The Children of Stron – part 46

Table of Contents (spoilers)

read part 1

read part 45

The old Dwarven trailhead marker was a granite obelisk about twice the height of a man. Its once smooth faces were now weathered and rough, but the Dwarven runes carved into them were still legible. The obelisk stood at the edge of the forest, where the bigger trees gave way to saplings and bushes. Only its top half was visible above the thicket surrounding it.

The morning was sunny and warm. The fresh, spring leaves of the bushes and trees offered a lively palette of greens. In the lush grasses at the forest’s edge, clumps of bright yellow rapeseed flowers popped up cheerfully here and there above low clusters of purple and violet wildflowers. The hum and whine of insects filled the air.

It was a lovely scene, but no one there took any pleasure from it. The squad stood with Unger and stared into the woods behind the obelisk. They were combat ready, with no packs or extra gear besides a coil of rope and a medical kit that Choke had in his pack. This was intended to be just an initial scout, so they had decided not to bring along all the gear that exploring the tower and its subterranean chambers would require.

“So a few hundred meters up into that, ye say?” Pinch asked, indicating the thick bush behind the obelisk.

“Aye. But I don’t reckon that would be the way to approach it. Nothing’s come through here in decades. The bush in there is gonna be completely choked. Ye’ll be all messed up crashing around in there, and whatever’s set up shop at the Mill will hear ye coming a long way off. I’ll take ye around up the hill to where ye can use the game trails that head in from up top.”

Unger led them down the well-grazed trail from the farmstead along the edge of the woods. After a couple of hundred meters, it cut into the forest and headed up the slope. Just inside the treeline, Unger’s son, Jagg, and two of the younger children were minding the herd of goats and some pigs. They had the pack of hunting dogs with them. The kids all waved cheerfully as the dogs bayed at the squad as they passed.

Heading on into the woods on the rough trail, they remained silent until Peep finally said:

“So if there’s game trails heading into the Old Mill, but nothing ever comes out the other side…”

“Yeah, I was just thinking about that,” Pinch said. “Whatever is in there is set up on those trails.”

“And real good at working them,” Peep added.

Unger smiled proudly like one of his children had just figured out a sticky problem by themselves.

“Aye, that’s right,” he said.

“So why the hells are we going in that way?” Knuckle growled.

“Those trails are open. Like I told ye: if ye head in the other way, it’s gonna know yar coming for sure.”

“Yeah, and walking into its ambush is better? Hold up! Let’s think about this,” Pinch said.

Unger obliged by halting so that they could all cluster around him on the trail.

“Listen, I understand yar caution,” Unger said. “But if it was me going in there—”

“Which it aint,” Knuckle interrupted.

“Yes. Which it aint. But if it was me, I’d wanna go in on the open trail. Yeah, yar walking into an ambush trail, sure. But ye know that ahead of time, so that evens it out a bit. And remember: whatever’s in there aint been hunting humans. It’s set up in there taking animals off a game trail. If it wanted humans, it would have come outta there and hunted us a long time ago. So that means that whatever ambush it’s got set up, there oughta be signs. Right?”

“That makes sense,” Pinch conceded.

“So go in slow. Pay a mind to every footstep. And be ready. There should be signs of it. That’ll be enough to give ye at least enough heads-up to beat a retreat if ye have to. Otherwise, yar heading in through the tight bush. It’ll hear ye coming and ye won’t be able to fight worth a shit if ye run into something. But that’s just my opinion. Suit yarselves.”

“Don’t suppose ye could lend us a goat to send on in ahead of us,” Knuckle said.

Unger simply stared at him in response.

“No? Well, ye can’t blame me for trying. So, what’re we doing?” Knuckle asked the group.

“I think we go in the trail like the man says. See what we can stir up,” Pinch said.

Peep and Choke both nodded.

“Yeah, okay. Fuck it, what’s the worst that could happen?” Knuckle grinned.

Unger led them on to the point where his detour trail connected back up with the old one between Callic and Didsbury. Heading on uphill, the main trail was a good one with squared-off stones and rocks set into it to offer steps and prevent erosion. Looking down, the main trail went into the thicket they had just circumvented.

“So the trail will head down straight to the tower. Then there’s also a game trail that comes down that little rise there and connects to it,” Unger said, pointing out the area with his warbow. “That stand of evergreens down there: the Old Mill’s right behind that.”

“How d’ye know?” whispered Pinch.

