Alicia’s eyes fluttered open to explosions, and strange whooshing sounds. About four feet in front of her, one of her family’s crown killer bolts was half buried in the dirt.
Why am I on the ground? Alicia pushed herself up, lightheaded from whatever was running through her system. Right next to her were Caitlyn and Tad, slumped over and quietly snoring.
The world around her was a mess. The desert shrubs were on fire all around them, filling the air with the smell of smoke, and parts of the earth had been glassed.
What the hell?
“Ahahaha!” a maniacal laugh sounded in the distance.
Alicia blinked and turned toward the source, but found her sight blocked by a rather large, squat tree that was partially on fire. She crawled around it, holding her shirt to her mouth to avoid inhaling too much smoke.
In the distance, Edward – or she thought it was him – was covered from head to toe in the mirage-like webbing. In place of his right arm was some kind of branching tree with dark leaves and a knot that seemed to be trained on something.
“What, is this a first time you’re getting a taste of your own medicine?”
Alicia frowned and peered further around the edge of the trunk before pulling back hastily. It was a Wiretap that towered ten feet into the sky, fifteen feet wide. It made the ones they’d fought look like babies. The creature was missing at least four of its eyes. Alicia had never thought that spiders could look mad, not having mammalian body language, but that spider looked pissed!
I’ll lay my eggs in your chest cavity, Wizard!
A thunderous thought made Alicia’s head ache.
“You were gonna do that anyway. Try to make it a bit more vindictive. Unfriend me on facebook, or sleep with my best friend, or something.”
“You sure you don’t wanna shoot me again?” Edward said, waggling the strange tree fused to his arm. “I’m finally starting to get a hang of this. I mean, Lasers aren’t my thing, but they are pretty effective.”
Vindictive you say? It seems like one of your friends is awake. I totally forgot about them.
“Crap.” Edward muttered.
“Shit.” Alicia cursed, lunging forward.
Alicia’s feet came out from under her as the earth beneath her fell away at an astonishing pace, dropping her and the other two into a bowl of earth
A fraction of a second later, a white light bored through the wood hiding them, sweeping across the area they had just been.
Almost simultaneously there was a whistling of air as a large object sped through space, followed by a thud and a generous amount of cursing, both mental and physical.
“Eight legged piece of shit, I hear your taste like chicken roasted over a fire!”
Your flimsy nature magic gives you a lot of unfounded confidence, little man, when you should be starting a farm to raise more humans for me to eat. It’s what suits you.
Alicia peeked her head over the lip of the bowl, her eyes widening.
The spider was partially obstructed by gigantic, swift moving vines that she cut away with blasts of blinding light from her abdomen while trying to reach Edward.
Edward, for his part, looked like a fly that had been hit by a flyswatter, his body was crushed against a large standing stone, five feet up in the air, tossed there by a giant’s backhand. He was surrounded by a bloody splatter, his guts were hanging out, and his legs were hanging on by a thread.
How can he sound so calm? He’s obviously going to die. A flick of the Wiretap’s abdomen turned toward her, and Alicia barely managed to get her head down in time to avoid losing it.
The beam of light passed over her head, and Alicia decided not to risk raising it again.
Although if he dies, I’m definitely next. Damnit!
Maybe she could run for it, but it was a bit of an understatement to call the creature’s ranged attacks fast. One flick of it’s abdomen and she’d be a goner.
Could I help him win? Alicia thought, searching the ground for something she could throw.
Garth had forced the wiretap to stop laz-ing him, but he’d underestimated the creature’s sheer speed and strength, caught unaware as he tried to save Alicia et al.
One bum’s rush later, and he was barely managing to keep the thing from finishing the job, stalling with crowd control while his body stabilized. Nothing major was damaged, but his skin had split like a badly stitched soccer ball, and his guts were tugging on places they shouldn’t be tugging on inside of him.
It felt real weird.
“Yo.” Garth said, blowing Ms. Wiretap a kiss.
The wind turned his spores into a hundred arrow sized fireworks, streaking through the sky toward the massive creature.
Ms. Wiretap threw up some of those damned hairs and used them to shoot a wide-angle laser, detonating all of the arrows before they had a chance to get to her.
The light from the laser and the explosions filled up his laser-tree arm, and a tiny blue laser shot from the knot in the tree and made contact with another one of the gargantuan spider’s eyes, searing it dead with an audible pop.
“Oh, shit, lost another one. You should probably stop hitting yourself.”
