Running away from spiders wasn’t how Betty preferred to spend her afternoons, but at least there was a sort of nostalgic thrill to it.
Growing up in the Goblin Deeps meant dealing with a lot of dangers that her human classmates never had to worry about, including evading the creepy crawlies from the bottom of the Deeps. In fairness, there were times when the creepy crawlies had ventured up from the Demon Web to the goblin’s city and then there were the times when Betty had ventured down into the depths and poked the demon spiders for fun.
As she raced down the inside of the mechanical webbing strand, Betty reflected that her earlier misadventures should have taught her to avoid poking any sort of arachnids; mechanical or otherwise. Despite that ingrained knowledge though, she had to admit that this wasn’t her first, second, or even tenth time being chased by a horde of monsters which in turn led her to question both her sanity and many of the life choices she’d made. Those questions ultimately came back to the same conclusion though.
Playing with monsters was a pastime she pursued because playing with the other goblin’s her age was a decidedly worse option.
Betty was small, even for a goblin, and her heart was weak. Oh, she could run for ages when she needed too, and exert herself far longer than most people guessed, but still her heart was what she got teased about the most. There was a spike of kindness that ran through it which was all too easy for others to twist against her.
It had been easier to explore secret corners by herself, even if it got her into trouble, than it was to bear the cruelty of the children she knew. Over time she’d become detached and disinterested in those around her and had thought herself happy with the life she led.
And then she’d poked the wrong monster, a witch, and like many encounters with witches, she’d come away from the experience changed into something new.
At first, helping Penny had seemed like a fun lark. A chance to get out of class and figure out more about how witches worked. Adventure had followed, and new friends, and at some point Betty discovered that she was happier being with people than being alone anymore. Of course, it helped that it was these specific people.
Rosie, for example, was endlessly fascinating. Betty never felt like she was opening herself up to ridicule when she shared her ideas with Rosie. In place of mockery, there was respect and a communion which Betty found as puzzling as it was comforting.
Thoughts of Rosie spurred the young goblin on as she bounced down the small techno-tunnel. Goblins were hard to catch, and Betty had practice at avoiding hordes of pursues, if Rosie had been blasted into the Mechanical Web too though, she would probably need a hand or two.
The clatter of the approaching mech-spiders grew closer as Betty reached a junction in the webs. Without wasting a second, she swung herself into a side passage and continued sprinting onwards. She’s seen a larger nexus at the next point where the web lines crossed and that seemed like the perfect spot to either find more trouble, or a spot to escape.
As it turned out, both were waiting for her.
The Web Nexus was the cross point for two of the thicker mechanical strands. Unlike the tunnels Betty had been racing through where the machinery was all embedded and flush with the walls, within the nexus, various whirling contraptions and electrified protuberances jutted in every direction. Blasts of energy arced out of rounded copper pipes, painting the room in a dazzling array of rainbows.
Betty checked her rapid pace and swung around a freestanding ladder that was shaped like a question mark. She wasn’t thrilled with letting the pursuing mech-spiders catch up with her, but the nexus was awash in more than just moving parts and flashes of energy.
In the center there was a wide glass tube with a crack running down the nearest side. From within the tube a host of small, rodent-shaped creatures of living soot poured forth and were in the process of covering the floor and walls.
Betty flung herself from the ladder grappling onto a spinning hook for a second before releasing her grip and letting the device fling her to another exit from the room.
Behind her, she heart the mech-spiders reach the nexus and turned to glance at their reaction to the Nightmare Mice that were scurrying out from the container in the center of the room.
Brass and steel tipped legs met sooty teeth and claws in a furious wave, the two small armies crashing into one another and struggling for dominance of the room.
It was a battle unlike any that Betty had witnessed before, with the mech-spiders being able to attain only a temporary hold on the Nightmare Mice and the mice able to merge with the spiders and turn them on their brethren but not without being dissipated themselves if they remained within the spiders for too long.
Inside the the glass tube, more lightning flared as the room’s other defenses came to life and began blasting the Nightmare Mice and the mech-spiders both.
Betty took that as her queue to leave and was halfway down the next strange when she felt the Spelling Rose in her hand begin to vibrate. She clambered to a stop and checked that she wasn’t being followed. There was no sign of the spiders, but a crackling told her that the more of the mechanical defenses of the web itself were being brought online. From the sound of it though she had a minute or so before the activation spread out as far as she’d run, so she tapped the Rose to let it release its message.
Click, stop, whirr, click, stop. In a delicate dance, the petals turned pausing a glowing at each position to indicate one letter after another.
A.R.E. .Y.O.U. .T.H.E.R.E.?.
Checking that she still had a few seconds to spare, Betty spoke her response into the rose she carried.
“Yes. Are you ok?” she asked, knowing that the other Spelling Rose had to be in Rosie’s hands. They were the only two the roses were calibrated for yet.
A moment later the rose began to whir in answer.
I.’.M. .O.K. .B.U.T. .I.T.’.S. .D.A.R.K. .H.E.R.E. .A.N.D. .S.O.M.E.T.H.I.N.G. .I.S. .M.A.K.I.N.G. .S.T.R.A.N.G.E. .N.O.I.S.E.S.
That, in Betty’s experience, wasn’t good.