“Halldora!” Thorgaut shouted with glee.
He jumped up and ran over to her. He grabbed her in his arms and spun her around genuinely glad to see her.
“I thought I’d never find you again,” he said after putting her down. “You cloaked your place good.”
She blushed at his enthusiasm at seeing her and beamed with pride over his compliments.
“Well, it’s a trick I learned from an old friend,” she replied. “It seems you’ve picked up a few skills yourself since I last saw you.”
“Not because I went looking for them,” he said. “That’s for sure. I got waylaid along the way over and over again.”
He noticed a flicker of worry briefly cross her face as she frowned. She caught herself though and smiled him right after.
“What is it?” he asked. “And where is Vriobrum?”
“Vriobrum can’t walk very fast and would have held me back,” she said with a laugh. “I came running as soon as I sensed your presence. Besides, someone has to stay back and keep an eye on the house. There are a lot of creepy guys running around in the woods these days.”
Thorgaut chuckled and then turned serious. “Speaking of creepy guys, have you seen three of my friends who are out there looking for me?” he asked.
Halldora grinned sheepishly. “I have,” she said. “Would you like them back?”
“What did you do to them?” he demanded with a scowl. A sudden realization of what Halldora could have done hit him, and a look of horror crossed his face.
“You didn’t,” he said. “No!”
“What?” she asked mischievously.
“You didn’t turn them into shufflers to join your undead army. Did you?”
She laughed over that one and punched him in the arm.
“Of course not, silly.” she managed to say once she stopped laughing. “You seem to think I’m an evil person. I’m not like those wicked, old witches from the fairy tales your mother used to tell you when you were a child.”
Thorgaut breathed a sigh of relief. “So, what did you do to Liut and his companions?” he asked. “And yes, I want my friends back.”
They started walking back to the rest of the group who were still eating by the fire. Halldora took his arm with one hand and hitched up her blue dress with the other.
“Not the best outfit for a walk in the woods, but I left in a hurry,” she said. “Anyway, your crazy friends tracked you to my home. You were gone of course. They thought I had eaten you or used you to perform some evil ritual. Then they saw Vriobrum and tried to kill him.”
“So, what evil spell did you cast on them?” Thorgaut asked. “Did you turn them into disgusting-looking toads. They’ll live in the lake until a charming princess comes along to kiss them.”
Halldora smiled and wrinkled her nose. “Yuck,” she said. “I hate toads. So, no! That would be too cruel. I put them to sleep until I could find you and prove that I hadn’t done anything to you.”
“Well, then let’s go get them,” he said.
“Relax,” she said. “They’ll wake up and be here shortly.”
Thorgaut shook his head. He was still trying to wrap his mind around all these crazy events and strange people he had met here in these woods. He had only been here a week, but he would miss this place once he headed home with his friends.
He introduced Halldora to Svart, Katla, and Ariana. She seemed extremely excited to meet the spider. She said she had heard a lot about them and always wanted to meet one.
Ariana seemed nervous around her. Thorgaut probed her to find out what it was, but she wouldn’t tell him. He perceived that Katla was jealous. She politely offered Halldora some of their soup and chatted with her about the weather. But after Halldora turned to talk with Svart, Katla scowled at Thorgaut and gave him a dirty look.
Thorgaut shrugged his shoulders and pretended to look confused. But he didn’t need to use his mind-reading skills to figure out what was wrong. He had sensed that Katla had a crush on him for quite some time. She never came right out and mentioned it, but he had a gut feeling about it.
They had a little fling when they were younger. Thorgaut kissed her once and thought she was the love of his life. And then she told him that he wasn’t her type. It had devastated him because soon after that she had started hanging out with his best friend, Liut. Later, Liut had broken things off with her.
After that, things were awkward between the three of them. They each went their separate way for a while. But over the past two summers, they had gone on several raiding parties together. During that time they had all patched up their friendship. They had all gotten along great after that.
Over the past few months though, Thorgaut had a gut feeling that the Katla was hoping to be more than friends. He sensed that she regretted having rejected his advances. But it was too late. Thorgaut had long gotten over his feeling for her.
He didn’t want to put himself back in that situation. And he didn’t want to complicate his friendship with either Katla or Liut. Besides, there were plenty of other women in the world that he could choose. No need to get all bent out of shape over Katla.
So, he found her attitude towards Halldora moderately humorous under the current circumstances. He tried not to smile or show it though when she looked at him. Katla was a charming girl and a good friend. No need to blow things all out of proportion over nothing. Besides, Halldora had blown him off, and there was no reason for Katla to be jealous of her.
Thorgaut asked Katla for another bowl of soup. He ate a little more slowly this time and relished the delicious flavors in each bite. Katla was a great cook. She blushed and smiled when he complimented her. But then she scowled right after when she saw Halldora.
