Being smothered in ghost silk wasn’t as unpleasant as Betty had imagined it might be. It had a scent reminiscent of baby powder and a softness that a cloud would have envied.
“You can’t be here,” one of the ghosts said.
“The Devourers don’t allow any to see this realm,” another said.
Betty felt herself being pulled from Maralith’s arms and swung from one ghost mummy to the next. She had no idea how many of them there were, below the UnderWeb was a completely lightless realm, but she was nonetheless glad for the speed they were making because lightless did not mean soundless and she could hear all too clearly the whirr and grinding coming from the mountainous Spinner that was chasing them.
“Why did you come here?” a ghost named Heather asked.
“The Spinner was going to eat me if I stayed up where it could catch me,” Betty said.
“Why did you bother one of the Devourers?” another ghost asked.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Betty said.
“It’s never a good idea to bother those things,” Heather said.
“I’m beginning to see that,” Betty said. “Quick question, and not that I’m ungrateful, but why are you rescuing us?”
From observing how Heather was at first behind, then passing her along, then in front of her again, Betty guessed that the ghost mummys, or whatever they were, could travel much faster when they weren’t carrying a physical body. They seemed to be throwing her, and Maralith from sound of it, along the lengths of UnderWeb faster than either a spider-lady or a goblin could have run on their own.
It was an exhilarating feeling, soaring through the air, into what seemed like an endless, starless night. The prospect of returning home felt more remote each second, but Betty grounded herself firmly in the present. The big scary thing was behind her, she was moving fast and everything around her was new and amazing. That had to count for more than the various horrible fates that she could imagine awaited her.
“Because if we don’t the Devourers will turn you into another layer of webbing to hold us here with,” Heather said.
“It’ll do what to us?” Betty tried not to lose her grip on the ghost mummy hands that were passing her onwards.
“The Devourers trap things in the Shadow Web which they don’t want to rise up to their Bright Web,” Heather said, appearing ahead of Betty again. “Things like us.”
“And you’re a ghost, right?” Betty asked.
“Yeah, I guess sort of,” Heather said. “There was an accident, and, well, things went kind of weird from there.”
“If those silks are anything close to your normal forms, it doesn’t look like any of you are from anywhere around here?” Betty asked.
“I don’t think we are,” Heather said. “Any of us. The Shadow Web is built to trap people like us, so we just kind of wash up here and are stuck until we can pull free of all the threads that bind us.”
“I’m not clear on how that happens,” Betty said. “How do you wash up in a giant web in the middle of nowhere?”
“Before I was caught here I was kind of…wispy,” Heather said. “Kind of like a cloud, and, well, I got caught in this magic wind I guess. One moment I was floating above my body and the next it was like I was a kite in a hurricane. Eventually that wind blew me here as it passed up towards the Bright Web above us. It blew through the strands of the Shadow Web and I was too solid, even as a ghost-cloud-thing, to pass through with it so I got stuck.”
“And the Spinners wanted that?” Betty asked.
“It seems like they do,” Heather said. “We know they made this web, because whenever they find someone down here, they gobble them up and then spray out a whole new set of webbing.”
“Ugh, that’s horrible,” Betty said.
“That would be why we’re running away,” Heather said.
“Is there someplace we can leave this world? Portals to somewhere else. Anywhere else?” Betty asked.
“Not that we can reach,” Heather said. “We can only move along the Shadow Web.”
“But the magic wind that brought you here had to come from somewhere right?” Betty asked.
“There are lots of magic winds,” Heather said. “They blow in from holes along the wall.”
“What’s at the bottom then?” Betty asked.
“We don’t know,” Heather said. “We can’t get down there to check.”
“You know I should have figured that one out,” Betty said. “So what’s the plan? We just keep moving until the Spinner gets bored and leaves?”
“No,” Heather said. “We’re taking you to a Thinning.”
“And that helps us how?” Betty asked.
“The Devourers don’t go near the Thinnings,” Heather said. “Something about them seems to drive the big things nuts.”
“The UnderWeb is more than a collection mechanism,” Maralith said, swinging close to Betty. “I can feel it, there is a signal here, but it is very weak, as through the threads we can see are muting it.”
“What kind of signal?” Betty asked. “Is it saying something?”
“It is faint, but I think…I think it’s calling my name?” Maralith said.
“The Shadow Web knows your name?” Betty asked. “Have you ever been down here before?”
“Yes, but only briefly,” Maralith said.
“Do any of the other ghosts know Maralith?” Betty asked. “Could it be one of them?”
“You are new to all of us,” Heather said. “Or at least all of us who heard the call and came to help.”
“Have any of your people reported hearing their names while they were down here?” Betty asked.
“No, but I’m covered in more of the UnderWeb that any of them have been,” Maralith said. “Or at least more than any who ever made it back.”
“We need to figure out what the connection is then,” Betty said.
“I think we’re out of time,” Heather said.
From above them, Betty felt a mighty shock ripple through the UnderWeb as the Spinner crashed through it and sent them all plummeting downwards in a rain of threads and stabbing talons from the giant monster.