“Went down there just the once to look at it when I was young and stupid. Got in there and lost my nerve. It eerie. So quiet. Not a bird, nor a squirrel. Nothing moving. I couldn’t take it and I bugged out.”

“Stron preserve us,” Pinch murmured.

“Stron helps those that help themselves. We shall prevail,” Choke said.

“Fuckin A,” Peep said, holding her fist out for him to bump. Then she did likewise for Knuckle, Unger, and, finally, Pinch.

“Listen,” Unger said. “Like I told ye: I can’t justify going in there with ye, what with my family and everyone depending on me. But, what I am gonna do is head up that way to my hunting blind and set up watch,” Unger pointed again to the little rise he had indicated before. “That’s got a good view of the game trail to almost the intersection with the biggun. If something gets after ye, run up the game trail and I’ve got ye covered. That’s the best I can do for ye.”

“Well, we thank you for that, sir,” Choke said. “You may as well head there now. How long do you need to get in position?”

“Just five minutes should do. It’s just right up there. Good luck to ye. Stron guide yar hands,” Unger said.

“Indeed. Let us pray,” Choke said. They all took a knee before he went on: “Lord Stron, look upon us this day as we cleanse the evil from this place in your name. Guide our weapons so that our aim is true, and protect us if we merit it. Amen.”

“Amen,” everyone else intoned.

Unger left them and walked up the Didsbury trail about fifty meters before ducking off into the bush to head towards his hunting blind. He was briefly visible through the trees just once more. And then the squad was alone in forest.

“Well, shit,” Pinch muttered, staring down the trail into where it disappeared into the thick bush.

Even Peep seemed restrained now, if not frightened.

“Okay, remember this is just a reconnaissance,” Choke said. “We head in until we see what there is and then we fall back to figure out what we want to do next. Right?”

He readjusted his shield he had slung over his shoulder and loaded his crossbow. Munn had been well pleased with his and Knuckle’s improvement on the longbows he had sold them the day before, but had conceded that they were still so green with them that they would be better off using their crossbows for the time being. Knuckle loaded his crossbow as well.

“It’s going to have to be single file going in,” Choke said. “So, Knuckle: you should take up the rear. I’ll go second last. Pinch and Peep should go in front.”

“Yeah, but who’s working point?” Knuckle asked.

“Well, yar the shortest Peep,” Pinch said.

“Yeah, fuck you.”

“I just mean that we’ll all be able to shoot overtop of ye easier, is all,” Pinch said.

“Oh, no doubt? Is that all ye meant? We’ll switch off,” Peep said authoritatively. “Like gobos. When the guy working point gets to anything that works as cover, they hunker down and the number two goes on ahead. The two big galoots stick with the one hunkered down. Then all three behind don’t move on until the one in front signals all clear. Right?”

“Sounds tight,” Pinch said. “So, how far ahead do we let point get?”

“Not outta sight. And no more than five meters. We wanna keep this tight and move real slow and quiet,” Peep said.

“I agree,” Choke said. “And remember: this is recon. And we have all day to do it. We meet anything serious and we fall back. And whatever happens, we leave no one behind. If someone up front falls, Knuckle you head up and drag them out. If another goes down, I’m on it. Pinch and Peep, you cover.”

“And what if Knuckle goes down?” Peep asked.

“Well, then yar all fucked, because I’m the loadstone of this fuckin outfit,” Knuckle answered.

“Then I’ll drag him out and you and Pinch cover me,” Choke said, ignoring Knuckle.

“Well, if ye think ye can manage it,” Peep said incredulously, sizing up Knuckle and Choke both.

“Okay then,” Pinch said. “Who’s first on point?”

Peep extended her fist to Pinch to initiate a contest of rock, paper, scissors. Pinch won.

Peep turned without a word and down the trail towards the thicket surrounding the Old Mill. She moved in a crouch with her bow raised and an arrow notched. From the first step down, she moved slowly and methodically, her eyes scanning everything ahead and above, as well as looking carefully at everywhere she set her feet.

Pinch notched an arrow and waited until Peep was about five meters ahead before moving on himself. He kept pace with her. Choke and Knuckle followed, leaving about two meters between each of them.

When they had moved about fifteen meters down the trail, Peep stepped off to take cover behind a bigger tree. She signaled it was clear and held there as Pinch passed her and kept moving down the trail. Choke and Knuckle each took a knee behind Peep and trained their crossbows on the bushes ahead of Pinch.