He knew she was dying to ask what had gone on between them, but ignored her unspoken questions. He kept shoveling spoon after spoon of the delicious food in his mouth. He didn’t know if the food was really that delicious or if it seemed that way because of his heightened sense of awareness. Maybe it was due to his extreme hunger after all these adventures. He didn’t pause to overthink things too much though. He just sat back and enjoyed the meal with his friends.
A little while later, he heard more footsteps coming through the woods. He motioned everyone to be quiet. He heard Liut’s voice first. He jumped up and grinned as they came into view.
“Welcome back boys,” he shouted out. “What took you all so long to get back?”
Liut grinned and strode toward him. They greeted each other with a typical Jorundarfell forearm handshake. Then Thorgaut gave him a big hug. He didn’t think he would ever see his friends again.
Thorgaut greeted Bior and Grimar. They all turned towards the rest of the group and noticed Halldora sitting beside Svart. Bior and Liut jumped backward and pulled their swords out.
“It’s that witch woman!” Liut shouted.
Grimar charged forward running headlong straight toward the surprised woman. Before he got to her though, she waved her hand and wiggled her fingers. He fell at her feet as though dead.
“Silly men,” she said. “I told you that I didn’t do anything to Thorgaut.”
Thorgaut put out his hand on his Liut and Bior’s arms.
“It’s okay,” he reassured them. “Halldora is a friend.”
They looked at him like he was off his rocker, but obeyed by putting their swords back in their sheaths.
Katla held out a bowl of soup for each of them which they accepted. The men sat down on the other side of the fire from Halldora so they could keep a wary eye on her as they ate.
Grimar was so concentrated on Halldora that he didn’t even notice Ariana was a spider. Grimar started to sit on her as if she was a log. The spiderling hopped back, and the man fell on the ground. He tried to hold his bowl of soup up during the fall, but it poured out all over him.
Liut saw Ariana the giant spiderling and threw his bowl in her face before grabbing his sword. “Spider!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. “Look out, a spider!”
He looked wildly around at everyone. They continued sitting calmly as if this were a typical everyday occurrence. Liut didn’t understand why no one did anything. They seemed more surprised to hear him scream like a little girl than to see the spider in their midst.
“Don’t you guys see it?” he asked in a shaky voice.
Halldora started laughing first. Everyone else followed along right after. They roared at the hilarious scene that had played out in front of them. Svart rolled on the ground holding his stomach.
Thorgaut found it funny as well but tried not to show it too much. He wiped a tear of laughter from his eye and snorted his laughs as he introduced Ariana.
The spiderling didn’t seem to find the situation funny at all though. Ariana scurried off to the other side of the fire beside Halldora. The spider put as much space between herself and the screaming man as she could.
Halldora woke Bior from his sleeping spell, and Katla gave the men all another bowl of soup. They told him about the spider though before he saw her so there wouldn’t be any more surprises.
It took awhile for Thorgaut to give them a brief rundown what he had been through over the past few days. He glossed over the craziest parts. He focused on meeting Halldora and being attacked by the wolves in the woods. He told them a condensed version of escaping the strangers in Svart’s house and their trip down the cave.
He didn’t mention anything about undead wolves or the NightWalkers though. He also didn’t tell them about his run-in with Abyss Snarer. He portrayed the spiders as friendly like Happy Feet and her children.
Thorgaut didn’t want them knowing about him being bitten by the undead. They’d tie him up and wait for him to turn as Arnulfr had done. And he definitely didn’t want them knowing about his new mental and healing powers.
Liut, Bior, and Grimar all thought they had only been gone a day. They had left the day after Thorgaut when he didn’t return. That would have been the day Thorgaut got caught in the snare. They had tracked him to the campground where the shufflers attacked him. From there, they had trailed him into Halldora’s meadow.
Halldora put them under a sleeping spell when they attacked Vriobrum. Then she left them there while Thorgaut recuperated at Arnulfr’s house. She had located his presence when he had regained consciousness that night. She told him that she had planned to pick him up the next day. But she lost him when he entered the cave to escape the men with the strange device.
She told him that the strange men were undead bounty hunters trying to make a name for themselves. They had been in the area for the past several months. They were the main reason she had cloaked her section of the woods. Halldora had set up the shield to keep their device from locating her shufflers.
Thorgaut was happy to have completed his crazy journey through Knulkforrest. It had been a freaky adventure, but he had come out stronger than ever. His new abilities were an added bonus. And on top of that, he had discovered a new appreciation for life and was ready to embrace his destiny. He knew his purpose was to rule over Jorundarfell and be a good leader for his people.
Thorgaut urged Halldora to return with them to Jorundarfell, but she declined. They both knew that she wouldn’t be welcome there. He knew the people of the town would try to burn her at stake.
