Betty wasn’t an old goblin, and she wasn’t sure she was going to live to be an old goblin. Old goblins were sensible. Old goblins were cautious. Old goblins didn’t make a habit of coming face to face large, deadly creatures who wanted to eat them.
“The Spinner is evaluating you,” Marilith said. Betty noticed that the mechanical spider-lady was staying a few paces back. She wasn’t using Betty as a shield precisely but she was in a much better position to flee if the need arose than Betty was.
“Should I introduce myself?” Betty asked in a whisper, without turning her head.
“The Spinner’s do not speak, or hear, as we do,” Marilith said.
Betty had no problem believing her words. The Spinner wasn’t like anything else Betty had ever seen. It’s overall shape carried the suggestion of an arachnid form, but even a cursory glance proved that it was something else entirely.
Each of the Spinner’s legs was segmented as a real spider’s would have been, but each one also had a variety of tools that bristled in and out of the main structure of the leg, moving on small and dexterous extension arms that snapped in and out of compartments they seemed too big to squeeze into.
Not that the giant spider was lacking in size. The main body of the Spinner was a vast bulk that extended into the darkness of the shadow realm to which Betty and Marilith had traveled. Gazing around in wonder, Betty felt like she was observing a mechanically augmented building rather than an individual creature. This notion was supported by the pistons and turbines and extrusion pumps that were visible in brief spurts when the interlocking plates that made up the Spinner’s torso parted as it moved, revealing the complex mechanisms contained within the beast.
“How will I know if I pass the evaluation?” Betty asked.
“He won’t try to eat you,” Marilith said, as though being eaten by a spider demi-god was an expected and reasonable outcome under the circumstances.
For as horrifying as the notion was, Betty had to wonder how a creature the size of a gymnasium could find sustenance in someone as small as herself. It would be like eating a single M&M. She cut that thought off when she considered just how hungry a creature the size of a building could get if all it was offered was single M&Ms.
“Umm, and what do I do if I fail the evaluation?” Betty asked.
“You are very good at running are you not?” Marilith asked.
Betty look around trying not to think of how fast the Spinner was likely to be able to move. It was huge, which should have meant that it would be slow and ponderous. In Betty’s experience though, huge things always seemed to move faster than was either practical or fully believable given their weight and girth.
She cast a glance around herself as the Spinner’s great mandibles clicked and clacked at her. Heading back the direction they’d come in was an option, the Spinner was far too big to fit inside one of the hollow threads that made up the Mechanical Web. If Marilith was correct though and the Spinners were the ones who made the Mechanical Web, Betty couldn’t imagine that this one would be incapable of reaching inside the threads somehow.
Other strands ran up to the rocky outcropping they’d come to, but they didn’t offer any more shelter than the strand Betty and Marilith had arrived through.
The only remaining option that Betty could see though was to race into the darkness behind the Spinner and look for some egress on the other side of the shadow realm it inhabited.
As options went that was a miserable one. Running into a shadow realm was dangerous under the best of circumstances. Entering one that you knew to be the home of a giant spider monster was all but unsurvivable. In the shadows, the Spinner would be able to shift the structure of the realm as it saw fit. Betty could run for hours and wind up no more than three feet away from the Spinner.
As if sensing her plight, the Spinner’s mandibles began to scrape together and the Spinner began to lift itself up.
“Is it supposed to be doing that?” Betty asked.
“No,” Marilith said. “That’s not a good sign.”
“Is it too early to start running?” Betty asked, still bereft of ideas as to where she’d run.
“You’ve attracted its interest,” Marilith said. “If you run now it will likely not be very happy, and it will give chase.”
“That’s what I figured,” Betty said. “How do I talk with it? How can I explain what I’m here for?”
“You can’t,” Marilith said. “It’s not that kind of creature.”
“What do you mean ‘not that kind of creature’?” Betty asked.
“It does not have thoughts like that,” Marilith said. “The Spinners do not speak to us.”
“How can it get me home then?” Betty asked.
“If it chooses to, a Spinner can open rifts between the dimensions.” Marilith said. She was easing back towards the edge of the shadow realm. “If the Spinner finds you to be non-native and non-corruptive, it should cast you out of the realm, most likely back to your home so that order will be restored.”
“How exactly will it do that?” Betty asked, wondering if she was going to have to take a trip down the spider’s gullet no matter how things turned out.
“I haven’t see one form a rift before, so I cannot be sure,” Marilith said.
Having risen to its full height, the Spinner stepped over them in a single stride and from the bottom of its belly hundreds of strands of pearlescent light began to descend.
“That’s not how it makes a portal,” Marilith said. “That’s how it eats! You need to run!”
Betty didn’t need to be told twice, and curling herself into a ball, she swiftly rolled out of the path of the tendrils of light. Behind her, where the tendrils hit the floor of the shadow realm, a hissing noise arose. The dense stone was bubble away into vapor under the tendril’s touch.
“Come on,” Marilith said. “We have to get away from the Spinner before it alerts any of the others.”
And with that Marilith took Betty’s hand and dragged her to the edge of the shadow realm before pitching her into the darkness below the Mechanical Web.