Betty wasn’t sure what the afterlife was supposed to feel like, but somehow ‘dusty’ seemed out of place.
The last thing she remembered was Maralith hurling her over the edge of a pit. The memory of falling to her demise was muted though, lost in a fuzzy haze.
“Did I blackout?” she asked.
“System resets are common when transitioning to the Under Web,” Maralith said. The mechanical spider-woman rose to stand on her six legs but looked as unsteady as Betty felt.
“The what now?” Betty asked, taking in their new environment. Here and there, little blue and green fox lights floated, dancing slowly on the small currents of air that whispered around them. In the light of the mystical orbs, Betty saw that she was laying on the thickly over woven bed of webs. Very large webs, placed one atop the next so that the spaces between the strands were filled in forming a thick, spongy carpet.
“The Under Web,” Maralith said. “It’s the realm which lies below my home. It’s safe down here insofar as the Spinners don’t usually leave the Mechanical Web.”
“There’s so much dust here it feels like we’re in a crypt,” Betty said.
“We might be,” Maralith said. “Our ghost stories say that those the Spinners cast out are sent down here to starve.”
“From the dust on these webs it doesn’t look like anyone but us has been down here in ages,” Betty said. It was difficult to get her bearings since the fox lights only provided tiny pools of illumination and, despite leaping off a ledge, there were no walls or other landmarks to mark their location.
“That is where the ghost stories of this place come from,” Maralith said. “My people travel down here with some regularity, and yep the dust remains, and no paths made it in persist for long.”
“So there’s something else down here?” Betty asked.
“Nothing that we’ve been able to find,” Maralith said. “We’ve sent search parties, hunters and aethermancers, but none of the ones who’ve returned have reported seeing anything.”
“Not even signs of the ones who didn’t return?” Betty asked. Exploration was a dangerous business. Betty’s people, the denizens of the Goblin Deeps, sent investigators to the realm that lay below them fairly often. Those expeditions fell into two broad categories; those who returned with incredible stories and those who simply didn’t return.
“Later expeditions have found no sign of the missing at all,” Maralith said. “Those who disappear here are lost for good.”
“You do know how to get out though, right?” Betty asked.
“Yes, we have several hoist baskets setup near each of the Spinner’s lairs,” Maralith said. “We place them far enough away that we can ascend without risk of the Spinner noticing, but not so distant that we have to stay here for an excessive amount of time.”
“It sounds like you have to run from the Spinners fairly often?” Betty said.
“The Spinners are our makers but they can be a peril as well,” Maralith said.
“So why do what they say?” Betty asked.
“That’s not our relationship to the Spinners,” Maralith said, “We treat them as earthquakes that move. They are disasters but manageable ones, and to the extent that we can direct their actions, they can be useful as well. Without them, the Mechanical Web would have radical problems with corruption and energy flows. We would need to invent our own Spinners if the existing ones were to vanish.”
In the distance, Betty head a long, low moaning that ebbed louder and stopped without warning.
“I don’t think I want to meet whatever that was,” Betty said.
“We would be the first to find something down here if we did,” Maralith said.
“Probably not,” Betty said. “It sounds like lots of people have found things down here, they just don’t tend to survive the experience.”
“We have an advantage there,” Maralith said. “We’re close to the nearest hoist.”
Betty looked around and was able to spot absolutely nothing except the floating balls of fox light bobbing around them.
“How do you know?” she asked.
“It’s right over there,” Maralith gestured ahead of them. “Oh, perhaps your eyes don’t see in the same spectrum as mine.”
“Maybe not,” Betty said. “I can see pretty well in the dark, but I’m not the best with colors.”
“That is comforting,” Maralith said. “There may be no evidence of ghosts lurking down here, but we designed the hoists to be unobtrusive anyways. We didn’t want whatever predators might prowl in the dark to come up and visit us.”
“What if they can see as well as you though?” Betty asked.
“We maintained guards around the hoists for a long time,” Maralith said. “That practice has been cut back after years of nothing emerging from the Under Web though.”
“Hopefully we won’t be the ones that break that tradition then,” Betty said.
As they walked forward, a large, black mesh basket appeared out of the gloom a little ahead of them.
“I can see it!” Betty said and picked up her pace to reach the promise of safety before whatever had moaned could reach them.
“I do too,” Maralith said. “But we have a problem.”
“What?” Betty asked. “It’s not too small, it looks big enough to fit two.”
“It is,” Maralith said. “But the hoist cord has been severed. We can’t ascend with this unit.”
Betty didn’t like the look of worry that clouded Maralith’s face. For a brief moment, Betty had to wonder if the hoist had fallen apart because of her. It was ridiculous, but she knew she wouldn’t be the first goblin to be blamed for a ridiculous equipment failure they had nothing to do with.
“There are other hoists though aren’t there?” Betty asked.
“Yes. But the the hoist cords are supposed to be extremely resilient,” Maralith said. “This one didn’t fall down by itself. It was cut.”
“Who would cut something like this though?” Betty asked. “I thought your people relied on them.”
“We do,” Maralith said, gazing upwards. Above them, there was only a thick curtain of black.
Betty heard the long, low moan repeat again, but this time much closer. What had been a mile or more away had moved to be just a few hundred feet off in the gloom.
“Who else would want to cut the hoist cord?” Betty asked.
“It might be him,”Maralith said, still looking up.
Betty gave up trying to guess what the noise was and turned to face the sunless, starless sky above them. From out of the cloud of dust, she saw the monstrous body of the Spinner descending rapidly after them.