A deafening shriek ripped at Garth’s eardrums as Ms. Wiretap’s struggles redoubled, tearing through his grasping vines at an uncomfortable rate. Oh, crap. Garth refocused all of his attention on the vines, but the spider began swimming through them, gaining feet per second.
If you would just slow down for a second, I could launch some flares, see which one of us regenerates faster. I bet it’s me. If Garth could give them both an overwhelming amount of light, he could make it into a battle of attrition. Laser-tree-hand is eager for more eyeballs to pop.
Four more eyes to go.
Unfortunately it was taking all of Garth’s effort to slow it down. Twenty feet and counting.
This has been a great stress-test for my body, Garth thought as the man-sized mandibles approached him. Definitely have some notes once I’m in a safe place again. Garth’s eyes had long since been burned away, leaving the Arcane Eye, and while the mirage silk tended to stretch and overlap a bit beyond their physical limits, there were large rents in the webbing he’d covered himself with, creating gaps where his body was charred beyond recognition.
Gotta get mobile and buy some time. Legs are unusable, so flying it is.
Garth peeled away from the rock and soared into the sky, leaving a man-sized splatter-mark behind him.
The spider’s abdomen convulsed, raising up its laser-turret-thing and pointing it at him.
Garth transposed his arm-tree between the two of them, hoping to have it reflect a bit of the damage, maybe take out an eye while he got some distance between them.
Instead of a laser, a stream of light-bending webs shot through the air, snarling around Garth and forcing him to drop like a stone.
Oh, right, spider. Duh. Garth felt sheepish as the wind whistled through his ears.
“I’m gonna eat your heartstone and laugh, you overdesigned cocksucker!” Garth shouted in the instant before he hit the ground, swaddled in webs.
Oh, I suck, all right. The creature projected its thoughts as it slammed down its enormous fangs on Garth’s chest cavity, forcing the air out of his lungs.
It felt like a violation of the highest order, the enormous chitin spears sinking into his chest. As they were designed to do, his armored organs slid out of the way, but he could still feel the venom designed to digest him spreading through his body with a painful warmth.
Ah, that’s better. Nothing like a hard-earned meal, wouldn’t you agree? Or are you dead already?
Damnit. Garth pulled in mana from the surroundings, building it into a last-ditch spell as his thoughts turned sluggish. He just needed to slow the creature down long enough to get the shot off. And not miss.
You Dodgy McDodgy bastard. The only shots Garth had been able to hit with had been literally moving at the speed of light.
Still so much fight. The voice in Garth’s mind had begun to resonate, filling up his mind, resting behind his hollow eyes and putting pressure on his ears. Somehow it was like his mind had been dialed in to her frequency and he couldn’t shut her out.
Now that my venom is inside you, let’s see about what you’ve got hiding in that little monkey brain of yours?
Garth gasped, still working on his spell as his youngest memories began to flash in front of his eyes as the monster pored through them.
I like to use every part of the buffalo. Especially one like you.
….Oh my, it seems like you were born quite some time ago… she dug backward, from the oldest memories forward.
Oh, my. It seems like I’ve bagged quite the celebrity, Garth Daniels. I guess you weren’t as nasty as other people’s memories made you out to be. Time does tend to distort the truth. Garth’s mind filled with a low chuckle as she pored through his memories of ancient L.A.
Ooh, almost made it, she said as she watched him get destroyed. but how did you…
In a flicker, the spider accessed the details of his phylactery that granted him unlimited lives, his thousands of lethal swordfish and his rapidly expanding power base in the west.
Umm… the spider said, backing away from him slightly. How about we drop this here and call it a draw? She had realized that eating him here and now wouldn’t solve her Garth problem. He’d just come back later with the heavy artillery.
“Nah,” Garth said, “I’d rather eat you.”
A flicker of reflected light from the south was the only warning as Alicia jumped out of the bowl and hauled the heavy bolt forward, throwing it like an oversized dart with a grunt.
The bolt managed to avoid the wiretap’s notice, seeing as she was missing more than half of her eyes.
It slammed into the spider’s carapace, driving a hole through its face and the flesh beneath.
The spider shrieked and scratched at its face with its forelegs.
No time like the present, Garth thought, releasing the stored up energy beneath the massive Wiretap.
For the second time in a row, the spider failed to dodge, and a huge spike of dark, poisonous wood shot out of the ground, lifting the house-sized spider off the ground and poisoning it as the tree grew up to thirty feet in the air, carrying the thrashing spider with it into the sky.
“Nothing like a hard-earned meal, amiright?” Garth said as the spider’s struggles began to slow.
