Garth turned the heavy metal pistol over in his hand. It looked a bit like a semi-automatic, with a bit of a blocky profile, not quite as slender and sleek as a modern gun had been.
“So what’s the propellant?” he asked, glancing at Caitlyn.
“An adamantium spring in the barrel.”
Oh, it’s like an airsoft gun. That shoots steel balls. While Garth thought it was tacky to use one’s knowledge to make guns in a fantasy world, it was totally legit for the natives to make their own guns.
“What charges the spring?” Garth asked, not seeing a lever or hand-action anywhere.
“It’s not important,” Caitlyn said testily, taking the gun out of his hand.
“Ah, trade secret?” Or magic?
“Something like that.”
“Neat.” Garth said. “I couldn’t help but notice your bullets didn’t break the sound barrier.”
“What’s the sound barrier?” Cait asked.
“Well, when an object goes faster than the speed of sound-“ Garth prepared his monologue.
“Is that really important?” Alicia asked.
Garth considered. “Not really, I was getting to something else.” He returned his gaze to Caitlyn. “Have you considered using a lever to increase your acceleration? I’m sure your spring can only move so fast, but if you put a lever on the end of it, like, a little half-moon with the fulcrum braced on the frame of the gun, you could get a faster muzzle velocity.”
“Using the spring’s draw rather than its expansion.” Caitlyn’s expression went blank.
“I could probably use a half circle, make it so the feed will only push a new bullet up when the spring is fully charged. I’d have to restructure the inside, move the spring to the side, and…probably get a thicker spring…the frame would have to be reinforced, and it might throw off the kick…”
Caitlyn began muttering to herself, staring at the ground with her eyes wide.
Alicia leaned in close and whispered, “I think you broke her.”
“Just wait until I tell her about compound bows.” Garth whispered back.
“Alright, the bleeding is stopped, and I’m done pulling shit out of my armor.” Tad said, handing Caitlyn’s pliers back to her.
She took them absentmindedly, still staring at the ground.
“Okay, so everyone’s attention.” Tad said, jostling Caitlyn until she looked at him.
“The spider’s lair is under the web, it’s a series of wide, mazelike trenches dug into the ground, with thin dirt walls reinforced by webbing. It’s easy to get lost down there, so keep together to an uncomfortable degree, okay?”
Cait nodded, her eyes focusing again as her mind returned to the situation.
“So with the spider out of the way, the nest is probably safe, but there’s never any guarantees. It’s got a real low chance of happening, but if that wiretap was a momma, there could be thousands of little ones down there. If that’s the case, running is our only choice, since one bite from the little ones is lethal. If you stay you will be spider food. If I turn and start running, follow me. I’ve been doing this long enough to get back to the entrance just fine.”
“One other potential way we could get killed is if one of the other Wiretaps gets curious and comes to investigate this web. It’s unlikely since this is on the outskirts, but… don’t let your guard down, that’s how two of my uncles died.”
“Got it.” Garth said, hefting Caitlyn’s spear. Garth’s spear was an irrecoverable mess, covered with sticky webs. Caitlyn had her pistol out, in the center of the group
“Alright then,” Tad said, holding his spear out in front of him.
“Let’s lift the edge of the web again.” He chuckled, his knuckles white on the grip of his spear. He and Garth once again lifted the edge of the web.
Garth primary heart pounded in his chest as he expected to see light glinting off another bulbous eye before a flurry of motion sealed his fate. The single event had already registered as a Do not want activity in Garth’s brain. No wonder Tad is so stressed out, Garth thought, glancing at the sweating youth.
Nothing revealed itself, no lidless eyes, no white, burning hairs, or lasers on the end of long, teardrop shaped abdomens, just a gradual ramp leading down under the web.
They ducked under the web, the view of its mirage shifting drastically as they reached eye level, and then entered the ground beneath it.
The light of the stars was cut off, and the world became pitch black as they lowered the web tarp-roof over themselves. Now that Garth saw the layout, he understood more about how the webs worked. They were strung like a gazebo between the walls that made the maze, projecting the illusion of water above their heads, waiting for an idiot animal to fell into it.
The webs would sink into the maze, folding around the creature, practically gift-wrapping it.
The spider would bite then wrap up its prey, before repairing the damage to the web.
Then why does it need all the other ways to kill things? Garth thought bitterly as they silently stalked down the trench, each of them keeping a hand on another person’s shoulder and their heads on a swivel. Freakin’ overdesigned piece of garbage.
Garth thought about the pure yellow Senses heartstone just smaller than a golf ball in his pocket. Great heartstones, though.