He tried to feel Halldora out about creating an undead army for him, but she refused. He made it sound like he was joking about a crazy idea that came to him in a dream. But she immediately shot the idea down saying it was dangerous and risky.
Halldora hinted that there was an extremely terrifying threat behind his idea which left him intrigued. He could sense the fear lacing her words and wanted to ask why that was. But Katla came barging in with some silly excuse to interrupt him. Thorgaut didn’t get a chance to talk with her alone again after that.
“It’s already dark,” Halldora said. “I shouldn’t have left Vriobrum alone. He’ll come out looking for me.”
She gave Thorgaut a long hug and bid everyone farewell. Then she disappeared into the woods. Thorgaut watched the woods swallow her up. He sat on a stump by the fire looking into the darkness long after she was gone. Svart and Katla went off to sleep. Ariana had gone into the woods to find something to eat.
Thorgaut talked with Liut for a while before heading to his spot to get some sleep himself. Liut and Bior offered to keep watch in the night since they had just woken up from a week-long nap.
The next morning the group woke up early and ate a quick breakfast that Katla had prepared for them. It was a strange mix of roots she had discovered while they were gone. She cooked it up with some rabbits Ariana had caught for them in the night.
And then they were off. The small group traveled back down the river the way they had come. They made for an odd group. Five adults, one boy, and two large spiderlings. Ariana had invited her sister who had also joined them as they were leaving.
Thorgaut was finally headed home. It had been a marvelous journey. The adventure of a lifetime that he would never forget. Only he didn’t realize that for him, it was only just beginning.
Thorgaut walked down the tunnels. He followed the maps in his head that Happy Feet had left him. He probed out mentally for Ariana. He didn’t sense her presence. Either she was too far away, or she was cloaking her mind.
He debated whether to head back to his friends or try to locate Halldora. In the end, he decided to find his friends first. It was important to reassure them that he was okay. That way they wouldn’t be searching for him. Also, he knew he might not even find Halldora’s meadow. It was well cloaked, and Thorgaut didn’t know if he could locate it even with his recent, mental powers.
His trip to the cave entrance was uneventful. He saw many new, fascinating species of animals. Strange and exotic creatures that he never knew existed.
He sensed the presence of a few giant spiders probing out at him. He didn’t want to end up as spider bait or have to fight them. So, he mentally slapped them and shredded at their minds painfully to scare them off. He projected an enormous, ferocious version of himself down the rest of the tunnel.
Not one of the spiders attempted to mess with him after that. They didn’t even expose themselves as he walked through their caverns. The spiders pressed back into their webs weaved in dark corners. Others pushed themselves farther down their crevices trying to avoid his mind probes. He chuckled as they strived to make themselves smaller and less detectable
Thorgaut also sensed the presence of weird creatures that he didn’t recognize. He couldn’t tell if they were human or animal. Some seemed to be a cross between the two. Others were wholly different and foreign to his senses.
The Viking didn’t stop to discover who or what they were. He was curious, and someday he knew it would be fun coming back to explore further. But for now, he was anxious to get home.
There was one interesting thing he came across. It was a plant species with a certain amount of intelligence. They actually seemed to be able to communicate with him at an elementary level. He approached them warily as he probed for danger.
The plants didn’t seem to be a threat nor think of him to be one. Thorgaut noticed that it seemed to exude an aura of healing intelligence. They actually seemed to be offering their services to him if needed.
Thorgaut knew his body had fully healed itself of everything he had been through and experienced. So, he politely declined and thanked them for their gracious offer. He quickened his pace after that. He knew he was arriving at the cave entrance.
As he exited the cave, he could see the river a short distance away. It was late afternoon, and the sun was low on the horizon behind him. It took his eyes a minute to adjust to the sunlight.
“Sunlight!” he thought. “It felt so good to be out in the open and breathe fresh air once again. He inhaled deeply, paying attention to each and every scent that assailed his senses.
An awareness of Ariana’s presence pressed into his mind. She greeted him excitedly as she popped out of the forest. She scampered over in his direction.
“Hey there,” he greeted her back. “I see you made it safely. How is Svart?”
“He’s doing well,” she replied. “He snapped out of Abyss Snarer’s control soon after we entered the tunnel. What happened after I left you?”
The spiderling probed his mind for a mental image. He played out a brief vision of the spider jumping at him. Then showed Ariana a scene of him stabbing Abyss Snarer in the forehead with the fang. And finally, a view of himself ripping off the giant spider’s head.
“Wow! Nice job,” she muttered admiringly. He could tell her level of respect increased immediately. He thought he even sensed a bit of fear tinge her emotions as she realized how fast and powerful he had become.
