The Children of Stron – part 47

Table of Contents (spoilers)

read part 1

read part 46

Inside the Old Mill tower, the man-spider put Knuckle with its other prey. The creature was, in fact an ettercap: an aberration born of a mingling of monstrous arachnids with some humanoid host.

Thoroughly bound up in strong webs, Knuckle would have been helpless even if he had not been paralyzed by the creature’s toxin. The bite had done its work, though, and Knuckle was barely even able to breath.

The tower was built of solid stone, including its flat roof. However, it was now all but hollow inside. Perhaps wanting to save on material costs, or construction time, the Dwarven builders had used wood inside to make six floors. Over the years, these floors had rotted and fallen to the main floor below, covering the big millstone at its center. Some of the old woodwork still held on, clinging to the outer stone walls, with a few sections of flooring drooping out over space. The roof exit and the series of cross-slit windows around the tower’s middle let in some light. A sunbeam from one of the windows cut through the dusty air. Around the outer wall, a stone staircase wound all the way up to the roof, where the ettercap had widened the exit by pulling out several large stones to fall into the heap of detritus below.

The ettercap’s home was a large web tucked up under the tower’s ceiling, just opposite the roof exit. It hung Knuckle right-side-up from the ceiling, pulling strands of webbing from its sphincter to be woven with its arms and legs. As it worked, spiders came skuttling out from the coarse hairs that covered the ettercap’s torso. While they were not monstrous, some of them were as big as a man’s hand. They ran to-and-fro excitedly, all over Knuckle and the webbing around him. As one ran across his face and nipped at his ear, Knuckle learned that, even paralyzed, he was still acutely sensitive to touch and pain.

There were two other victims in residence as well. Both seemed to be deer. One was a desiccated husk, sucked dry, as empty as the tower that entombed it. The other deer, however, was still alive. With just a couple of meters between them, Knuckle could see it breathing shallowly as the two exchanged a look with wide, desperate eyes.

The ettercap settled into its web nearby and went to work pulling the crossbow quarrel and two arrows out of itself. It chittered in distress as it did, letting each drop to the floor far below. Then it dressed its wounds with little gobs of webbing. The spiders that had been running about now gathered at each of the wounds. They worked on the dressings, mingling their own webbing with that of their master as they wove.

With its first aid being tended to, the ettercap moved over to the live deer. It used its front pincers to dexterously peel away enough of the webbing binding the animal to expose its abdomen. Then the monster sank its face into the deer’s side with its mandibles clicking away frenetically.

The paralyzing toxin from whenever the deer had last been bitten must have largely worn off, because the animal bucked and writhed as it gave an agonized moan. But the new dose went right to work and the deer soon quieted down. It continued to stare deep into Knuckle’s eyes, somehow pleading for a release that was not to come. The only sound was the slurping suction of the ettercap feeding, with the occasional crunch or snap as its mandibles worked their way through sinew or bone.


Outside, the moment the ettercap had disappeared over the top of the tower with Knuckle, Peep went right to work on Pinch. He had been bitten in the neck by a monstrous spider. He was not doing well with it.

The bite wound was not bleeding much, but the flesh around the two puncture wounds was already liquifying. When Peep had burned the larger web that had trapped him, Pinch had fallen to the ground.  However, he was still coated in the splattered webbing the monstrous spider had spurted all over him. He moaned and writhed at Peep’s feet.

Using her shortsword, Peep cut through the webbing enough so that Pinch could move his arms and legs freely. This may have been a mistake, as, largely insensible, Pinch flailed away at her as best he could. Staring down at the ugly wound in Pinch’s neck, Peep paused. She looked down at the mark of Stron in her right palm as she realized there was not just the energy of fire housed within.

“Stron, heal this man. Amen,” Peep said as she pressed her palm to the wound.

A blue, healing light glowed from between her fingers and Pinch lay back to rest easy. When Peep raised her hand up off him, the wound was almost healed. Whereas before the skin and flesh had been melting, there was only fresh, slightly waxy looking, scar tissue.

“Woah,” Peep said, staring back down at her palm in amazement. Then her nose wrinkled in disgust and she scowled down at Pinch. “Woah. Dood!”

It was now sadly obvious that Pinch had pissed and shit himself at some point, or several points, during his spider ordeal.

While Peep had worked on Pinch, Choke grabbed his crossbow and Peep’s shortbow from where they had fallen. He placed Peep’s bow on the trail behind her before loading his crossbow. Then with the Knuckle’s loaded crossbow on the ground next to him, he crouched down with his and looked manically all around for any sign of danger.

“How is he?” Choke finally asked Peep.

“I dunno. I healed him with my scar. Same kinda way that I lit them fuckers up. Hey, stinker! Wake up!” Peep slapped Pinch on the cheek sharply.