Pinch sculked about twenty meters to a good-sized boulder next to the trail and hunkered down next to it. He sat there for a minute watching and listening to the still undergrowth ahead. Then he signaled the all clear and Peep, Choke, and Knuckle moved down to his position. Peep pushed on ahead as Choke and Knuckle now took a knee behind Pinch.

In this way, they worked their way down the trail into the thicket where the slope of the hill evened out into a flat. It took them almost a half an hour to cover the two-hundred or so meters to the main trail’s intersection with the game trail Unger had told them of. Now in the thicket, the underbrush was tight to the trail here, with big clusters of willows rising to almost twice the height of a man.

It was Peep who first reached the intersection, and after she had signaled the all clear she stayed put while the other three caught up. They all hunkered down together to have a quiet word.

“Shit, this is tight in here,” Pinch whispered.

“No doubt. We gotta keep it close,” Peep answered. “So this is the game trail here, right? Unger said he’d be covering us right up that way. I wanna check it to make sure. Ye guys sit tight.”

“Ye sure ye wanna head up there alone?” Pinch asked.

Peep sneered at him. “It’s a normal-looking game trail, yeah? That means game’s been using it. Which means that whatever’s set up on it is doing its deeds further in, right? Sit tight.”

Peep crept up the game trail to a point where it looped around a big boulder and came out into a bit of a clearing near a little pool fed by the same little creek they had seen at the Unger farmstead. She hugged the boulder, scanning the brushy hillside above her for Unger’s hunting blind that must surely be overlooking the watering hole. When she was about halfway sure she had it spotted, she gave a shrill little bird call and waved her hand out from the boulder. The call was returned and Unger popped out of some bushes between two bigger trees about twenty-five meters up the hill, just about where she expected him to. They gave each other a thumbs up and Peep went back down to the others.

“Yeah, this opens up at the crick about fifty meters on. Unger’s set up real good above that,” Peep whispered. “See anything here?”

“No. It’s been quiet,” Pinch answered. “Too quiet. Unger was right: there’s nothing moving in here.”

“Well, yar up next, sport,” Peep said to him, pointing down the trail. “After you.”

With the brush being so tight to the trail, Pinch moved just a few meters along to where a bend would have taken him out of sight of the others. He stopped there and squatted a long moment before signaling it clear.

It took another fifteen minutes of this slow, methodical leapfrogging for them to reach the stand of evergreens. Coming out of the thicket of willows, the brush opened up a bit and they could see the bases of the big pine trees. They had obviously been intentionally planted in a row set perpendicular to the trail, either as a windbreak or blind. There was a gap in the trees where the trail passed through them, with another three-meter Dwarven obelisk standing sentinel next to it. Behind the pines could just be seen the Old Mill tower sitting in the middle of what looked to be a sunny clearing.

The twenty-meter tower was round and looked to be smooth with perfectly fitted blocks of stone. Its top was crenulated, and there were cross-shaped slits all the way around it about ten meters up. There was no entrance visible from their perspective.

The squad again clustered together where the trail emerged from the willows about ten meters from the obelisk and watched the scene carefully for about ten minutes. Besides the eerie quiet, there seemed nothing amiss.

“Okay, I guess we move on to the treeline,” Pinch whispered. “Whose turn is it?” he asked Peep.


“Yar sure?”


“Okay, then,” Pinch said with a deep sigh. He closed his eyes and murmured a quiet prayer before tracing the Wheel over his breast. Then he moved on towards the obelisk, the very next scrap of cover.

Pinch moved more slowly than ever, pausing after every step to look all around and thoroughly check where he would next set a foot. Step by painstaking step, he got closer and closer to the obelisk. Then, with only about two meters left to go, he stopped.

Watching Pinch from behind, the squad saw him abruptly jerk back his left hand which held his bow. It was an odd, inexplicable motion. Then Pinch gave a distressed squawk and awkwardly jerked his entire body backwards. As he did, in three of the pine trees above him there was sudden motion as their boughs dipped and swayed. Attracted by this movement, Peep, Choke, and Knuckle all focused their aim upwards at the trees. Besides the moving branches, they saw nothing there.

Pinch gave a panicked yell and thrashed wildly as he lunged back towards his compatriots. However, he got nowhere as some invisible force seemed to pluck him off his feet and swing him back towards the obelisk. Above him the same boughs dipped and swayed even more. Still thrashing, and now screaming, Pinch bounced in the air as though levitating just off the ground. He had dropped his bow, which was jiggling in midair about a meter from him.