He held back the images of Abyss Snarer biting him and wrapping his body in her thread. He felt it was unnecessary. And frankly, the Viking warrior felt a bit miffed at having been caught off guard like that.
He also didn’t want to reveal the extent of his healing powers. The less Ariana knew about his healing capabilities, the better. She might share it in the collective mental web. They might use that kind of knowledge against him someday. Besides, keeping it a secret could come in quite handy at some point.
“How did my friends react when they saw you?” he asked.
He imagined the look of shock on their faces when they saw the spiderling and chuckled to himself. Even though Ariana was small for her kind, Ariana was still much significantly bigger than any spider the humans had ever seen.
“To say I surprised the girl would be an understatement,” she replied. “She screamed and climbed a tree as soon as she saw me.”
Ariana suppressed a giggle as she pushed a mental image into Thorgaut’s mind. He could see Katla hanging onto the branches and screaming hysterically. They both chuckled at the thought but stopped when they saw her coming through the trees. It was hard to keep a straight face as he reviewed the scene in his head.
“Thorgaut!” Katla screamed in delight. “You’re alive, and you’re back!”
The pretty girl raced in Thorgaut’s direction. Her wild, red hair streamed in the wind. Katla threw her arms around Thorgaut when she reached him. She squeezed him tightly for a long time. She finally let go and wiped a tear from her eye.
“It’s good to see you too, Katla,” he said brushing his hand against her cheek to wipe away another tear.
“We thought you were gone for good and that we never see you again,” she said swallowing a sob. She grabbed Thorgaut again and held on. He hugged her back now that she didn’t have his arms pinned to his sides.
“Where’s everyone else?” he asked.
“They’re out looking for you,” she replied. “Liut, Grimar, and Bior left a week ago to track you down. I haven’t seen them since.”
Thorgaut’s heart froze in his face paled.
“What is it?” Katla asked. “What happened to them? What happened you all this time?”
Thorgaut shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he replied. “There are a lot of dangerous things out here in these woods. Anything could have happened to them. We need to find them though.”
He mentally asked Ariana if she could still tap into the collective mind.
“Of course,” she replied. “You want me have the spider scan the caves.”
“Yes,” he answered. “Have they seen any humans wandering around in there.”
“No,” she said. “But I have asked a few to head back up to the entrance underneath Svart’s house. They were already heading in that direction anyway.”
The three of them walked back towards the camp where they met up with Svart. Thorgaut was happy to see the boy safe and sound. He gave the blond-haired lad a big hug. Svart seemed pleased to see him as well.
“What a crazy adventure. Huh?” Thorgaut said.
Svart laughed and rolled his eyes. “You can say that again!”
Ariana tapped into his awareness. She let him know that the spiders had arrived at the entrance to the boy’s house. They hadn’t seen or sensed the presence of any humans in the cave. The spiders had even entered and scanned the house. But Thorgaut could see that everything was in place just like he had left it.
Thorgaut mentally ran back over the path he had taken to arrive at Halldora’s meadow. He knew that he had circled around and come back in this direction. Knulkforrest couldn’t be that far away. If knew its exact location he could cut straight through the trees and get there quickly. But there was a good chance of him getting lost again. He assumed that was what had happened to his friends.
As he traced his route, there was an area of his memory that seemed to be blanked out. Thorgaut figured that was where Halldora was cloaking her home. He tried probing around that zone mentally, but was fuzzy and out of focus. He could almost sense Halldora’s presence. He quit examining and analyzing those thoughts after a few minutes though. He felt angry at himself for not being able to pin the location down.
He felt frustrated because his senses didn’t function at a great distance. If he could pick out Halldora’s presence, he knew she must be close. Even though it was barely perceptible, he could still sense her. He sat down on the log and considered his options.
Katla had busied herself over the fire. She had been stirring something in a pot, and it smelled terrific. Soon she was serving the humans large bowls of soup. She offered Ariana a bowl who declined with a funny look on her face. But she tried to be gracious and thanked her for the kind offer.
Thorgaut could see the questioning look in Katla’s eyes. He knew she was dying to ask him what had happened and how he had met the spider. But he wasn’t in the mood to tell her the whole story right now. So he smiled and kept shoveling the delicious warm food in his mouth.
He scraped the last of the stew from the bottom of his bowl and smacked his lips. His sensitive hearing detected footsteps coming through the woods. They were soft and barely perceptible. He couldn’t tell who it was, but there was a faint scent drifting in the breeze that seemed familiar.
The Viking put his bowl down. He turned in the direction the steps were coming from. He motioned for everyone to be silent and put out his hand to take Katla’s sword. Everyone froze and watched him in silence.
He gasped has dark figure stepped out of the woods and came into view.
“Going to kill an old friend who comes to visit you, Thorgaut?” a quiet voice said lilting softly over his name.
