Thorgaut pulled a mind blank and pressed up against the wall of the tunnel behind the spiderling. The spiderling was astonishing if she was able to sense a cloaked spider that was invisible to everyone else. That was probably why Happy Feet chose her to be one of the two spiders to go topside with him.
He realized that he didn’t know her name and wanted to ask her. The spiderling wasn’t in front of him at his feet any longer. She must have cloaked herself well because he couldn’t sense her presence.
He looked around and saw her up on the roof. She had crawled over him and scampered forward around the bend in the tunnel. He peeked around the corner to see what was ahead.
The tunnel opened up into another large cavern. Thorgaut didn’t see Svart or Abyss Snarer anywhere. He looked down at the floor to see if this was a part of the trap that Happy Feet had mentioned. Everything appeared to be normal. He could see tunnels off in the distance leading in different directions, so it wasn’t a dead end.
Thorgaut checked his maps and realized this wasn’t Abyss Snarer’s trapping ground. They were still a long distance away from that section of the cave. So, why had they stopped here?
He looked around for the little spiderling that had accompanied him. The young hatchling was still ahead of him up on the roof. Thorgaut probed out for her but still couldn’t sense her even after spotting her. It was like she didn’t even exist.
Thorgaut scanned the cavern once more but still didn’t pick anything up in his senses. His legs were sore, and his knees started to ache. So, he pulled back behind the cave wall and stood up. The little spiderling turned around and scampered back down towards him.
She reached out and touched his foot. Instantly, he could sense a connection with her.
“Can you see them?” she asked.
Thorgaut shook his head silently. She indicated a spot near the far end of the cave. He looked again but still didn’t see anything. She pushed a mental image of Abyss Spider into his head.
He thought he could sense a form in the area she indicated, but it wasn’t defined enough for his senses to tell what it was. He strained with his eyesight as well as his mind perception, but he still couldn’t locate the spider or the boy.
The spiderling tapped on his head as if asking for permission. He focused on her and realized that she was offering him something.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Something momma gave me earlier before she died,” she replied. “It will help you see better.”
He took it and unpackaged it as he had with the cave maps. They seemed to be instructions of some sort. He scanned through them and inserted them carefully. There was an instant enhancement in all his senses.
Thorgaut picked up on subtle scents in the cave that he hadn’t noticed before. Tapping into the collective spider senses hadn’t been this strong. His discernment was more precise and much sharper now. He took a moment to absorb the new clarity of sight, sound, smells, and feelings that surrounded him.
“Are you okay,” the spiderling asked.
“Yeah,” he replied and closed his eyes for a minute. “What did you say your name was?” Thorgaut asked.
The little spiderling giggled. “I don’t know. Momma didn’t give me a name like yours did.”
Thorgaut smiled at the mental image that popped into his head. Happy Feet would have had quite a time trying to name each of the little spiders hatching out of the eggs. He shared it with her, and she giggled again.
“Hmmm,” Thorgaut mused. “I suppose that would be quite a task. Huh?”
The little spiderling thought for a second. “I like the name Ariana,” she finally said.
“That’s a good name,” Thorgaut replied and then added. “Ariana of the Shadows.”
“Oh! Very mysterious,” she said. “I like it.”
Thorgaut continued scanning the cavern. He was trying to fine-tune and make adjustments to the new and updated sensations washing over him. He still couldn’t see Abyss Snarer or Svart though. Ariana attempted to point them out, but nothing he tried seemed to work for him. He felt frustrated.
“What are they doing?” he asked in a hushed whisper.
“The spider seems to be recuperating,” she answered. “She seems pretty woozy and weak. The boy is sitting beside her not doing anything. It looks like he’s drooling.”
“How can we get the boy away from her?” he asked. “Can we break her control over him?”
“I suppose,” she replied. “If we distract her to break her mental hold over Svart, and then get the boy far enough away from her. It should snap off naturally.”
“It’s so frustrating not to be able to see her,” he said with exasperation. “I’ve tried everything you showed me.”
“It’s just because of the distance,” Ariana said. “You should be able to see them once you get close enough. Your range of mental sight isn’t as strong as mine yet. But it should improve with practice.”
“Is she looking in our direction?” He queried.
Ariana shook her head. “No, it looks like she’s sleeping.”
Thorgaut drew a circle to represent the cavern. He scratched out stick figures to depict their location at the entrance of one end and another on the other side to designate Svart.
“This is us, and this is the boy,” Thorgaut said as he pointed to the respective figures. “Where is the spider on here?”
Ariana tapped the ground on this side of Svart.
“So, the boy is on the other side of the spider,” Thorgaut mused. “Can you get around to the other side of them. Sneak around the side or climb up over them.”
“Why?” the spiderling asked. “What do you have in mind?”
“I’ll coming stomping out of the tunnel to distract Abyss Snarer,” he said. “When she comes to stop me, you grab the boy. Drag him down one of the other tunnels as far as you can until he’s free of the spider’s control.”