Pinch blinked and began screaming and flailing again. Peep gave him a hard smack across the face and knelt on his throat to pin him to the ground.

“Calm the fuck down!” she hissed in his ear.

Pinch settled down. Once he had made eye contact with Peep and given her a nod, she let him up.

“Spiders! What happened? Where’s Knuckle?” Pinch managed, as he sat up looking wildly all around them.

“In the tower with some fucked up spider monster that drug him off,” Peep answered. “I got the one spider, and the other one that bit ye fucked off and is hiding in the trees there. Can ye fuckin fight?”

Pinch took a second to contemplate everything. Looking like he might further soil himself, he finally nodded.

“Good. Here,” Peep said, handing Pinch his hunting bow. She sheathed her shortsword and picked up her bow.

All three of them sat in the trail, back-to-back in a tight triangle, and trembled behind their weapons as they looked all around them for further threats.

“So, now what?” Pinch finally asked.

“Good question,” Choke said. “Peep: what was that with the fire out of your hands? Can you do that again?”

“I think so. I just felt it come on up outta me on its own accord when I needed it, that first time. The second I kinda asked for it.”

“Do you think you have more of it in you?” Choke asked.

Peep paused to quietly check her feelings. “Yeah. I think I got one more burst in me.”

“And the healing?”

She closed her eyes this time for a few seconds before shaking her head. “No. Don’t think so.”

“Okay, then. These powers will probably recharge tomorrow morning at dawn. That’s how spell-like-effects such as these tend to work. As with paladins and whatnot,” Choke said.

“How d’ye know that?”

“The Brothers taught us. So probably just one more burst of fire,” Choke said, his voice quivering in desperation as he contemplated the tower looming over them from its clearing through the monstrous spiders’ pine trees.

“We gotta get moving. Knuckle’s in there,” Peep said.

“How do we know he’s even alive?” asked Pinch very quietly.

“We don’t. But keeping prey alive is kinda what spiders do, right? And either way, we gotta go in there and get him out. That was the deal. Right? We leave no one behind,” Peep said.

“So what’s the plan?” Choke asked.

“We go in there and kill that fuckin thing, is what,” Peep answered.

“How?” Pinch yelped. “There’s gonna be more fuckin webs all over between here and that tower. You know it! How?”

Choke pulled at some of the spider web that still clung to his chainmail, his mind wandering. Then he remembered the wall of force in the Mage Tower. It had been smooth. So very smooth.

“Peep. Your shield ring. Activate it and see if webs will stick to it!” Choke said excitedly.

“Yeah! Good call!”

Peep put away her bow on her back, drew her shortsword, and activated her shield ring by clenching her left hand with intention.

“Cover me. There’s still a fucker up in the trees there,” Peep said.

She moved slowly the couple of meters down the trail towards the obelisk at the break in the pine trees. When she reached it she stopped, waving her left fist around in front of her.

“Yeah! There’s one here, too. Fuckers! I can feel it stretching on the shield. All springy and shit!”

“Is the shield stuck?” Choke asked.

“Not really, no. Don’t think so. No. It’s good!” Peep exclaimed.

Using the front edge of her shield to poke at the air in front of her and stretch the spider webs, she then used her shortsword like a machete to cut them. The filaments were tough, but her magical blade managed to sever them with a good whack or two.

Moving through the break in the trees in this way, Peep did not stop. She kept on moving into the clearing and towards the Old Mill tower.

“All right, you’re next,” Choke said, giving Pinch a gentle shove with his elbow.

Pinch did not move.

“I said move,” Choke gave him a less gentle shove.

Pinch looked for a second like he would refuse the order. Then he remembered himself and moved on down the trail after Peep, shaking in fear and dribbling liquid shit out his breeches.

Peep was about a third of the way through the clearing to the tower. Since leaving the vicinity of the line of pine trees, she had encountered no more spider webs. She still moved forward cautiously, though, waving her force shield all around her as she stepped slowly.

Pinch followed about four meters behind her. He was moving spasmodically, as he looked all around him, jerking his bow to aim at everything and nothing. Choke followed a couple of meters behind Pinch, crouched low with a loaded crossbow in each hand. He was mostly walking backwards, keeping his focus on the pine trees where the second monstrous spider had fled. As ready as he was for it, when the spider made its move, it took him by surprise.

With just a slight crackling and rustling from the wide pine boughs, the monstrous spider leapt far out from near the top of one of the trees into the air above the clearing. The creature soared a good four or five meters before it hit a web above them, causing the tops of the pine trees behind it to dip. Now dangling above Peep and Pinch, the spider whirled to aim its spinneret Peep’s way.

“Peep!” Choke screamed.

Peep reacted just in time. Taking a step back towards Pinch, she twisted to raise her force shield up above her. The shot of webbing the spider sent at her splattered off the shield and coated the grass and trail just ahead of her.

