∼ Legged Horrors ∼
Chapter - 006
Upon an untimely meeting between the impling's head and the mostly soft surface of a decaying log, it had to, for the umpteenth time, fight through the haze that clouded its shaken mind. Managing to set itself back up, the impling rubbed its head and instinctively dismissed the pestering notification of an additional point of damage taken. Everything was fuzzy, and from the odd sensations confusing its nose, eyes, and ears, the impling couldn't make heads or tails of it all.
But as a few moments passed, the demon realized that it was not just the haze that caused the odd sensations, but rather its surroundings. A certain, eerie, and constant noise was assaulting its ears from every direction. At first, it simply seemed like a discordant hum, but it quickly revealed itself to by the incessant chittering of something... or some-things...
Everything also felt like it stuck to its body, and upon trying to move, it became evident that there were in fact many thin strands of something both white and stringy clinging to its body. Once vision finally cleared, and the surroundings were laid bare for the impling beady eyes, the demon's small heart couldn't help but skip a beat with raw and instinctual fear taking over.
Strands of white, blanketing everything in sight. From the tall trees with white crowns to the green ground had lush vegetation alien to the demon, everything was covered in various amounts of the same white substance. It almost looked as if the demon was underground once again, with tunnels leading off in every direction and the walls all around blotting out the sky, yet this time the surroundings were painted wholly different.
With the eerily reminiscent hum, the uncanny resemblance of the dreaded tunnels that the demon had previously traversed and barely survived, it looked all around, wide-eyed. Hidden amongst the white strands, tying all of the surroundings into that of a cave of white, were black shapes moving to and through, never giving the impling enough time for it to get a proper look at whatever was just beyond.
Unbound terror, worse than even from memory, found itself clutching at its feeble demon heart.
Although not exactly like the man-faced centipedes, these new creatures, all too similar in their insectoid nature, made the phobia that had taken root deep within the impling's heart blossom to its fullest, despairing, extent.
As if responding to the impling's sudden distress, the horrifying creatures came into sight as they crawled out of their dens and hiding places. Spuming from every hole, crook, and cranny. The diminutive demon could feel the thousands of beady eyes on its body making it nearly convulse in cold shivers. It only got worse as the fist-sized creatures that emerged only became bigger and bigger, until the impling finally laid eyes on one of the creatures, so large that it even dwarfed the nether beast that had chased it through the Netherworld. Several times over.
The hum died down, like the calm before the storm.
Then suddenly, the whole webbed cave exploded into activity. Before the impling itself even realized it, its short little legs were pumping, moving in an erratic cadence as it tried to get away from these eight-legged horrors made manifest. It bolted towards the nearest tunnel, noticing many of the creatures were chasing him.
Luckily for the small imp, the much larger, and still hiding arachnids didn't even see it as a snack, leaving the younglings to eat and chase; not that the small demon knew that of course as its mind was only set on getting its red behind out of the death trap it had landed in.
"A-are you sure about this Henry?" A young voice sounded, the pitch of it cracking faintly with its pubescence. "I mean, after everything the quartermaster said, shouldn't we be a bit more... careful?"
"I agree - what if something happens?" Another intoned, feminine but matching the trepidation of the first.
Finally stopping in his tracks, his shoulders tensed. He had been trying to ignore the incessant whimpering of his fellow trainees, but ever since pulling the good-for-nothings out of their hovels and making them scale the wall, they had done nothing but bleat like frightened sheep.
Henry whirled around, a hand on the hilt of the sheathed sword at his hip, which he may or may not have pilfered from his father's bedroom. Although shoddy and rusty, for a peasant boy like him, even possessing one was one of the highest commodities that his family could boast to possess. It was with a stern glare peering out from within the locks of his tousled hair that fell to the sides of his head, that stared down the youths three who were following in tow.
A peasant girl, Lydia, who had been conscripted into the town guard instead of becoming the usual farmhand because her father had been unable to produce a boy or any other offspring for that matter. Then there was Aiden, another peasant boy, the one who whined the most. And lastly, and definitely least - Darrick, an orphan serf indentured to the Baron of Mackenhall. A thin and frail boy, less than thirteen summers of age who had been assigned to training rather than as a servant or farmhand.