Knuckle began to move past Choke to go to Pinch.

“Hold!” barked Choke as he gave him a backhanded chop on the arm.

Peep was crouched low in a bush with her bow out in front of her. Only her eyes moved: flicking all over as she scanned for danger. Then, high in the air between one of the pines and the top of the tower, she saw something. Lit in the sun with the clear sky behind was stretched a thin filament, visible just for a second as the tree swayed.

“Oh shit. Spiders!” Peep yelled.

Sure enough, just as she said it, the predator came for the victim in its web. From inside one of the moving pine trees, from where its branches were thickest about midway up, a monstrous spider emerged. The arachnid’s black and dark brown body was roughly the same size as a grown man’s torso, and its eight spiny legs were almost a meter and a half long, tipped with wicked black claws. The creature slid smoothly out from the pine branches and scuttled out into mid-air upon the web that entangled Pinch, heading for a spot directly above him. It moved fast.

Choke and Knuckle both screamed in horror as they shot their crossbows at the spider. They missed. Peep stayed silent as she loosed an arrow from her new, more powerful, shortbow. She hit the spider in its bulbous abdomen. This got the creature’s attention.

The spider reared and curled its eight legs around itself protectively. At the base of its abdomen was the creature’s spinneret: a puckered cavity with numerous nubs from which its webbing was produced. From the spinneret, the spider squirted a stream of webbing at Peep. She dove into a roll and it missed her. The sticky web coated the bush she had been in, with some of it getting on Knuckle behind her.

Still dangling and thrashing around in the web, Pinch shrieked hysterically as he beheld the horror dangling just two meters above him.

Choke began reloading his crossbow immediately. Knuckle dropped his and drew his greatsword as he lurched down the trail towards Pinch, stretching and snapping the spider’s web that stuck him to the bush. Peep rolled to her knees and snapped another shot at the spider. This time her arrow was deflected off one of the legs the spider was waving defensively in front of itself.

The spider squirted another jet of webbing at Peep, and this time it got her. The milky colored web spurted all over her and the plants and ground around. The viscous liquid immediately congealed into thicker translucent webbing and stuck her fast.

The gob that hit Peep had trailed a number of thin filaments behind it, which were still connected to the spider’s spinneret. The spider’s rearmost legs quickly and delicately worked to weave these filaments into a thicker line which it then affixed to its main web. Then it swung itself out upside down on its new line and began moving quickly down it straight at Peep.

In the couple of seconds it took the spider to do this, a second monstrous spider, almost identical to the first, emerged from the same tree and out onto the web above Pinch. The new spider stopped a couple of meters from the first and squirted a jet of webbing at Knuckle, who was wildly swinging his greatsword all around himself as he advanced on Pinch. Thankfully, its aim seemed to be disrupted by all the bouncing and jerking Pinch and the first spider were doing on the web. It missed, and Knuckle reached Pinch to begin slashing through the tough web entangling him.

Choke was reloaded and took a precious moment to aim at the new spider carefully before shooting. His quarrel glanced of its armored face, but sheared through one of its bigger bulbous eyes as it did. Then, in desperation, Choke threw his crossbow at the first spider as it descended upon Peep.

The hurled crossbow, of course, did nothing to deter the spider from its attack as it closed in on Peep, who was held almost immobile in the sticky web that coated her. Choke drew his longsword and began to lunge forward as the spider got within two meters of Peep. The spider stopped, twisted to present its spinneret, and doused Choke with a liberal splooge of webbing. Then it leapt straight at Peep’s face, it’s venom coated mandibles clicking manically.

“Stron!” Peep screamed as she extended her left palm towards the spider.

A jet of searing flame shot from the mark of Stron in Peep’s palm and engulfed the creature. The spider tightened into a ball with a squeaking series of clicks. Its momentum caried it on to crash into Peep and they both fell to the web-encrusted ground, where the smoking spider writhed and clicked away. Peep rolled away from it as she passed her flaming hand over the strands of web sticking her to the ground, which burned away. Having freed herself, Peep drew her shortsword and plunged it deep into the spider’s abdomen, slitting it wide open and spilling its revolting insides as she pushed the weapon up to drive its point deep underneath the armored plating of the thorax. It was a mortal wound.

