Chapter 88 - The Weaver's Map VIII
The axe was nothing special. It was really just a sharp rock strapped to another slightly longer rock. Claire could have easily made the same weapon herself if she had all the right things on hand. That, however, wasn’t to say that the weapon was useless. The raw material used in its construction was superior to anything that could be found in the immediate vicinity. Unlike the porous, eroded seastones that made up most of the nearby formations, the axe’s parts were solid and robust, durable enough to destroy a large piece of ice without suffering any visible damage.
Attempting to repurpose the crab’s body yielded a much poorer set of results. Cooking the monster alive had rendered it too brittle to weaponize. The legs were so fragile that their joints broke off as soon as she grabbed them, and its shell would crack whenever she gave it too hard a squeeze. Looking inside revealed the reason for the sudden lack of integrity. The crab had been turned into an empty husk; its insides were burnt to ashes. Nothing but its outermost layer remained.
The only part that she managed to salvage was the one made of nothing but iron. The buccaneer’s blade wasn’t exactly in good shape, but that was hardly any news. It had been rusted, weathered, and battered to begin with. More concerning was the challenge that came as a function of its size. Being roughly her height and width, the metal slab was incredibly difficult to handle. It weighed in at about a thousand pounds, and swinging it at a reasonable speed took the combined effort of both hands and a tail. She had many doubts as to whether she would be able to effectively use it in combat, seeing as how she had to drag it across the sand to get it from place to place. But she wasn’t dissuaded. It was quickly turned into an accessory that accompanied her wherever she went.
With everything tested and out of the way, the pair resumed their exploration of the labyrinth. It didn’t exactly go smoothly, but at the very least, it was less difficult than it had been the previous day. They stumbled across all different kinds of monsters. Crabs of all colours, shapes, and sizes were on the menu—not that any of them seemed even remotely edible.
As far as combat went, they all had their quirks. The one-meter-tall yellow crabs would spin at high speeds and use their bodies like buzz saws, while their obese white-shelled counterparts sported fans for arms and magically strengthened their allies by dancing to and fro. But as varied as they were, none seemed anywhere as powerful as the blue-shelled buccaneers, of which she encountered exactly two more.
Learning about fire, the crabs’ greatest weakness, provided the rogue a method to trivialise any encounter at a moment’s notice, but she refrained in the interest of playing around with her abilities. She used the crabs as live punching bags, resorting to the flame only when she was cornered and out of other options. Going through all the unnecessary effort presented a pay off in the form of a greatsword mastery skill and several levels in its axe-based equivalent. The progress was welcomed with open arms, even though she was starting to feel like her mastery collection was getting a little too far out of hand. She still had no intention of listening to Durham and focusing on a single weapon type, but she was inclined to admit that keeping track of her relative proficiency with each weapon was somewhat of a nuisance.
Still, she went around opening as many chests as she could. A quick experiment confirmed that the boxes’ contents wouldn’t change even if she warped, which was to say that she could check what was inside and only lead monsters to things she thought particularly valuable. At the end of the day, she wound up with a wooden hammer, a book, a wand, and another axe. Testing the mallet led to the immediate conclusion that it was a piece of garbage. Its handle snapped in half the moment she smacked her first target, and it didn’t even manage to give her a skill. Likewise, the wand was discarded just as quickly. Though smaller, it was a worse catalyst than the crabs’ cannons and she didn’t see a point in keeping it around. The axe replaced hers, whose blade shattered during a fight with a buccaneer, and the book was burned at the stake. She had thought it to be some sort of grimoire at first, but skimming the pages led her to discover that it was a sultry romance between a pair of star-crossed crustaceans named Shblbbhsh and Clkclkc, certainly not the type of material that held her interest.
Sylvia had mentioned that there were meant to be a number of different monsters within the labyrinth, but the sun had set before they could find anything that didn’t perfectly resemble a crab. The night itself was rather uneventful; the pair shared a simple dinner of veaber tails, set up camp, and went to bed.
Again, the lyrkress struggled to sleep, but she was much better off than she had been the previous night. The shock that came with the foreign desire was slowly starting to fade. She was even able to make a little bit of progress, it felt like artifact manipulation was close to gaining a level, as a result of what had effectively become her nightly training.
