It is distinctly odd, scribbling away now in the tranquility of the early morning, with the sun’s rays just barely cresting over the horizon, to think back to that desperate situation just the other day when all of us were deep underground, fighting for our lives. Indeed, the peace of this moment still carries with it an air of unreality after all the confusion we’ve come through, though I am of course grateful for it. Truly, in the moment when that troop of soldiers appeared, chaos seemed to have taken hold of the battlefield.
None of us had been prepared for anything like this, and we each reacted differently to the situation as everything seemed to happen at once. Durgash, caught up in the thrill of battle, seemed only to redouble his attacks, roaring out with glee as in one smooth motion he managed to crush the helplessly flailing legs of the large spider nearest him, severing them from its body before he delivered one final blow to its head with a sickening crunch.
Meanwhile, Meg turned to look back in confusion at this army’s sudden entrance and seemed to notice something about the soldiers that gave her pause, which unfortunately caused her to miss with a series of blows she had intended to use to fell one of the large spiders. Whatever it was she had seen, though, it didn’t seem to bother Vi, who immediately put away her bow and set out running back towards the point where the soldiers had left a rear guard.
Lillabelle, in contrast, seemed torn in at least three different directions as she looked from the unmoving, web-encased form of Renbar to the mass of blood and wounds that was Durgash to Meg, who seemed to have suffered her fair share of spider bites as well. Zahra was still struggling to free herself from the webs she’d been caught up in, despite the use of all that fire, and I must confess that for myself, I was so taken aback by this rapid turn of events that I simply didn’t know what to do.
By contrast, the mysterious figure standing over by the dais seemed ready for anything. Stepping forward, the man known to these soldiers as Nesnar, and to us only as “the black spider”, revealed himself. Smiling at the captain’s initial threat, he gave himself only enough time to retort, “Only one of us will meet their ends,” before his form began to twist and change.
His legs thickened and seemed to grow together, forming into a black mass beneath his head and torso as they lifted higher off the ground. Then other, longer legs grew smoothly out of his lower mass again as he continued to loom upwards in height, until at last his form resolved itself into the shape of a gigantic half-spider, with a man’s torso and head atop its monstrous body. Our mysterious foe now stood before us at last, his true form revealed.
Seeing this, I managed to find my resolve once more, and in one smooth sequence of motions I drew out the pair of lightning vials I had been reaching for in my pack, then threw them ahead of me with all of my strength. I could hear the glass shatter as they hit the ground, and the subsequent explosions sent lightning arcing out in all directions, catching two of the four remaining large spiders, and I watched as their dark forms smoked and shook as they gave out an odd kind of screeching before finally falling still.
I was only given a brief moment to enjoy these spectacular results, however, as a web shot out by one of the other large spiders then closed around me. Panicking, I tore desperately at the webs with what strength I could manage as the sounds of battle rang in my ears. I heard the captain cry out in anger, “Thou fell spawn of Lemilech, thou shalt meet thine end indeed!” I heard the screams of his men as they fell, seemingly one after another all around me. And I heard Meg call over to the army with a kind of pointed clarity, “Thank the Articulate Lion you’ve come!”
At that, I could feel a horrible chill run down my spine. For the only people I knew of to worship the Articulate Lion were the dreaded Albertans. The very anti-magic, xenophobic, utterly fanatic brutes that as a group seem to systematically oppose every principle I hold dear. For the time being, we had a common enemy in the Black Spider, but should they learn too much about us, particularly Zahra and her mysterious elven nature, we could end up facing off against this force that had seemed such a welcome surprise only moments before.
More anxious than ever, I redoubled my efforts to free myself, until finally I managed to break through the webs that had kept me locked away in darkness. Even in such a short time as I had been incapacitated, though, much had changed. There was no longer any sign of the Black Spider before me, instead only an odd, ethereal darkness that now shrouded the area around the dais where he had once stood.
Durgash had charged on ahead towards this billowing black mass, and just as I managed to free myself I watched as he staggered back, seemingly struck by a series of blades made of darkness itself. Fortunately, despite all the damage he’d taken, Durgash refused to go down, and quickly recovered from this unnatural onslaught. I then glanced around, looking for Zahra, and saw that she had wisely chosen to remain partially covered in spider webs and out of sight of the army.
Renbar was on his feet again, standing above the corpse of a recently-felled large spider with a burning rage in his eyes, and Meg was looking better too, standing lightly on her feet as if the battle had only just started, which let me know that Lillabelle had not been wasting any time. In fact, even then as I caught sight of her, I noticed that her eyes were filled with a familiar look of concentration, and a corresponding burst of arcane energy soon filled the room with a purplish glow.
Glancing around, I saw that Lillabelle had just managed to finish off the last of the large spiders, bursting it to pieces and saving the life of a soldier who had been under attack. All that remained now of the seeming endless force that had opposed us earlier were the three giant spiders who had hung back at the beginning and the Black Spider himself, currently obscured in darkness.
On the other hand, many of the soldiers had fallen as well, and the seven of us had been fighting for quite some time now. To varying degrees, we had all begun to show signs of fatigue, and there was no guarantee that upon defeating our inhuman foe the rest of these soldiers wouldn’t turn on us. Frought with tension, the battle now seemed to be entering what I hoped would prove to be its final phase…