Not fair, came the fading voice.
“Yeah well…I don’t really care what you think.”
Garth relaxed in his light bending cocoon that reminded him of a super intense sleeping bag. The whole thing was actually pretty comfortable once someone wasn’t trying to kill you.
Garth jerked out of the stupor, pretty sure his organs were currently turning into goop. Crap.
I need to get a blood transfusion or something. Maybe…
Garth lay there, repeating the two spells over and over until his body was capable of fending for itself. He had explored the bleeding edge of what his body could tolerate, even gone a bit beyond it, riding out the height of his poisoning with nothing but willpower and magical kidney dialysis. The rest of Garth’s body was covered with blackened scabs that would be very difficult to explain to Alicia and others, and they would take a week or two to go away on their own.
Not a big fan of Wiretap hunting.
“Edward!” He heard Alicia shout as she approached him, once she was sure the Wiretap Queen – or whatever she was – was actually dead.
That’s what I forgot to do, we were supposed to exchange names and have a proper showdown. I’ll do that next time. For now I gotta make this girl think I’m as human as I possibly can.
“Hey, Al, you think you could cut me out of here?” Garth asked sweetly, his voice muffled by the webbing across his face.
Alicia knelt down and patted his body to figure out where exactly he was: the silk made it difficult to see his form. Once she separated hit head from his feet, she cut the webbing away from his face with a blade.
“It really doesn’t want to come off,” She said, trying to peel it away, barely exposing his mouth.
“Probably because it hasn’t cured entirely yet.” Garth said. This could be a good thing. “Tell you what, how about you wake the other two and they carry me back to camp?”
“Yeah, we shouldn’t stay here any longer,” she said, looking around. There was still the occasional flash of light, but it’d died down a lot since the big one had run everyone off.
Probably better this way, Garth thought to himself. He could simply have himself shipped back to the Bergstroms and the mirage webbing would prevent anyone from seeing how horrifically wounded he was.
In the meantime… Garth zoomed his Arcane Eye up to the dead matriarch, and dissolved the tree supporting the curled up spider into ash, along with all evidence of plant magic.
When the spider hit the ground, Garth pried open the gaping chest cavity telekinetically, poking around until he found the heartstone, tearing it out and nestling the fist-sized yellow stone deep inside his webbing.
A second later the cavalry showed up.
“Holy shit, Ed, how are you still alive?” Tad asked, leaning over him. Garth’s eyes weren’t uncovered, so he shrugged.
“Just lucky I guess. Could you guys do me a huge favor and carry me back to camp?”
“Mother of god, it’s Tulesta,” Tad said, gazing at the huge spider curled in on itself some twenty feet away. “What happened?”
“I really don’t know.” Garth said impatiently. “Carnifax, maybe? In any case, I wanna be gone before whatever did it decides that I’d make a good follow-up snack. I literally can’t move right now.”
“Yeah, alright.” He glanced up. “Cait, could you get his feet?”
Tad tried to get Garth’s head, but after almost dropping it when he nearly passed out from blood loss, Garth wound up being dragged back to camp through the rocky soil over Alicia’s shoulder while Caitlyn kept Tad steady.
Camp reminded Garth of a world war one treatment facility for victims of mustard gas. There were beds everywhere with moaning patients covered in blood-soaked gauze. Burns and bites and severed limbs abounded.
I think the school did a pretty good job with this field trip.
At the entrance of the camp, Tad’s father was waiting for them, chewing something slowly as he watched them approach.
“Lose anyone?” he asked, looking Tad up and down.
“No sir,” Tad said, holding out the dog-sized lizard cocoon.
Tad’s grey-haired father looked the cocoon over a few times with a scowl before returning it to Tad.
“You didn’t bring back as much as I was hoping for.” He scowled at the four of them, his eyes lingering on Garth swaddled up in webs with nothing but his lips showing. “And you used your flares in front of outsiders. But…”
“Your team looks healthy, which is more than I can say for most of your brothers and sisters. If you have that much extra manpower at the end of the hunt, bring back more silk.”
“Yes sir.” Tad said, nodding.
“Get to the medical tent, boy. You’re bleeding all over my armor.”
“Sir.” Tad nodded again, and the four of them continued through to the camp.
“Your dad’s kind of a jerk.” Garth said once they were out of earshot.
“Can you expect him to be desperately worried about each and every one of his thirty four children and twelve younger brothers? He was fair.”
“I guess that’s the best you can hope for with numbers like that.” Garth said, shrugging inside his cocoon.