered from behind an oak tree. Seven.

     “HOE!” Mudbeard shouted, pulling all of the spiders’ attention to him as he turned and squatted in a ready position, hammer raised, his back to his friends. 

     Retter and Greta quickly drew their weapons and ran in as the giant spiders leaped toward Mudbeard. Retter chanted a strength spell. With Mudbeard in trouble, there was no room for mistakes. Rushing forward with sword in hand, he sliced off a spider’s back leg, then used the stump as a foothold to climb up onto its back. He jabbed his long sword through the top of the spider’s head. It collapsed with a puff of web. A geyser of blood spewed out of the furry body. 

     Greta smacked a spider’s rump with her mace, then ducked as it spun around to investigate its new foe. She moved on instinct, letting her body take over as her muscles remembered the routines. Swinging her mace, she broke off the spider’s right fang. It reeled, head high, bulging eyes searching, shaking its front legs in anger. Greta didn’t miss her opportunity to lay a fatal blow between the creature’s eyes. The contact jolted her as pain shot through her arm and shoulder. 

     “Come on ya mutts!” Mudbeard began a delicate dance of parrying and striking as four spiders surrounded him, two in front, the left one hairier than the others, and one on each side. His hammer kept their limber legs at bay. Swinging his heavy weapon with eyes intent on movement, he carried himself well in battle. 

     Greta raised her arms and began a Holy Fire spell. Retter drew off the left spider, leaving the other three focused on Mudbeard. 

     The dwarf held his own. Not killing any, but not getting hurt either. The hairy spider broke off and joined the assault against Retter, two on one. Mudbeard turned his focus on the far spider to the right as it came at him with a vicious string of attacks, and side stepped, trying to get behind its opponent. Greta’s raised voice sounded somewhere behind him, her spell nearly ready.

     The hairy spider pounced at Retter, then leaped behind Mudbeard. Retter turned to attack, but was forced to defend himself from the other spider’s vicious legs as it grabbed and pulled him toward the dangerous spokes in its mouth. 

     The hairy one quickly pinned Mudbeard from behind. He spun up the dwarf, round and round, wrapping him in web. Fear trickled through Mudbeard’s mind as the surprise wore off. He felt sick to his stomach and dizzy. 

     Just as the hairy monster prepared to inject Mudbeard with its slow venom, Greta unleashed the Holy Fire spell. The hairy one burst into flames. She ran up behind Retter, mace raised. 

     He twisted out of the hold. 

     The blazing spider shrieked, running in jagged circles before collapsing, releasing sparks and ash with the smoke. The Holy Fire caught on nearby webs and extinguished into wispy smoke; the magic within the god’s fire doesn’t catch on things non-animal, like the flammable web.

     “Mudbeard is out, take the other one,” she yelled while pushing back the beast from Retter with meticulous swings of her mace.

     Mudbeard managed to roll onto his back. He struggled, trying to lift his hammer, but it was strung tight across his chest. The thing came closer, but he couldn’t move enough to kick at it. He blew at the loose strands about his ruddy face. At least he could breath. 

     The spider dipped down to bite into Mudbeard’s face. Retter crossed over and lopped off its head. 

     Greta bashed at Retter’s spider again and again. It sprang aside and returned with jabs of its own. 

     Swinging a leg low to the ground, it knocked her off her feet. It chittered gleefully, hovering. 

     She kept hold of her mace in the fall and swung it into a multifaceted eye. As it cracked, liquid goo and blood dripped down onto its fang and the sharp straw-like spears in its open mouth. She swallowed her horror, the thing before her worse than any childhood monster. 

     The spider stepped back, hurt and unsure. 

     Greta sat up and swung with all of her strength, smashing its head. Dark blue blood spurted out of the wounds and dribbled from the remaining eye of the monster. Greta turned to see Retter beside her.

     “Nicely done,” he said.

     “Hey! Somebody get me out of here!”

     “Hold on, dwarf! If you hadn’t blundered in…” Retter began.

     “Don’t tell me about blundering! Get this damn web off me!”

     Retter glanced at Greta and shrugged. 

     She smiled. “I’ll cut him loose, you check out the area. I thought there was another spider at the beginning of the attack.”

     “I saw it too. We’re in their nest.”

     “I don’t see any eggs. We’re in their feeding ground.” Greta pulled out her knife and sawed the sticky web around Mudbeard. She relaxed; he’s okay.

     “Don’t ya got a spell or something?” Always ready for a good fight, waiting annoyed Mudbeard. 

     “I’ve plenty of spells, but they’ll work on you as well as the web.”