Thorgaut was already a little distance away. He considered making a run for the tunnel. He might make it if the spider was still weak. The Viking warrior decided against it though.
He had seen how far the spiders could jump in the earlier fight. And he knew Abyss Snarer could close the distance between them in a single bound if she was feeling back to normal. He would rather face her head on and have a fighting chance, then have her tackle him from behind. He didn’t want her sinking her fangs into his back as she had earlier.
Abyss Snarer was anxiously tapping her feet and moving sideways. She lowered her head and raised her abdomen. He circled to put a stalagmite between him and the spider hoping that it would block her jump.
“I’m leaving and going back to my home,” he said. “I don’t plan on coming back and won’t ever bother you again. So don’t attack me and I won’t hurt you.”
“Silly human,” she hissed. “Humans will never accept you for who you’ve become. You are one of us now. You may as well stay here in the cave with me.”
Thorgaut started backing away toward the tunnel. He tried to keep the stalagmite between him and the spider as much as possible.
“Are you scared yet?” she asked.
The man shook his head. He honestly didn’t feel afraid of her because she had already tried to kill him and failed. He also knew what she was capable of doing and knew he could put up the good fight. The only thing he had to do was avoid her fangs. And yet he still wanted to avoid the conflict.
“Not necessarily,” he replied. “But my mama always taught me to be nice and play fair. She told me to live and let live as much as possible because death never did anyone any good.”
“Your mother wouldn’t make a good spider,” she replied. “We have to kill to eat and survive.”
Thorgaut shrugged. He knew the spider was trying to goad him into a fight, but he wasn’t in the mood. He just wanted to get back to his friends. He was so close to reaching them after having come this far.
The giant spider kept edging closer in his direction, and he kept backing up. Abyss Snarer tried to fake him out like she was going to jump, but he didn’t flinch. The warrior was ready for her attack and waiting for her to make a mistake.
He had been actively probing her mind the entire time. So, he knew there was little chance she would actually jump straight at him. He hadn’t been able to activate an open connection yet to perceive exactly what she was thinking. But he had enough of a read on her to sense her feelings and intentions.
Thorgaut did know that she didn’t plan on letting him leave the cavern. She would pick a fight soon. So, he bided his time, analyzed his options, and prepared for an attack of his own.
She was eyeing an area of the cavern roof behind him. He sensed that was where she wanted to jump to begin her attack. He didn’t know yet exactly what she would do after that. So, he stopped moving to stall for time. She paused as well.
“I guess we are in a deadlock,” he said. “We’re both now undead creatures who are gonna fight in this cavern for all eternity.”
Abyss Snarer chuckled. “You should be proud of yourself, Thorgaut,” she said. “You’ll go down in history as a myth and legend. Don’t worry though. I will make sure to tell everyone I kill down here about you before I eat them.”
Thorgaut started backing up again. This time he edged off to the side to avoid the area of the roof that she was watching. She realized that he had caught on to her plan, and took the leap.
It was amazing to watch. With an increased clarity of vision, Thorgaut could make out the twitches in her muscles. He could see all the subtle details in the movement of her body. He didn’t move an inch though. He followed her only with his eyes while admiring what she could do.
He knew Abyss Snarer was trying to fake him out again. As soon as she landed on the stalagmite, she would push off in his direction and attack him from the side. He watched her legs reaching out for the edges and then begin to push off again.
The instant she committed herself to the leap in his direction, Thorgaut jumped back and to the side. The spider realized she wasn’t going to reach him. Abyss Snarer stretched out her legs as far as they would go in his direction, but she couldn’t quite make it. She landed right where the human had been standing an instant before.
One of her front paws was close enough for him to grab with his right hand. He held it firm and smashed down on it with his other forearm. Like Happy Feet, her skin wasn’t as hard as it looked. It snapped under the crushing blow. Green spider goo squirted across his arms and hands. She screamed in pain and fury.
The spider hobbled backward on her other seven legs to get away from him. But she wasn’t fast enough. Thorgaut was already in her face. He stabbed ‘Terror,’ the fang in his right hand, straight down into the middle of her forehead. She screamed in hissed in his face spraying spider spittle and venom at the human.
Abyss Snarer laughed and waited for him to fall over paralyzed once again. But the poison didn’t faze him in the slightest, because his body had already built up an immunity to its effect.
The spider had stepped in close to spit in his face. But Abyss Snarer was still wobbly and backed away too slowly. Her body hadn’t had the time to heal fully like Thorgaut’s.
He reached out to grab her other front leg with his left hand. He grasped it firmly and held on for a moment as he wiped his eyes clean with the other. Then he brought his right forearm down hard and crushed through her other leg.