Choke took a knee as he set the crossbow in his left hand down and raised the one in his right up. The spider was dangling and swaying from two legs while waving its other six in front of it defensively. Ignoring the armored thorax and head this time, Choke shot it in the abdomen, just missing its spinneret orifice. The quarrel sank deep and the spider chittered in distress. Choke immediately dropped the spent crossbow and picked up the loaded one.

Pinch shrieked and swung his torso wildly to send a shot straight up at the spider. He managed to get it on target, but the arrow deflected off one of the waving legs and glanced harmlessly off the spider’s thorax.

Peep dismissed her shield, letting the few strands of webbing dribbling off it fall to the ground and pulled her bow of her back as she dropped her shortsword to stick point down in the ground next to her.

With alarming speed, the spider hurried on up its web towards the tower. However, its trajectory was predictable and it could not get up top before Choke, Pinch, and Peep all took another shot. All three of them hit the monster in its bulbous thorax. The spider chittered madly and slowed right down as it twisted and spasmed in agony. Pinch and Peep both shot it again as Choke began reloading.

From the top of the tower was a clicking hiss of rage as the ettercap popped up from behind the fortification’s crenelles. It jumped down to land in the web next to its mortally wounded pet, which was now spilling long trails of innards as it writhed.

“Murderers!” the ettercap screamed in an awful, squeaking voice. It squirted yet another jet of webbing at Peep. However it was rather far away and the strands began to dry in their descent, slowing the clump down. Peep avoided it easily by diving in a roll.

Reloaded, Choke shot the ettercap dead in the chest. Pinch, in seeing the monster clearly for the first time, shrieked hysterically and missed his next shot completely.

“Why! Why! Ye scum! Ye murdering scum!” the ettercap screamed as it gathered its pet up under one gangly arm and climbed back up towards the tower top.

Peep shot directly up at it, but missed the near vertical shot. Then the creature was back over the top and out of sight.

“Fuck! It talks!” Peep yelled as she stuck her bow in its back case and reactivated her shield. “Give us back our friend, ye motherfucker!” she screamed up at the tower.

From the top of the tower came the creature’s reply: a dreadful wail of anguish as it fully beheld the condition of its pet.

Peep turned back towards Choke and Pinch, who were gaping upwards at the tower top in horror:

“Hurry up, fuckers! It’s got Knuckle in there!” she barked.

Peep slung her bow on her back, reactivated her shield, grabbed her shortsword, and moved towards the tower. She moved more quickly now, keeping her shield raised in front of her. Encountering no more webs, she soon reached the tower and worked her way around it to the wide-open door on its other side.

Choke gave Pinch a shove to get him moving after her and reloaded both the crossbows before hurrying to catch up.

The tower entrance was now just a gaping, wide open maw; its wooden door had long since rotted away. Peep found it thoroughly rigged with entrapping webs, but was able to cut them down by the time Choke and Pinch caught up to her.

Crouching low with her force shield held high up above her, Peep moved inside the tower. The main floor was thick with the rotted wood of the fallen tower floors, as well as heaps of the desiccated husks of the ettercap’s kills. When the monster had finished with its victims, it only had need to snip them from its web under the ceiling to let them fall to its rubbish tip below.

Coming in from the bright sunshine outside, Peep was all but blind as she peered into the gloom of the cavernous tower above. As her eyes adjusted, she moved step by step along the inside wall, heading towards the start of the stone staircase that wound its way all the way up to the widened roof exit. By the time she had reached the first step, Peep was able to make out the web-encased forms of Knuckle and the deer dangling from the ceiling twenty meters above.

There was no sign of the ettercap.

“Come on!” Peep hissed at the entrance behind her, where Choke and Pinch were both peering through on either side of it.

As before, Peep worked point as she headed up the stairs, hugging the wall with her shield held high above her and shortsword clenched ready at her side. Pinch followed a few meters back of her, his hunting bow raised with an arrow notched. Choke followed with a crossbow in each hand.

Without a railing, the stairs were two meters wide and in good condition, formed of the same stone of the tower. They had a bit of a landing at each of the tower’s previous six stories, where some rotted beams with attached floor boards still managed to cling to the stonework here and there. The humans ascending had to watch their steps, though: there was dust and detritus aplenty littering their way to make uncertain footing. At least they were encountering no more webs.

When Peep had reached the ex-third-floor landing halfway up the tower, the monster above came for them.

Above the humans, the ceiling with its thick web could easily be seen, along with its unfortunate residents. Opposite that, the roof exit at the top of the stairs showed blue sky above. The jagged edges of the exit seemed black in contrast to the brightness of the outdoors. It turned out that the inside edge of that exit was not stonework, though. Crouched low and motionless, the ettercap hugged the stone and waited for its revenge. When the loathsome, home-invading, pet-murdering, human juice bags reached the third-floor landing, it acted.