Meanwhile, Knuckle had almost managed to free Pinch from the web by hacking away blindly around him with his greatsword. With his right arm now free, Pinch had drawn his shortsword and flailed with it himself. The spider above them had recoiled into a defensive ball when Choke’s crossbow bolt had taken out its eye and seemed to be taking a moment to collect itself.

Then, behind the squad, up near the trail they had come in on, was a terrible creaking groan. All the humans glanced back that way to see what new horror this might be.

Back the way they had come, one of the bigger deciduous trees above the thicket of willows had bent deeply towards them and was quivering. Taking just a second to realize what this must mean, they all looked back in the direction it was pointing: straight at the tower.

Moving down its invisible line from the tower top to the tree behind the squad was indeed a new horror. At first glance it would be easy to mistake the creature for another monstrous spider, which would be bad enough. However, this was worse. The creature looked to be some nightmarish cross between a spider and a humanoid. Its purple and black, bulbous torso was more human shaped than spider, but had thick, wiry hair interspersed with bald patches showcasing its glistening, rubbery skin. It’s head was that of a spider, with two huge black eyes surrounded by an assortment of smaller ones. It’s large, clicking mandibles dripped venom.

Instead of eight legs, the creature had four, arranged in a more humanoid configuration as though the upper two were arms. All four limbs were thin and gangly and ended in black pincers. Between the lower limbs dangled the creature’s web-making business: instead of a proper spinneret like the spiders had, this horror sported a long scrotum-looking protrusion with glistening bulges and a slime drooling sphincter.

The spider humanoid came down its line quickly, coming arm over arm and leg over leg in long, swinging moves that had it tumbling head over sphincter. When it was directly over top of Knuckle, it stopped to dangle by its arms. Then, with its dangling legs quivering as though the creature was in orgasm, it disgorged a splooge of webbing all over him.

While the man-spider doused Knuckle in webbing, the monstrous spider on the web above Pinch recovered from the loss of its eye. It too squirted a spurt of web, targeting Pinch. It got him good, too.

Both Knuckle and Pinch were now thoroughly coated and held almost immobile. Behind Peep, Choke was likewise helpless. Peep stepped to Choke and began slashing through the webbing that held him.

Above Knuckle, the man-spider quickly tied up the web trailings dripping from its now prolapsed sphincter and tied them off to its main line. After the few seconds this took, it dropped to the ground next to Knuckle with a heavy thud. Almost delicately, it bit him on the neck. Then it snipped Knuckle free of those web strands that held him to the ground, wrapped its legs securely around him, and climbed back up its new line. As the man-spider ascended, it rolled Knuckle underneath as it extruded more webbing upon him, wrapping him up tightly in a secure package.

However, Knuckle in a full suit of mail was by no means an easy burden, and the man-spider ascended its lines slowly and laboriously. It climbed arm over arm as its hind limbs worked on binding Knuckle.

Meanwhile, Peep got Choke disentangled enough that he could start working on freeing himself. She left him to it and charged Pinch’s way. The spider above him had descended on a line and bitten him in the neck as well. That was as much as it was able to do, though, as it scurried back up its line as Peep close on them.

Stopping a couple of meters back from Pinch, Peep thrust her left palm upwards as she again screamed, “Stron!”

Once again, a three-meter jet of flames roared from her hand. The spider narrowly avoided being immolated as it got out of range just in time. Peep took a step forward as she swung her arm in a wide arc around Pinch, burning the webs that held him in mid-air. He fell to the ground and continued writhing. The monstrous spider above decided it wanted no part of this and retreated into the pine tree from where it had come.

While still coated in thick, rubbery strands of webbing, Choke was now free enough to act. He quickly picked up Knuckle’s crossbow and reloaded it. The man-spider was still working its way up the incline of its original line between the tower and the tree, swinging arm over arm with Knuckle dangling underneath. Choke took careful aim and shot it in the middle of its bloated torso. The quarrel bit deep into its flesh. The creature gave a distressed, squeaking chitter, but kept on swinging its way upwards.

Overtop of Pinch, Peep picked up his hunting bow from where it had fallen when she had burned the webbing. Her shortbow arrows were a little short for it, preventing a full-powered draw. Even so, she managed to pierce the man-spider’s rubbery hide twice before it clambered up on top of the tower and out of sight, taking Knuckle with it. Behind her, Choke finished reloading just a couple of seconds too late to get a second shot off.

Then, just as it had been before Pinch had walked into the monstrous spiders’ web, the forest was quiet.

read part 47

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s