Thorgaut reached out and grabbed the fang still protruding from her forehead. It slid out exposing her brains. The spider clutched her head with mangled paws. She tried to back away. Thorgaut slashed the fang across her eyes before she could get away. He completely blinded her two large eyes up front and the three smaller ones to the right.
The giant spider stumbled backward and tried to turn so she could see him with the eyes on her left side. But Thorgaut moved along with her staying to the right. She screeched and jumped in his direction, feeling for him with her six good legs. He ducked to avoid them and stepped in to meet her swollen underbelly.
The fierce warrior drove the fang deep into her soft gut. It was still gorged with all that she had sucked out of his body. The Viking pulled the prong up. It tore through the flesh across her abdomen. Before he could pull it back out though, her weight came crashing down on top of him.
Thorgaut fell to the ground with her weight on top of him. He struggled to get out from under her massive body. He managed to roll out and stay away from her flailing legs. He stood up and realized that Terror, the fang, was still stuck underneath her.
He pulled the other fang out of his pocket and considered stabbing her with it for good measure. He didn’t want to use it though because Happy Feet and given it to him for a reason. It wouldn’t be wise to waste it unnecessarily on this enemy. Thorgaut watched Abyss Snarer to see what she would do.
She lay on the ground and moaned pitifully. Her legs pushed uselessly against the ground. Thorgaut knew that her body would heal itself given enough time as he had. Somehow being bitten by the undead gave them almost unlimited healing power. He realized that this ability must be what made the undead unable to die.
Thorgaut walked around to her left side to look into the three good eyes. She hissed when he came into view. She pushed a leg in his direction, but he kicked it out of the way. He stomped on it the second time she tried. The spider screamed and cursed him. But she gave up trying to push him back.
The man knelt down in front of her probing her mind softly. He could see the desire for revenge burning in her eyes. He continued to poke around until he felt a soft spot in her mental barrier. He forced it open and savagely pushed himself deep into her thoughts. He could sense her mental processes tearing like she had done to him earlier when they first met.
“I’ll chase you down to the ends of the earth and rip your head off,” she growled at him.
She projected a mental image of traveling through the caves to Jorundarfell. He could see that she find him and kill everyone he loved. She even threatened to drag the other spiders of her race in an all-out war against humankind.
Thorgaut stood up and took a step closer. He placed both hands on the sides of the spider’s head and pressed his foot against her shoulder. He gave a hard twist to the left and yanked back with all his might. Her neck snapped, and the spider’s head tore off in his powerful hands.
“Heal that,” Thorgaut said as he held the head up before his eyes.
The warrior locked the spider’s cranium in place under his left arm. He ignored the green blood and goo dripping down his side. He grabbed one of her fangs and gave it a hard yank. It popped right out of her jaw. He did the same to the other fang as well.
Thorgaut now had three giant fangs. And the new ones were almost twice as long as Happy Feet’s. He tossed Abyss Snarer’s head back down on the ground in front of her.
“Thank you for your generous contribution to my war!” he said and walked away.
Thorgaut came to and jerked awake with a start. It felt like he had been asleep for days. He lay still trying to remember where he was or what was going on. His head felt heavy and fuzzy. He vaguely remembered meeting and interacting with spiders in a cave.
His eyes felt heavy, as he tried to open them. Everything seemed out of focus and wavering. He noticed several large black spheres floating around in front of him. As they came into focus, he could see that they stayed fixed in relation to each other.
Thorgaut started to make sense of what he was seeing. Then the man realized where he was. He was still in the same cave with the Abyss Snarer. The black spheres were her eyes. They looked like the NightWalker’s eyes. She must have transformed after she bit into him.
Her fangs were still in his abdomen. Had he passed out and come to a few minutes later? Or had he been out for several days, and she was still feeding off him?
Abyss Snarer removed her fangs from his body as she lifted her head. She smacked her lips and shifted position. Her swollen underbelly brushed against his knees.
“What a meal!” She exclaimed. “Normally, it would take a prey twice the size to fill me up like that. The last time I felt this full was when that mammoth got lost in these caves and fell into my trap.”
She poked Thorgaut with her front leg and muttered something about him not having shrunk. The spider raised her legs to step over him but didn’t get them up high enough. Abyss Snarer was still weak and wobbly. She tripped, and half fell to the side.
Her hind legs landed on Thorgaut with a thud. He could feel them moving as she tried to lift them off. His sense of feeling seemed to have returned, so he attempted to wiggle his fingers and toes. They worked.
Thorgaut tried to move his arms and legs, but they were still firmly wrapped in the silvery thread. Abyss Snarer had stood up and noticed his movements. She rubbed her two front feet in glee.
“Well, well, well, my little friend,” she said. “Being undead has made you quite the prize. I’ve eaten all I can from you, and you’re as fat and sassy as ever. I could string you up and the feast on you forever without ever having to hunt again for another meal.”
