Spiders: Featured spider color altered from original: taken by Thomas Shahan. Used with permission.
Still under the docks of Titantale City…
The empty bookshelf swivels open to a passage, a short tunnel through the Undersea’s speckled blue granite.
Solaris runs her soft fingers across the rough cut stone. “Not titans’ work. It is old though. Maybe chiseled through by the first people that took advantage of the scaled giants’ disappearance.”
Jacob rubs his hands together. “Let’s get some treasure.”
Solaris taps his back with the base of her torch, and the martial artist leads her and the rest of their party into another dark room. The floor is dusty instead of damp and webs cover the walls all the way up to the ceiling, a tree’s height above Solaris.
“Spiders.” She spits on the dry floor. “Now, you’ll see why I prefer crabs.”
Sylyca peeks around Belazar’s bulk, her torch shaking and tall elven ears twitching. “Are they big?”
Her large friend pats the flowers woven into her hair and adjusts the greatsword resting on his bare shoulder.
“Oh, yeah.” Jacob hops from sandal to sandal in front of Sylyca and stretches his lean arms apart. “Can be bigger.”
Solaris points at the ceiling, where their torchlight loses to shadows. “Some spiders will jump down when you least expect them.” She taps the porous wall with a webbed toe. “Smaller ones will swarm out when you least want them.” She hugs herself. “The worst are the biggest.”
Messoack claps, making Sylyca jerk. “Ghost spiders.” The gray-skinned magician claps again. “They blink here and there. Big as a horse. They will snag you and disappear to snack on you.” He giggles with his hands twisting. “Alive, awake, but paralyzed. They love that terrified taste.” He taps his temple. “Because, they connect and devour your thoughts in time with your flesh.”
Solaris shakes her head. “Those aren’t the worst. They aren’t the biggest.” Her silver eyes reflect the torchlight. “The cave queens, they have legs like spears and eyes that hypnotize. If you’ve ever had a nightmare—”
Belazar grips her shoulder with a meaty fist and shakes his head. Solaris snaps her mouth shut and taps her torch to Sylyca’s, making them both burn brighter.
Jacob waves from across the long room and at the edge of the dim light. “An open doorway here.”
Shadows drop down behind him, and ice runs through Solaris’s veins.
She pitches her torch towards the martial artist. “Grab it!”
Jacob dives to catch the spinning stick of fire as more dog-sized spiders leap down to surround him.
“Attack!” Solaris weaves her hands and casts an icy blast that frosts and slows one spider’s bite.
Belazar charges past with his greatsword sweeping and cuts three legs off another blue-gray monster.
The torch flickers in Jacob’s hand as he dances among the leaping spiders. They sting and bite, shredding his trousers, and the shaven warrior drenches his shortsword in their dark ichor. Several collapse or skitter away, but blood streams down his thighs, and his dance shifts to desperate dodges.
Solaris cups her hands. “Burn the webs!”
Jacob stabs his torch in the many eyes of one monster as another hops onto his shoulders and bites through his tunic.
Messoack spears the biter with a purple bolt of mystic power. “Swarms!”
Sylyca stands stiff.
Solaris snatches the elf’s torch and jabs it into webs hanging down from the ceiling. “I know.”
The gray-white strands flare and crackle, spreading like a vertical grass fire. Shadows flowing out of the walls resolve into fist-sized spiders. They burn. Legs curl, and they fall, splatting the floor. A thousand balls of ichor burst among the party like a hail of rotten apples.
Belazar cuts his way to Jacob and lifts him to his feet. The two warriors stand back to back and slash with their metal stingers.
Sylyca wakes from her fright and casts a stream of green light onto Jacob. “I’m sorry.” She sniffles, weaving the light like a seamstress. “So fast.”
He stands straighter and salutes the elven druidess between slashes with his shortsword.
Solaris sends another icy blast, slowing a jumper so Belazar can cleave it. “Fall back!”
The two warriors retreat out of melee, and Solaris spins glowing blue hands. The air above the remaining spiders splits and frothy water dumps out.
“A little tear into Ocean World.” Solaris grins. “Choke on it.”
The spiders hiss and leap to the ceiling, disappearing into their ambush holes. Solaris crosses her arms, and the salty spray cuts off. At her feet, the summoned water flows out of the room. It spills through doorways and seeps through walls, but it doesn’t drain. A toe’s depth remains as a pool that covers the whole floor.
“What now?” Messoack frowns and splashes her with his boot. “Will we run up into the light and claim we had an adventure? What about Her? Our shared vision meant something. We must go further, deeper, darker.” His eyes fade to pits and streaks of violet pulse under his skin. “I must know the beauty at the center of this maze or die trying.”
“Oh yes, my mad magician.” Solaris points at the dripping doorway where Jacob was attacked. “Our directive is clear. We must explore all the Undersea beneath our band-controlled docks. I also need to practice my water summoning, and our martial artist needs to refine his scouting.”
Jacob holds up a finger. “Let me drink a potion, and I’m good to go.” He gulps a tube of sparkling liquid and sighs. “Maybe one more.”
Solaris shakes her head. “You look fine. Save it.”
Sylyca rushes over and hugs Jacob. “It’s my fault,” she says. “I should have summoned vines to bind those horrible things.”
Jacob blushes. “Hey. I’m all right, really.”
She clings. “I’ll do better.”
“We all will.” Solaris pats the druidess’s back. “Sorry, we freaked you out. Bad timing with those spiders.”
The small elf nods and lets go.
Holding together his ragged pants, Jacob pulls out a needle and thread.
Solaris rolls her eyes. “Just strip them off. Quieter in your underwear anyway.”
“I’m a free baller.” He shrugs. “If nobody minds.”
Solaris holds up her hand, halting his reveal. “Sew quick.” She pulls a patch kit from her pouch and hands it to Sylyca. “Help him.”
Wide eyed, the elf maiden splashes over to Jacob. Each pick a leg and finish before Solaris can count to a hundred.
After another hug from Sylyca, Jacob tip-toes to the doorway he found. Smirking at a hole that shows his bare butt, Solaris follows with a fresh torch in one hand and sparkling blue power in the other.
Belazar, warrior—rugged former Verdant crusader
Jacob, martial artist—tumbling scout with mystic fists
Messoack, magician—loyal explorer of madness
Solaris, sea witch—whimsical lover of the grotesque
Sylyca, druidess—elvish caster of dreams and life