Tad lead the way with a torch held low, so as not to set the roof on fire. They followed the twists and turns of the maze, slowly going deeper until they arrived at a stone chamber that gave off heat like an open oven.
The stone chamber had a narrow opening compared to the rest of the maze, with only enough room for two people to enter at once.
Tad set his torch down outside the chamber, and Garth realized that it was lit: the ceiling was glowing with the concentrated light of millions of stars packed together like sardines, lighting the chamber up with pale light, almost as bright as fully functional fluorescent lighting.
“This is the oven, where the wiretap cooks its prey. Imagine how hot it is during the day,” Tad said, pulling his armor’s hood and face mask up and around his eye protection, until they couldn’t see any of his skin. They followed suit, protecting their skin before following him into the suffocating heat.
Garth saw where parts of the wall had scorch marks and rivulets of blackened stone where it had been melted to the spider’s exacting specifications. Did it seriously dig through stone with a laser? Nature is weird.
“They like the warm.” Tad said, looking around for an attack. “They bake their prey here during the day and sleep here at night.” Tad said. “See this?” he pointed at a vaguely lizard-shaped mirage stuck to the floor. It was almost invisible until Garth’s eyes adjusted, like looking at one of those old 3-d pictures. “Three of these are enough material to make a dress that your aunts pay would eighty thousand credits for.”
“There’s dozens of them here.” Caitlyn said, glancing around the melted stone room.
“Why can’t you use the material above us?” Alicia asked.
“My question exactly.” Garth chimed in.
Tad glanced back at them, his expression unreadable behind the heat-mask. Most likely weighing how much to tell them. He shrugged.
“It’s too delicate. This stuff,” he kicked a wrapped-up lizard, “this stuff is tougher and easier to process. Start scraping these off the floor, we’ll carry two per person.”
I wonder if it’s a natural byproduct of baking it. Garth thought, studying the cocoons up close as he slid his spear under them and started prying. Maybe the strands get fused together thicker by the high temperatures.
It was laborious work, and Tad simply stood in the corner and kept his eyes wide, watching the three different entrances, spear held in the guard position.
Garth didn’t mind. It was better than getting jumped by a spider moving faster than a cheetah. He could probably fight one off by himself, but it wouldn’t be pleasant.
About four minutes in, the intense heat was just starting to get to them through their heavy clothes when Garth managed to pry the first silk cocoon off the ground, revealing a writhing mass of pale multilegged horrors surrounding a mummified lizard.
In the blink of an eye, one of them jumped on Garth, its tiny fangs rebounding against his Bark Skin spell. The rest swarmed forward, rushing towards Garth.
“Shit!” Garth shouted, stumbling backward and catching Tad’s attention.
“Babies.” Tad said in a calm voice with a hard edge to it. The rapidly spreading swarm was filling the area that they had come from, so he swung his spear to face the north exit. “That direction. Now.”
Garth and Tad juked around the swarm, heading toward where Alicia and Caitlyn were prying cocoons off the groun near the North exit.
“Ed,” Tad said, pausing by Alicia’s cocoon and seizing it. Garth stopped for an instant and the two of them yanked upward, breaking the silk wrap away from the stone floor in an instant, bringing a bit of stone floor up with it, before Tad tucked it under his arm and kept running, the two of them making it out of the oven just ahead of the swarm chasing them.
“Keep moving. Light jog. Don’t run.” Tad said, his voice studiously calm as they fled the spider hoard into the blackness of the tunnels.
“Don’t run??” Alicia demanded.
“Wanna get separated?” Tad asked, his slow pace keeping him just barely ahead of the swarm of spiders chittering behind them. Alicia shook her head and kept just ahead of Tad, concern written across her face. Thankfully the Wiretaps were too young to shoot lasers or incendiary hairs at them, so they could only chase. After a short minute long jog following the trench walls, the little ones got hungry and started settling for eating each other, breaking off pursuit to devour their brothers and sisters.
When he heard the speed of the swarm drop drastically, Tad sighed and slowed to a walk, pulling a spare torch out of his backpack, handing Garth his spear while he scraped sparks over the smelly cloth. A few seconds later, real light filled the trench.
“We all here?” Tad asked, glancing around at Garth and Alicia. They were conspicuously missing Caitlyn. “Apparently not.”
Tad’s eyes narrowed as he used the torch to light up the swarm behind them, busily devouring each other.
Tad clicked his tongue. “Can’t let a Mcdonnell die down here. Dad’ll have my ass.”
“Okay, Here’s the plan…..damn.” He glanced up. “I can hop over to another trench and double back while you guys make a break for the outside.”
“These are only for emergencies, but I’d say this counts. If I’m gonna get cussed out either way…” He pulled a stick off his belt and twisted a cap off the end of it.