Squirting a dollop of webbing onto the stone under its feet, the ettercap slipped through its doorway and jumped down into the tower’s center. Freefalling headfirst, trailing a line of web behind, the ettercap cleared a number of its transverse lines stretched across the tower’s center at different heights. The line it trailed fell across these and stuck to them fast. Then, when the ettercap gripped its trailing line tight with its legs, the new web stretched tight and stopped its plunge just above the third-floor landing.

Somersaulting to switch the grip on its line from its legs to its arms, the ettercap converted the bounce into a swinging pass at Peep. As it closed, the monster splayed its legs wide to squirt webbing from its now turgid sphincter pouch. Peep’s raised force shield blocked almost all of it.

The ettercap swung by and slashed at Peep with its hind claws. One struck her shield. The other she parried with her shortsword enough to keep it from plunging into her neck. That claw raked her armor just under her collarbone and sliced her bicep.

The ettercap landed on the staircase between Peep and Pinch as it shrieked:

“Murderers! Die!”

Pinch dropped his bow and scrambled backwards frantically, falling down as he did. The ettercap, seeming to assume that Peep must be trapped in its webbing behind it, closed on Pinch with its arm pincers flailing and mandibles clicking away. Choke dropped one crossbow as he raised up the other to shoot, but Pinch rolled into his legs as he did and his quarrel missed high, nearly hitting Peep up on the landing. Choke almost fell down the stairs backwards himself, but was able to sprawl and fall down on top of Pinch to stop their descent.

The ettercap kept on Pinch and Choke, slashing away at them with snicking pincers as it drove its face with its furious, venomous mandibles at Choke’s face and neck. Choke smashed his empty crossbow into the ettercap’s maw and used it to shove the monster back as one of its pincers opened up a nasty cut on his left arm.

Above them, Peep had to take precious seconds to slice through the strands of webbing that had splattered her legs and stuck her to the stairs. She was bleeding freely from the wound on her sword arm, but was not overly hindered by it.

The ettercap reared up off Choke to get his crossbow out of its face and have a proper go at him with pincers. Choke blocked the attacks as best he could with the crossbow as he backed up off of Pinch. Underneath, Pinch drew his shortsword and lunged up at the ettercap’s belly with it. The monster swatted the attack aside with one pincer, and with the other made a grab for Pinch’s neck. Pinch just managed to roll his shoulder up to block that, so the ettercap grabbed him by his shoulder instead. Pinch screamed as the pincers pierced his leather armor and the monster dragged him in towards its clicking mandibles.

Behind them, finally free of the webbing, Peep lunged down the steps and drove her shortsword to its hilt in the ettercap’s back. It shrieked and let go of Pinch as it twisted away from her, yanking the weapon from her grip. Further down the stairs, Choke dropped the crossbow and drew his longsword. Almost directly underneath the ettercap, Pinch flailed at it wildly with his shortsword as he continued screaming. He scored a good cut across its purple, bloated belly.

The ettercap decided it had had enough. With Peep’s shortsword still deep in its back, it jumped awkwardly off the stairs into space. It still trailed the thin line to its web from its sphincter, and it gripped it tightly to swing out and away from the humans.

Peep was not having any more of this. In a wide stance, she thrust her palm towards the monster as she screamed:

“Stron, burn this motherfucker!”

The ancient spirit of fiery death that had interceded in her baptism, the very same one that almost four centuries before had spoken to Stron himself during the burning of the Pasha and his harem, was more than happy to oblige Peep. One last jet of roaring flame shot from her hand to roll over the ettercap.

The monster shrieked as it was horribly burned. Its web shriveled in the fire and the ettercap fell. As it did though, it twisted in the air and shot another splattering of webbing, hitting Peep squarely and the wall behind her. Then, with the little strength that remained, the ettercap wound its legs into the trail of webbing from its sphincter.

The ettercap freefell about two meters before the webbing congealed enough to pull taught. As it did, Peep was yanked off the stairs and down over the edge. Thankfully for her, the webbing stuck to the wall behind held. Bound in the long strand of webbing, Peep hung in space a meter below the stairs, with the ettercap hanging on the same strand three meters below her. She screamed in pain as the torsion of the ettercap spinning beneath her racked her body in the webbing.

Looking out over the edge of the stairs, Choke saw that the ettercap was swinging just above the stairs one story below. He turned on his heel and ran down.

The ettercap was still alive when Choke reached it, but barely so. It was making agonized mewling noises as it waved its arms feebly. The holy fire had burned much of the coarse hair off its body, and its skin was scorched and smoking. Smoldering spiders rained down like pellets from its hide to plop like rotten apples into the rubish two stories below.

Choke hacked and stabbed the monster until he was sure it was dead. Then he cut the web chord that bound the corpse to Peep above.

The ettercap fell silently to crash in the heap of its victims of years.

read part 48

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