Thorgaut grimaced as he struggled against the thread she had wrapped them in. But it was no use. They were too dense and wrapped too tight. He wouldn’t be able to wiggle loose very easily. He finally gave up and stopped struggling. He remembered the pain and suffering she had put him through before passing out. The more he thought about it, the angrier he became.
“No use struggling, Sonny,” she said. “You’re in Abyss Snarer’s trap, and there is no getting loose for you.”
She giggled and plucked on a thread as if to show him how tight it was. The spider moved off to the side a little way. She laid down and complained about her stomach being too full to relax.
Thorgaut continued to move his hands and wiggle his fingers through the thread. They were too thick and too tight though. He looked at the spider, but couldn’t tell if she had fallen asleep because her eyes were still wide and black. He didn’t even know if spiders could close their eyes, so he wasn’t sure if that was a way to tell if she had fallen asleep.
The rising and falling of her abdomen had slowed down considerably though. The shifting patterns on her sides had also stopped changing shape. Thorgaut had noticed that the more excited she became, the faster they moved around.
Thorgaut remembered the fangs in his pocket and tried to move his right hand up to reach ‘Terror.’ It was impossible though because his arm was wrapped too tight against his body.
He tried moving his left hand, but he was laying on top of it. So he rocked his body back and forth. He managed to roll over onto his other side.
He didn’t like being in that position because he could no longer keep an eye on the spider. But he was able to move his hand up and reach his pocket. Thorgaut managed to grip the edge of the other fang he had called ‘Chelicerae.’
His hands still felt a little numb from the effects of the poison in his body. But he managed to work it out of his pocket. It took him several minutes, but he was finally successful. He rolled back over far enough to keep the spider in his sights. Abyss Snarer hadn’t moved an inch.
Thorgaut wrapped his hand around the top edge of the fang. He was careful not to poke himself with the point at the other end. He twisted the point up towards the threads and scratched at them to tear them apart. He kept working up and down in a slow and steady motion. He took great care to scratch himself with it.
After a few minutes, he noticed that he could move his hand more freely. He continued plucking at the threads with a sharp point of the fang. A little longer and he felt his hand come entirely out of the thread blanket that surrounded him. It was such a relief to feel a soft, fresh breeze blowing across his sweaty fist.
He twisted the fang around so that the point was up at an angle. The man kept plucking at the threads above his wrist until he was able to move his entire forearm. Once he was able to bend his arm at the elbow, he reached across to start plucking at the threads around his other hand.
Thorgaut had worked part way through the threads. He could feel his other hand moving a little more freely when he lost his grip on the fang. It fell out of his hand and on to the rocky cavern floor. He swore at himself for his clumsiness and mentally kicked his own keister for having dropped it.
The fang made a sharp clinking sound when it hit the ground. Abyss Snarer stirred in her slumber and lifted her head towards his direction. He lay perfectly still without blinking. She put her head back down and twisted into a more comfortable position back in the other direction.
The Viking way or breathed a sigh of relief and rolled back over away from the spider. He reached out his hand, feeling around on the ground for the fang. He couldn’t find it, so he pulled back to spot it with his eyes. He saw where it was and then rolled his body back in the direction to detect it with his fingers. This time he grasped it and hung on to it even more carefully than before.
A little bit longer and his other arm was free too. He was able to reach into his other pocket and pull out the fang with his right hand. He continued working with both fangs until his upper body was completely free of the thread. And after that, it was a simple matter of tearing away the strands around his legs.
Thorgaut had never felt so happy to be able to move in his life. He felt like he had died and resurrected. As if someone had given him a new opportunity at life. He swore that he would make the most of it. He would go back home and be the best king he could ever be for his family and people. No more wasting time in his life.
He wiggled and moved every part of his body and excitement. He didn’t feel any aftereffects from the poison. There was no pain in any part of his body. It had completely healed itself. It was a marvelous realization.
Thorgaut stood up easily. He looked down at his hands and arms. He scanned his body down to his feet. Everything seemed healthy and he felt great. No, he felt better than great. He felt better than he’d ever felt in his entire life.
He took a moment to scan through his other senses. His hearing was impeccable. He could hear the whispers of a rat brushing against the rock on the far side of the cavern. He detected the flutter of a moth’s wings as it flew through the air behind him. His nose picked up this musky scent of the spider. He could tell exactly where she was without even looking at her.
His vision was as sharp as ever. He could see subtle differences in the texture of the cavern walls. His eyesight could even pick up the faint glimmer of what looked like gold specks on the far side of the cave.
Even his taste buds seemed well honed. He could pick out the subtle flavor of the enzymes the spider had released in his body. He could distinguish it from the venom that had paralyzed him before that.