     With no sign of the last spider, the one that held back in the fight, they concluded it ran off when it saw its companions fall, but it could still be nearby. They would have to be careful. 

     Retter investigated a large mound of web. He stuck his sword in and struck something solid. Digging through the covering of sticky web and brushing it aside, he found bones, fragments of garments and other belongings. Moving on to a new section, he uncovered a rotting, disfigured corpse. “I’ve found their lunch.”

     “I thought we were supposed ta be their lunch!” Mudbeard said.
 Greta sawed off the spider web around his torso. He pulled out his dagger and started cutting the webbing also, until freed. 

     “I’ve found something.”

     “What?” Greta asked as she and Mudbeard walked over to the mound. She picked at the strands of web dangling in Mudbeard’s hair. 

     Retter stood over a cocooned dark elf, his face swollen and purple from the poison and his chest rising and falling with slight breath. His eyes fluttered open as he lay on top of his newly dead companions.

     “Where’s the statue?” Retter demanded.

     The dark elf’s eyes traveled each of their faces. He didn’t pretend not to understand. “I’m holding it. You must cut me free.”

     “A lie. Humpf.” Mudbeard crossed his arms. 

     “No doubt,” replied Retter. “If you’re lying, dark elf, I’ll kill you.” 

     The dark elf laughed. “I’m already dying, fool! Your threat means little.”

     “Careful Retter, he’s a dark elf! They’re an evil race. Kill him.” Greta’s hand slid to the hilt of her knife. 

     “I know what he is.” Retter’s gaze locked onto his prisoner. He never saw the fear on her face.

     “He could be a mage,” she added. “He’ll kill us if he can.”

     “A mage? do you think I’d still be in this mess? Goddess, but what fools you three are.”

     “Fools or not, we prevailed where you didn’t,” replied Retter as he cut away the sticky strands. 

     Greta leaned in with her knife. “Any hint of a spell, any quick movement, and your torment will end.”

     “I don’t see any statue here,” Mudbeard said.

     “I lied, of course.” 

     Retter replaced his knife while drawing his long sword. 

     “Don’t be stupid, fool. I know where it is, and can’t tell you if I’m dead.”

     “Then tell us, and we’ll let you live.” 

     The dark elf paused. “What guarantees do you offer?”

     “None, but ya don’t got much of any other options, now do ya?” Mudbeard pulled out his hammer and beat the handle’s end in the palm of his hand.

     “You’ve my word,” Retter said. “Perhaps we’ll meet another day, and then I’ll have a second chance to finish the work the giant spiders began.”

     “I’ve one other condition.”

     “What?” Greta’s hand grew damp on the handle of the knife. She switched it to her other hand long enough to wipe away the sweat.

     “Take me with you.” 

     The three glanced at each other. It was a dangerous request.

     “Take me with you, and on my word, I’ll tell you everything.”

     “We’re not traveling to any city of consequence, nor will this change until we have the statue,” said Retter.

     “I might survive it. You’ve a healer among you. I accept your terms if you accept mine. I can’t travel alone in this condition.”

     “Greta?” Retter asked. 

     Mudbeard stepped forward. “We can handle this villain. Tis up to ya, girl.”

     “If we don’t, then what?” Greta asked. She cringed at the thought of dark elf honor.

     “Then you’ll never find it!” The dark elf smiled.

     The others didn’t answer. Greta stepped back as Retter moved his sword in position, covering the dark elf. She let her eyes wander into the distant trees. Did she have time to pray for the correct course? Would more giant spiders come? One was still out there, probably watching them at this very moment. 

     A gale rose, ripping the ribbons of web from the tree limbs. In place of the gray and white string, green leaves shimmered in the sunlight. Something about it caught her attention. The green leaves! Green leaves grown in the web’s shadow, green leaves in fall. It was a sign.

     “We’ll take you,” she said. 

     “Perhaps I’ll live after all,” he muttered to himself. “One of our party carried the statue when we were attacked by a huge group, no, it was many groups of night stalkers. They speared the one carrying it to a tree, and we couldn’t retrieve it, precious as it is.”

     “And we’re to believe ya ran away from some cat people?” Mudbeard scoffed.

     “I swear on my life, it is the truth. The Stalkers have the statue.”

     “You’ll show us where you lost it?” Retter asked.

     The dark elf smiled and closed his eyes. He sighed.

     “Of course.”

References: Greta, Mudbeard, Retter, Aversion, Barbarian, Dwarf, Human, Dark Elf, Giant Spider, Styrac, Stalker

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