Day three of the Crabby Crags experience was more exciting, with the pair finally venturing into a brand new area. The dark brown, desert-like sand underfoot turned several shades paler. The shift to a whiter material was not exclusive to the floor. It was mirrored by the walls and even reflected in the monsters. There were far fewer red crabs, offset by an increase in the population of their white and black counterparts. But that was just about as much as the ecosystem changed. No matter how hard she looked, she found nothing but decapods for miles upon miles upon miles.
It took half a day for her to finally run into something different. Turning the corner, she found herself staring down a corridor with walls covered in webs. That, in and of itself, was well within the realm of expectations. Black crabs were akin to giant spiders; their primary weapons were the cotton strands that they fired from their mouths.
What she didn’t expect was for there to be a victim.
“Woah… what kind of person is that?” said Sylvia. For once, her voice was hushed. It had only taken two days for her to finally start whispering. “I don’t think I’ve seen anything like her before.”
“A Kryddarian,” said Claire.
“A giant caterpillar, just grown up.”
Wrapped up in the sticky cotton thread was a lone moth lady, dressed in a bodysuit, one of her country’s traditional garbs. Though capable of producing silk, the Kryddarians rarely ever made any clothing from it, opting instead to weave outfits from the sap of a specific type of tree. Unlike Cadrian clothes, which were often soft and loose fitting, Kryddarian garments were a lot tighter, closely conforming to the body’s lines to aid in the retention of heat. That particular property made them popular among not only the moth people, but also other cold-blooded races, like the Tal’ihirians and those that hailed from the Ryllian sea.
“Is that why she’s all cocooned up?”
“I don’t think that was on purpose.”
The lyrkress immediately identified the individual as an adult with two ascensions. Specifically, she was a Kryddarian Spellweaver. She had all the characteristic traits. Her body and fur were both blindingly white, corrupted only by the black, vine-like tattoos that ran from both her left arms up to her cheek. They were marks of power, latent magical runes that provided the ability to seize the spells of others and make them her own. Her wings and antennae were barely visible beneath the silk, but they appeared to be roughly the same colour as the rest of her body, tinged only a slight bit darker courtesy of the veins running through the otherwise thin material. Despite appearing frail, they were tough and leathery, pieces of natural armour as potent as a lamia’s scales. Her eyes were the darkest part of her body, a pair of bright yellow pupils painted upon a canvas of pure black. Kryddarians were by no means the only people with dark sclera, but to Claire, they were the first that came to mind, courtesy of Kryddar’s proximity to her homeland.
Though the moth folk were well known for their keen senses, the spellweaver failed to notice the approaching pair. She was awake, but her eyes remained distant, staring but not seeing as she sobbed and wept.
“You think we should help her?” asked the fox.
Claire paused for a moment. “I don’t want to.”
The cause of the moth girl’s suffering was not immediately apparent. And frankly, Claire didn’t care. As far as she was concerned, there was no mercy to be had. Kryddar’s greed was the reason the blueblood had found herself stuck in the lost library to begin with.
Seeing one of their people suffer even put a faint, dark smile on her face, a smile that remained until a series of clicks and clacks reminded her that there were still crabs about. Though Claire wanted to leave the moth for dead, recalling her mother’s face led her to close her eyes, take a breath, and ready herself for combat.
But she wasn’t quick enough to act.
One of the crabs scuttled over to the Kryddarian before the lyrkress could finish transforming her cloak. She paled as she heard the tearing of flesh, accompanied by a pained scream. For a moment, she thought that the moth was dead. But the crab stepped away, taking only the insectoid’s arms. The missing limbs began regenerating immediately. The combination of a racial trait and a high vitality stat allowed them to fully reform in a matter of seconds.
Claire’s eyes widened as a second crab approached, emulated the first’s behaviour, and harvested the fresh limbs, followed by a third, and then the first again. They were taking advantage of the moth’s health regeneration and using her as a renewable food source. It was a common practice amongst Barbarians, but Cadria had long labelled it as cruel and forbidden it outright. Any individual, farmer or otherwise, found guilty of torturing their livestock would be arrested and deprived of their assets, lest they could prove that their straits were dire enough for the measure to be deemed an absolute necessity.
