The Longest Battle – Ch 44 – Something New

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Wooli was one of the bad spiders. Her fangs were long enough to pierce human flesh. Her venom was potent enough to kill them. That wasn’t what made her dangerous though. It was the spell a foolish wizard had cast that made her and thousands of others like her a threat that brought the adventurers out bearing fire. The spell hadn’t made them faster, or bigger, or stronger. It had made them smarter. Specifically as smart as the wizard who cast the spell, and while he was a fool that was more a matter of inclination than aptitude.

Wooli and the other “deadly spiders” of the wizard’s lair had appreciated that distinction from the moment the first adventurers burst into the forgotten crypts where the wizard had setup his lab. His other creations fought back and some won and some lost. In all, it hadn’t gone well for anyone involved in those encounters which was why Wooli had no interest whatsoever in fighting.

To her mind, she had fangs for a specific set of reasons. There were insects that were smaller than her which she needed to eat. Fangs were critical for that. Occasionally there were threats around her size that she needed to defend herself from. Fangs were useful for that when escape wasn’t an option. Giant monsters, like humans and elves, out massed her by several thousand times though and wielded powers the like of which she couldn’t hope to fight back against. Even a simple torch in their hands was a bonfire many times the size of her very fragile body. So Wooli, not being a fool, stayed far away from them.

Her intelligence, in that sense, was as much as a curse as a blessing. She was smart enough to know the danger posed by the gargantuan races, but also smart enough to know that the spell the wizard cast rendered her detectable by the marauders.

Her kindred spiderfolk met before the last push by the adventurers and Wooli grudgingly joined them.

“Our only hope is to weave a trap. We must descend on them when they least expect us. If we all attack at once we can be victorious!” Agorth said. He was large even for one of their augmented kind and so spoke for many of the smaller spiders.

“They’ll burn us!” Synith said. He was much smaller than Agorth but his speed was legendary and he spoke for the more clever spiders. “We should flee.”

“If we flee they will burn us individually. If we attack together we can take them down and at least some of us will survive,” Agorth said.

“The rats thought the same,” Synith said. “I listened to their plans. They believed in the power of the swarm and look where they are now!”

The attack of the rat swarm was the first battle to fell an adventurer. They’d done well, killing three of the intruders in a deftly planned ambush. The swarm lost a huge portion of their numbers in the process but when the adventurers fell back and fled the crypts, the remaining rats rejoiced.

The rat party lasted till the next morning and would have gone on longer had the adventurers not returned and slain them all. Wooli had heard the wizard describe it as “a minor inconvenience” and, while it was true that he had many more defenders in place, the battle in the rat warrens had been the end of an entire species of sapients. Sapients who the wizard held in higher regard than he did the Wooli’s people.

The spider gathering broke up in a fog of dissent and confusion. Some of the spiders vowed to stand by Agorth and fight and burn together. There was a fervor in their many eyes fueled by fear and a desire to transcend that fear and become something greater. They would not let themselves be slaughtered without a fight.

Other spiders followed Synith. They were not so brave, but nor were they foolish. They were survivors. They would strike out, escape, turn their gift of intelligence into a weapon to release them from the tomb of the wizard’s lair. They would hunt the adventurers, learn their secrets and ensure that the threat was ended once and for all.

Wooli went with neither camp. She and many others saw no good end down those paths. Violence and vengeance could live in Wooli’s heart but she didn’t want them there. Instead she began to walk the hallways of the lair, searching for another path. One that didn’t end in flames or death for anyone.

That’s how she found Runner.

Runner was small for an adventurer. Just a halfling, and a lone one at that. The other adventurer’s that Wooli had seen from her hiding spots had come in numbers, always careful to watch each others blind sides since they had so few eyes among them.

Runner however crept through the dungeon on her own. Silent as Wooli herself could be and as aware as a tense strand of webbing. Soloing a dungeon was desperate, dangerous work, but the halfling’s movements didn’t strike Wooli as the furtive twitchings of prey trying to spot a predator. The adventurer seemed almost relaxed. Runner was moving carefully, inspecting and checking her path as she went, but she projected a quiet, calm sort of focus as she did.

Wooli didn’t have experience with adventurers and couldn’t guess how their minds worked, but somehow Runner’s progress through the dungeon reminded Wooli of how she felt when she was spinning a particularly fine web. It was relaxing as only work that you know how to do very well can be.

For a time Wooli was content to watch Runner’s progress. The wizard’s lair held plenty of traps to deal with the unwary but Runner disarmed or avoided each of them with ease. It wasn’t until they arrived at the door to the Wizard’s vault that Runner paused for an extended period to  take stock of what was before her.

The protections on the vault were obvious, deadly, and, against even a moderately talented rogue, meant mostly for show. Their only real purpose was to disguise the deeper layers of traps that safeguarded the wizard’s treasures. Though she didn’t have the skills of a rogue, Wooli knew many of the traps that were poised to strike. She had watched the wizard place his spoken sigils on the door, each incantation writhing over the spells below it like a nest of deadly serpents. She didn’t know what the magics did, but she did know the vault’s greatest secret.