It was no surprise that they swiftly buckled under the pressure of his glare as the three younglings became subjects to Henry's both intimidating pose and the very real sword tethered at his hip. Taking a collective, but unconscious, step backward, they suddenly felt like the spindly and crude spears in their hands were no more than twigs in comparison to his blade. But that was mostly the fear of a couple of children talking as Henry was both a couple of summers older and was quite a bit larger than any of their thin frames.
While Darrick the orphaned serf didn't know his own age, the three of them shared around thirteen summers. That had been enough for them to be conscripted to the Baron's town guard for training. As for Henry, he had already spent two years training, and therefore he naturally held seniority over the gullible recruits who had evidently been put in his group for training. Else, it probably wouldn't have been as easy to get them to sneak out of town.
"Are you done?." Henry asked sternly, emphasizing his question by tightening his hand on the hilt of his sword. Though none of the kids dared speak up, their expressions of fear and uncertainty spoke volumes. He wanted to growl and shout at these little cowards, maybe even beat some sense into them, but he managed to steel himself with a deep sigh.
"Okay, listen. Just how are we supposed to break free of the Baron's indenture and become real adventurers if we're afraid of some dumb spiders? To be no more than guards with mud and shit under our boots for the rest of our lives?" He straightened up and took a step forward, holding their gazes. "Are you simply going to be the baron's puppets for the rest of your pitiful lives? I'm not."
"But-but, Henry..." Lydia whimpered.
"No! This is an opportunity, and I won't let your fears ruin it for everyone. We are only going to hunt the small ones on the outskirts of the nest before the dispatch from Mayne gets here and clears it." His grip tightened on the hilt. "All the experience we can earn will give us a leg up over all the other trainees, which means we can become real adventures in the future and explore the world!"
Henry's little speech managed to dash some of the three youngsters' fears and trepidation, invigorating them with some sense of desire, but it was evident that even that was not enough as they still looked nothing more than exactly what they were; scared children.
Seeing that his words had fallen short on their ears, Henry wanted to punch something, strangle one or two. But again, he found his calm. What was he even doing here? He could no longer waste his time on this useless rabble; after all, he had aspirations and dreams to be grasped. He was not going to be some lowly farmhand or second-rate town guard. To die as a broken and pathetic old man in the town's warren, never having seen the majesty of the outside world, was his greatest fear - to end up exactly like his old da'.
Not sparing the three others another glance, Henry turned on his heels and walked off deeper into the forest. Stunned with surprise at his sudden decision, three pairs of eyes lingered hesitantly on the back of Henry as he stormed off. A long silent moment stretched on as the three youths looked at each other, apprehension and fear clouding their expressions. But as Henry's form got further and further away, the three children felt that the dense forest all around them became gloomier and gloomier, now much scarier when there was no big Henry with his sword to protect them - to tell them that there was nothing to be afraid of.
Hastily, they all scrambled to catch up with him, the fear of being left behind winning over their desire to get home. As he heard their hasty footsteps coming up right behind him, Henry couldn't help but allow himself a little smirk, his tense shoulders unconsciously relaxing as he hadn't really been all that stout when delving into the Heartweald alone as he had otherwise let on.
He scoffed, "Humph - I knew you lot would come to your sen-'' Coming to an abrupt halt, the other three almost bumped into him in their haste to catch up. But just as they were about to ask him what was wrong, they too noticed what had caught Henry's attention. Mixed in with the faint sounds of birds chirping and the natural sounds of the Heartweald, there was one distinct sound, distant and quiet, but was becoming louder and louder.
At first, it just sounded like one, long continuous shrill bird cry. But the closer it got, the more it sounded like a pitched scream. In the distance of the forest, much of the shrubbery and crowns of the tree began shaking, shedding leaves in the wake of something menacing.
Before any of them could react as they were all petrified in fear, Henry included, a little red figure burst from the greenery; the source of the pitched and shrill scream that bordered on a shriek. But with the odd little creature that stood out as wholly out of place within the lush greenery of the Heartweald, thousands upon thousands of both small and big arachnids come into view, spiders black as midnight and clearly chasing the fleeing monster.
Stunned in abhorrent terror, the four youths first managed to regain some movement when the red creature ran right past them. They turned and ran for their lives, wet stains marring their pants, and weapons dropped with not a thought to spare. But it was already too late.