The sight disrupted her focus and delayed the formation of her armour. She wasn’t able to step out until the moth lady fell unconscious, perhaps for the better, given that Kryddar and Cadria were not on the best of terms.
It only took her a few minutes to wipe out all the crabs. Magically flinging the axe around, she eliminated two of them from afar and killed the last by bashing it to death with the oversized cutlass. A single swing only got her about a fifth of the way through its body, but she had no trouble dodging the webs it fired and repeating the procedure until it was split in half.
Ignoring the messages flooding her mind, she walked back over to the moth and checked on her. Claire was no doctor, but even she could tell that the spellweaver wasn’t doing too well. Her body was lacking the ethereal glow typically emitted by other members of her race, and her face flushed an unnatural shade of blue. Her spiracles—the holes in her body that let her breathe—were clogged and sealed by the webs. She knew they were delicate, so she was hesitant to try her hand at clearing them out. Fortunately, Shoulderhorse made it so she didn’t have to. It opened its mouth, took a deep breath, and consumed all the webs in the area.
No longer bound, the moth started falling. Claire couldn’t catch her in her arms, for fear of accidentally stabbing the girl with her shard, but Kryddarians were light enough for her to magically seize the lady’s body and set her down without having to touch her.
“Do you think she’s okay?” asked Sylvia.
Claire shrugged. “I don’t know.”
She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do. She knew how to kill a moth, but she had no idea how she was meant to go about helping one. Identifying her breathing issue was about as far as she could go.
“Ummm… Claire? What are you doing?” asked Sylvia, as the lyrkress picked up the moth lady’s bag.
“Going through her stuff.”
“I really don’t think you should steal her things just because she’s unconscious.”
“I’m not. I don’t steal.”
“Then what about Grant’s stuff?”
“That was just borrowing gone wrong.”
“Uh huh… And what about the cloak you’re wearing right now?”
“I got it from… collecting taxes.”
Averting her eyes and ignoring the fox’s judging stare, Claire opened up the lady’s bag. She obviously wasn’t going to have anything akin to a book on Kryddarian anatomy on hand, nor would such a book have helped in the first place. The half-snake wouldn’t have been able to focus on it for long enough to retain any useful information. Claire was looking for an item with a more obvious use case, perhaps something akin to a magical concoction capable of curing whatever status condition the insectoid was being afflicted with.
Sorting through the bag, however, produced no such thing. There were a number of small blades, pens, and crab-based materials, but there didn’t seem to be any pills or consumables. The only other thing she could find was a piece of parchment, bound by a dark red ribbon and stored in a bottle. Unfurling it, the rogue failed to find the notebook or diary she expected. Her eyes shot open as she scanned it once, twice, thrice, noting more relevant details each time.
It was a map, a highly detailed sketch of Crabby Crags, featuring everything from the contents of each room to the most optimal paths between various points of interest.
Hallways with monsters in them had relative danger ratings, which seemed to range from one skull to five. Claire couldn’t tell exactly where she was, but it looked like most of the more dangerous challenges were clustered in a far corner. The traps were labeled more explicitly, with different colours representing each and a legend to aid in deciphering the code. Reading over said cipher was what really took the cake. Because it happened to list a symbol for an exit. And there were at least a dozen of them strewn throughout the maze.
“Woah… that’s a really good map. I didn’t even know they had maps!” said Sylvia. “It might even be more detailed than mine.”
“Where are we right now?”
“I can’t tell you since you didn’t have the map at the start.” The half-elf stood up on her hind legs, put her hands on her hips, and puffed out her chest.
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll end up at the start the next time we run into a chest. Not telling me is going to do nothing but waste my time.”
“And the start is marked.”
“Oh, fine! We’re right here!” Sylvia placed a paw on the parchment and pointed at a short hallway marked with two skulls.
“There’s… an exit nearby,” said the half-snake.
“Mhm. It’s basically right around a few corners. You could probably be out of here in 10 minutes if you wanted.”
“Then let’s go.”
“Yes. I want out.”
“But I like it here!”
“And I’m sick of it.” Claire hoisted the kryddarian over her shoulder and grabbed her things. “Lead the way.”
“No buts. We both know where it is.”
“Ugh… fine! You win this time,” grumbling, the fox magically enhanced her speed and made for the nearest exit.