“It’s empty,” she said.

Wooli hadn’t expected her voice to carry. She wasn’t used to speaking all that much and the words just slipped out as she thought of them.

“What?” Runner said, spinning in Wooli’s direction. Knives that glistened with a green film appeared in the halfling’s hands as the adventurer searched the darkness above her for the person who’d spoken.

“The vault’s empty,” Wooli said, her whole body shivering with fear.

Runner’s looked around again and finally looked up to stare into Wooli’s many eyes.

“Seriously?” Runner asked.

Wooli wasn’t a fool. She knew that she should flee, she knew that she was seconds away from being squished if the adventurer decided that spiders were scary looking. Running wasn’t going to help though. Instead she stepped forward into the light where Runner could see her better.

“The wizard was cackling when he put his spells on it,” Wooli said. “But I saw the room inside before he shut the door. He’d put all of his treasure into a tiny sack and put that under his robe. He left the room empty and sealed to buy time to escape I think.”

It wasn’t a spider-ish sort of strategy. Webs were too valuable to leave behind but things had been going badly for the wizard and desperate time prompted strange actions.

“Aren’t you one of his guards?” Runner asked.

“No,” Wooli said. “He gave us thoughts but the collars he made for us didn’t work, he couldn’t get them small enough.”

“Why are you still here then?” Runner asked.

“Where else would we go?” Wooli said. “This is our home.”

“There’s lot of other places than this. A whole world full of them,” Runner said.

“The world seems to contain a lot of very big people who like to squish people like me,” Wooli said.

Runner laughed.

“You are not wrong about that at all,” she said. “Tell you what though, if you help me with this door, I’ll make sure no one squishes you.”

“How can I do that?” Wooli asked.

“Tell me what you saw the wizard doing,” Runner said. “Any details will help.”

“You’re still going to open the door?” Wooli said. “But it’s dangerous!”

“Even if it’s empty there’s still a treasure in there,” Runner said.

“I don’t understand, but ok,” Wooli said and started to lower herself on one of her strong threads.

Runner watched her descend and the look on the halfling’s face changed the closer to the floor that Wooli got. Halfling expressions don’t map well to spider body language but Wooli was able to pick out a note of wonder in Runner’s voice when she spoke next.

“If…if I didn’t know better I would say that you’re spinning a web of diamonds,” Runner said.

“Not a web,” Wooli said. “This is just a swing line.”

“A diamond swing line?”

“I guess so,” Wooli said. “The wizard enchanted us in a number of ways.”

“Can you spin whole webs like that?” Runner asked.

“Yes, but they would be worthless,” Wooli said. “Too bright to trap any flies and not sticky at all.”

“Worthless, right,” Runner said, sounding a little dazed.

“I can show you the places the wizard touched the door when he cast the spells,” Wooli offered.

“Oh, the door. Treasure. Yeah, let’s do that,” Runner agreed, shaking her head.

The two of them worked on the vault door for the better part of an hour before it opened to reveal the same empty room which Wooli had seen when the wizard last locked it up.

“Success!” Runner said.

“But there’s nothing here?” Wooli said.

“Yep, exactly as you said, and just as I’d hoped,” Runner said.

“Why would you hope that?” Wooli asked.

“Because it means you were telling the truth, and knowing that is a treasure worth having,” Runner said. “But not quite the treasure that you are.”

“What do you mean?” Wooli asked.

“Your ‘worthless webbing’? It’s phenomenally valuable. I know people who will pay a hundred times its weight in gold to have that.” Runner said.

“Why?” Wooli asked.

“Because it’s beautiful.”

“It’s strong too,” Wooli said.

“Even better!” Runner said. “Listen, if you’re willing to come with me, I can give you a home where adventurers will never come stomping in and wreck your things. My cousin Elva will absolutely love working with you, she’s a dressmaker.”

“What would I do?” Wooli asked.

“Make dresses with her!” Runner said. “With your special threads the two of you will be able to make one of kind ornaments for the ball gowns she makes.”

“Would she have room for others like me?” Wooli asked.

“You don’t exactly take up a lot of space,” Runner said. “How many other magic diamond spiders could you rustle up?”

***

Jin and Way walked into the dress shop that Professor Haffrun had recommended for them to find a diminutive little spider waiting beside the bell. In the back of the shop, three dozen other little spiders wove reams of scintillating fabrics in a dazzling array of colors.

“Can I help you?” Wooli asked.

“Yes, we’d like to order a pair of the diamond wedding dresses,” Jin said.

“We understand there might be a bit of a wait though,” Way said.

“Aye, it’s the burden of popularity,” Runner said as she hoisted the day’s bag of gold pieces from behind the counter to take to the bank.

For a bad spider, Wooli decided, things had turned out pretty well.

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