Ariana looked at him for a long moment. He could tell she had to think that one through. Finally, she spoke up and said, “I can grab the boy. That shouldn’t be a problem for me because I can see both of them. But how are you going to avoid the spider?”
“You let me know when she’s coming at me and I’ll start running,” he said slowly thinking it through. “If she’s weak and slow enough, it shouldn’t be too difficult. Once she gets close enough, I should be able to see her too. Right?”
“In theory,” she replied. “But we don’t know how weak she is and if you will see her when she does get close.”
“It’s a risk I’ll have to take,” he said stoically.
“Why do you want to risk your life to save this boy?” she asked. “He’s nothing to you. You just met him.”
Thorgaut looked at her like she was crazy. “He’s my friend, and I’ve gotta save him. I can’t leave him down here to become that spider’s snack. Besides, you would do the same to save your brothers and sisters. Right?”
“No way,” she said. “Spiders die every day. So do humans. I wouldn’t put my neck out for no good reason. Only if I loved them.”
She kept looking at him, but he didn’t answer. It didn’t register in his head not to save the boy. He was a trained warrior, and he never left anyone behind after a battle.
“This is what you call loyalty?” she questioned him. “It’s stupid. You don’t even have a way to fight this spider. Wait a little bit longer, and she’ll die on her own.”
Thorgaut perked up at that thought. “Is she dying now? Will she be dead soon?”
“No,” Ariana sighed. “She’s getting up and trying to get the boy to move.”
“Go,” Thorgaut commanded her. “Get over on the other side and wait for me to distract the spider. Once you’re in place, let me know.”
The spiderling sighed but obeyed. Ariana cloaked herself and disappeared. Thorgaut couldn’t sense her mentally nor see her physically with his eyesight. That was impressive. He turned around and jogged back up the cave a little ways.
“Okay,” Arian pushed into his mind. “I’m on the other side of them. Hurry, because they’re getting close the tunnel entrance.”
Thorgaut uncloaked his mind and sent out a probe in Abyss Snarer’s direction to make sure she noticed him.
“Good,” Ariana said. “She stopped and pushed the boy to the side. Walk this way slowly to see if she takes the bait.”
Thorgaut started singing in a loud voice as he walked back down the tunnel.
“I ain’t afraid. Not afraid of nothing.
I am a Viking. Fearless and bold.
Headed into battle. Always marching.
Always looking for silver and gold.”
“Good,” Ariana pushed back at him. “She hasn’t uncloaked yet, but she’s stopped in the middle of the cavern waiting for you.”
“Grab the boy and make a run for it,” Thorgaut ordered.
“I won’t be able to let you know where she is if I do,” she said.
“Save the boy,” Thorgaut said again firmly. “Your mother seemed to think that he has an important part to play in the coming wars. We have to keep him safe.”
“What if something happens to you?” Ariana screeched into Thorgaut’s head. “I can’t raise a half-human like him. The dwarves won’t take him.
“Take him down the cave to the river and deliver him there to Liut Gillisson. Tell him what happened to me. He’ll know what to do.” Thorgaut pushed out into her mind along with the location on the map.
“Argh!” she half-growled and half-sighed in resignation. “Fine! I’m going. You’re on your own now.”
With that, she blipped off out of his awareness, and Thorgaut stepped out into the cavern. He scanned the area but still didn’t feel anything. The thought crossed his mind that Ariana was pulling his chain, but he pushed it out of his head. He would find out soon enough.
“I see you Abyss Snarer,” he shouted. “I know you’re here. You can’t fool me.”
The spider flickered into view in the center of the cavern like Ariana had said. Thorgaut breathed a sigh of relief that he could see the spider. He couldn’t see the spiderling or Svart but hoped she had already gotten him out of here.
“Something’s wrong,” Ariana pushed into his thoughts. “It’s a trap.”
“Get out of here,” Thorgaut ordered. “Let me handle it.”
“I’m already on my way out,” she said. “You need to run. Something’s off. I can’t stick around to help you out. Get out!”
Thorgaut started backing up towards the tunnel. “Well, gotta run Abyss Snarer. Nice to see you again.”
The giant spider took a wobbly step in his direction. It didn’t look like it was going to chase him very fast, but he didn’t want to take any chances.
“Wait,” she hissed and started to flicker. “I’m weak and dying. I need to suck some of your undead blood to live.”
She flickered and disappeared altogether.
“Maybe next time,” he shouted out and turned to run.
Thorgaut ran directly into her waiting arms. She was dangling from a thread at the edge of the cavern and let herself down behind him after he had entered the cave. She was holding herself up with her two hind legs and two of her front legs.
He tried to stop himself but was already moving too fast. Thorgaut was close enough for her to grab with the other four legs. He tried to pull back, but it was too late.
“You’re not the only one that can play mind tricks, Thorgaut Kabbisson. That was a projection in your head,” she softly said as she reached over the right side of his neck and sank her fangs deep into his back.
Thorgaut’s eyes widened in surprise and shock. Then he closed them slowly as she injected her venom into his body.