The foot long stick burst into brilliant white molten heat, flooding the tunnel with light and attracting the attention of the spiderlings, who began to creep closer, as if hypnotized.
Tad didn’t pay any attention to them, instead holding the white-hot stick to the web above them, melting a hole through the fiber-optic webbing of the ceiling. A terrible acrid stench filled the hall, and little flaming bits of web rained down above them, burning patches of their hoods.
In a few seconds, there was a hole in the ceiling big enough for a person.
“Up,” Tad said, tossing the flare down the tunnel, where the spiderlings converged on it, heedless of the molten temperature that popped them with odd sizzling noises.
Alicia leapt up the wall, caught the edge, and teetered precariously for an instant before walking across the narrow wall covered in webs, her arms steadying her.
“I feel like I’m standing on the sky.” She said.
“Just don’t fall in,” Tad said, following behind Garth and tossing his silk-covered lizard clear of the web. “Cuz that’s a death sentence.” He scanned the mirage they were standing on top of.
“The center of the web is over there, where the oven is.” We ran out that way, and turned this direction. I saw Caitlyn leave the same way so she must have taken a right. If she’s still alive, she’s probably…” Tad pulled out another flare and lit it up, throwing it in a high arc, where it landed on the opposite side of the massive, shimmering mirage.
“Over there,” Tad said as the flare burned a hole through the web, dropping into the distant trench.
Garth glanced down into the reflective surface of the web and saw the flare land right next to Caitlyn, who was shivering in fright.
Damn. Kid’s good.
“What are those things anyway?”
“Wiretap hairs.” Tad pointed toward the north. “The edge of the web’s only twenty feet away from us, with some careful walking and a pole-vault, you’ll be out of the web in a minute or two. I don’t have time to chat.” He turned toward the
“I’d like to come with.” Garth said. He wasn’t interested in letting Tad or Caitlyn die.
Tad shrugged. “Your funeral. Step only where I do.” He deftly walked around Garth and Alicia by leaning at a forty-five degree angle and using his spear to push off the opposite wall hidden beneath the rippling mirage.
“Rule number one. I’m staying with the group,” Alicia said, hefting her rapier. She’d lent Caitlyn her spear so the girl could pry effectively.
Now they only had two spears between them.
“Good plan.” Tad said, poking the ground in front of him as he followed the top of the wall, looking like a man walking through open space. Garth and Alicia followed suit, poking the ground in front of themselves as they backtracked to the distant hole in the web.
“Caitlyn!” Tad shouted at the top of his lungs.
“Yeah!?” Caitlyn’s voice came from the hole.
Tad muttered, “damn, I have to rescue her now.”
“We’re coming!” he shouted.
In a couple minutes they made their way to the hole that was filled with acrid, burning smoke. Caitlyn stood in the white light of the flare, pressing her bandana tightly over her face, expression unreadable.
The three of them hopped down in the trench, looking around. They were in a dead end, the only way forward leading back toward the baby spiders.
“You’re damn lucky you’re not spider food. Let’s climb back out and find a better path out.” Garth heard Tad say, right before a shadow crossed over the stars above.
There was a screeching hiss and four long forelegs reached through the ceiling, snatching Tad up and drawing him toward the opening in the ceiling. The hair monster lunged forward, its face half-sticking through the hole in the ceiling, bulbous, unblinking eyes taking in their every move.
“Gah,” A surge of adrenaline shocked Garth’s system as he grunted, lowered his spear and jammed it up into the spider’s face an instant before Tad was skewered.
Alicia grabbed Tad’s leg and bodily yanked him sideways, the struggling youth’s armor the only thing was the only thing keeping him from being ripped to shreds by the grasping talons as he was pulled out of the spider’s grasp.
The spider shrieked and backed away from the hole in a flash of movement, like it had never been there.
“We… probably shouldn’t go back up above the web.” Tad said, holding a shaking hand to the bloody hood covering his scalp.
“I thought you said it was probably safe, and that a baby swarm and a rogue spider were both unlikely.” Garth said.
“It was unlikely, and it shouldn’t be happening,” Tad said with a shrug. “but let’s not pretend like it’s not.”
“Shouldn’t you be in horrible agony?” Alicia asked, glancing at Tad, covered in minor cuts and burns.
“Oh, I will be if we live. I took some excellent painkillers before we got started. Who wants to die in horrible pain, amiright?”
“Is that what that was?”
“I guess we need to figure out what to do.” Tad said, glancing up at the hole of sudden death and down at the passage of deadly poison.
“But first, does anyone else here not wanna die a virgin?”
At their awkward silence, he gave a sad laugh.
“Just me then. Cool.”