Betty knew that the safest paths through a strange realm were the ones which avoided the inhabitants of the realm to the greatest degree possible. Running pell mell towards the center of the great Mechanical Web was therefore neither the safest, nor wisest, of courses she could have chosen.
The center of the web had to be her destination though – mostly because it was the only place she could think of where she might be able to find a portal out of Web and to whichever other worlds it was linked.
That wasn’t a completely crazy idea. Betty had run around the boundaries of the Demon Web that lay below the great chasm that the Goblin Deeps were built on enough times to be familiar with the basic design of web-themed mystical realms. True, she’d never tried to reach the center of the Demon Web back at home, but she’d dug into the Goblin lore books and read plenty of stories of those who had.
Usually it ended badly for adventurers foolish enough to try something as bold as that, but from Betty’s point of view things had already gone pretty badly, and with Rosie isolated in a strange, dark place, it was time to risk being bold.
Her conviction that she needed to reach the center lasted a half mile down the threads until she encountered another junction area. Once again there were spider-mechs in abundance, and once again they were on the warpath. This time though, it wasn’t her which they seemed to be perturbed by.
In the center of the junction there was a glass tube, similar to the one from the last junction she’d been in. This one was off it’s base though and on the base a swirling vortex of green and yellow smoke was trying to coalesce into a form that would have looked at home on the bottom of the ocean.
Tendrils, or perhaps tentacles, of the multi-colored smoke lashed around the room as the spider-mechs fought to keep the creature contained. The spider-mechs looked better prepared for this battle than they had been for the last one, but even it looked like a difficult struggle.
Betty watched as they held the smoke creature in place with continuous arcs of electricity from all sides around it. Those seemed to limit the creature from moving off the collection plate it stood on, but it was still able to make rapid strikes with its tentacles and smash the spiders with a force that seemed wholly out of place for smoke to be delivering.
“What is going on here?” Betty whispered to herself. It was a bad habit, but it had been a bad day so far and if she was being honest with herself she would admit that she was feeling more desperate and panicked than brave and resourceful, so her judgment was a little skewed.
“They are working to contain a corrosive agent.”
Betty leaped and spun around, her heart suddenly in her throat and her blood replaced with adrenaline. Behind her a mech in a different configuration stood, observing her.
This mech’s body wasn’t built on a pure spider-form design but instead incorporated a human aspect as well. From the waist up, she resembled an old human woman, except with skin of literal bronze and silver. Her hair was unusual too; thin luminescent threads which glowed with a pale blue light and seemed to be independently prehensile.
“Are you allied with the corrosive agents?” the spider-lady asked.
Betty fought to find the right words to reply with. Failing that she struggled to find any words at all.
It wasn’t much but for a moment it was the best she could squeak out.
“Please repeat your assertion,” the spider lady said.
“No, I’m not with any corrosive agents. I’m just lost.” Betty said as the spider-lady directed a flickering beam of polychromatic light over her.
“You believe your words to be true,” the spider-lady said. “This is good.”
“Do you know how to get out of here?” Betty asked.
“The Web collects,” the spider-lady said. “It does not release, except as the Spinners desire.”
“Who are the Spinners?” Betty asked.
“The architects of the Web,” the spider-lady said.
“So I guess I need to talk to them then?” Betty asked.
“They do not speak with those collected by the Web,” the spider-lady said. “The Web collects their food. All that is here is theirs to consume.”
“Everything?” Betty asked. “So they eat people too?”
“They do not distinguish the contents of the Web,” the spider-lady said. “There is food, there is corrosion and there are maintainers.”
“So, you’re one of the maintainers then?” Betty asked.
“Yes,” the spider-lady said. “We repair the Web, keep the corrosion controlled and see that the collection of food is not compromised.”
“So how do I get upgraded from ‘food’ to something less likely to be eaten?” Betty asked.
“You have a corrosive aspect, but you are not harming the web,” the spider-lady said.
“So does that make me not-food then?” Betty asked.
“It makes you ‘other’,” the spider-lady said.
“Is that good or bad?” Betty asked.
“It can be either,” the spider-lady said. “You seem to be willing to communicate though, and are not taking aggressive actions, so perhaps you are an ‘other’ that can be incorporated into the web?”
Betty raised an eyebrow at that.
“What would ‘being incorporated into the Web’ entail?” she asked. “I can’t stay here I’m afraid. I’ve got someone who needs me to be elsewhere.”
“Being elsewhere would be an acceptable solution as well,” the spider-lady said.
“So how can I get elsewhere then?” Betty asked.
“Only the Spinners can leave the web,” the spider-lady said. “But they may consume you instead of freeing you.”
Betty thought of Rosie waiting, afraid and alone in some freak-ish nightmare realm, unable to defend herself and desperately in need of rescue.
“Eh, I’ve taken worse risks for dumber reasons,” Betty said. “Let’s go see the Spinners.”