Thorgaut stretched his strained and weary muscles, careful not to make any noise. It felt great to be able to move again. He kept a wary eye on abyss snarer as he tiptoed to the cavern entrance Ariana had taken Svart through earlier.
But as he slipped past the spider, one of the joints in his knees popped making a loud cracking sound. Abyss Snarer stirred and breathed out a loud sigh. She turned her head in his direction and jumped to her feet when she saw him walking.
“Where do you think you’re going?” she demanded in a loud, angry voice.
The first book in the NorthWorld series is complete. Read and follow Thorgaut Kabbisson, the Viking prince on his adventure through the Knulkforrest of Northworld.
If a Viking doesn’t fear death and actually embraces it, what would a Viking fear?
While exploring the vast lands of Northworld, a viking prince is separated from his friends in Knulkforrest.
He is attacked by undead shufflers and meets a witch in the woods who can help him create an undead army for his future conquests.
Thorgaut gets caught in a snare and attacked by a pack of weird wolves.
He is rescued by a hunter with dubious intentions, but comes under attack by a group of NightWalkers before he can figure out what they are.
The survivors flee into caves ruled by giant spiders and must stay alive no matter what the cost.
Along the way back to finding his friends he picks up several new useful but unrequested abilities.
Thorgaut heir to the hall of Jorundarfell, must do whatever it takes to return home alive.
Read Thorgaut Kabbisson of Northworld: Lost In The Spider Caves of Knulkforrest (Northworld Fantasy Saga 1) here on the blog >>
Abyss Snarer’s teeth pierced through Thorgaut’s skin and sunk deep into his flesh. The pain was excruciating. He tried to move and get away from Abyss Snarer. But she had pinned his arms to his sides in her tight grasp.
Thorgaut screamed in agony as the poison coursed through his veins. The spider’s terrible venom burned through every cell tissue in his body. He knew he shouldn’t scream. It would void his entrance into Valhalla.
He hated himself for it. It was embarrassing for a Viking warrior of his status to scream like that. But he couldn’t help it. The sound welled up and tore out from deep within his being as if coming straight from the depth of his soul.
Thorgaut prayed for the sweet relief of death, but it didn’t arrive. Even the easing of unconsciousness evaded him. He felt every single bit of pain the spider inflicted into his body. He moaned in agony and cursed the day he was born. He cursed the day his mother bore him. The moment he took his first breath. Wishing he had died before ever coming into existence.
The spider seemed to take great pleasure in his suffering. Abyss Snarer didn’t immediately remove her fangs from his back. Abyss Snarer left them in even long after the venom stopped flowing. Eventually, he felt her withdraw her prongs as they ripped and tore back out through his flesh.
The burning continued to flow through his body in waves. Thorgaut screamed until he was hoarse and his voice gave out. When he could no longer yell, he lay silent in the Abyss Snarer’s grasp and waited for death.
It seemed like the searing waves tore him apart within for hours. The pain gradually subsided, and a relieving numbness swept out from the core of his body. It slowly spread to his extremities, and finally, the pain disappeared completely.
Thorgaut felt the paralysis took hold of his body. Not that he was able to move much anyways in Abyss Snarer’s grasp. Eventually, he could no longer even wiggle his fingers or his nose.
Once he stopped struggling, Abyss Snarer dropped him roughly to the floor. Thorgaut felt a dull thud but no pain as his body hit the hard, rocky ground. He tried to move his body but was unable. He tried to speak, but no sound came out. He desperately tried to scream, but his lips wouldn’t even twitch.
Abyss Snarer grabbed him roughly with her front feet. She shoved him around to wrap him in her thick, silvery thread. It was ironic. Thorgaut couldn’t move anyway because he was paralyzed. Now, the Viking warrior definitely couldn’t because he was so tightly bound.
“Very nice,” the spider said. “Now to drag you down to my layer.”
Abyss Snarer grabbed hold of the web with her fangs to pull Thorgaut up off the ground. She used her two front legs to balance him in place. The human was heavier than she expected, and she stumbled forward in her weakened state.
The spider set Thorgaut back down on the ground and paused to catch her breath. He could see that she was still weak and shaking from the effect of the poison of the hatchlings in her body. He would’ve grinned if he could have moved his lips.
Abyss Snarer scowled at him as if she was trying to figure out what to do. He no longer had the open connection directly into her mind, but he could still sense her emotions.
“Having trouble there?” he fired out mentally in her direction. “Let me give you a hand. Oh, right! I can’t move either of them.”
“Shut up!” she shot back. “As soon as I feast on your flesh, I’ll regain my strength.”
“Oh, nice! Are you inviting me over for dinner?” he asked. “How kind of you, but unfortunately I’ll have to decline. I have other plans for tonight.”
The spider chuckled at that one. “Good one, Thorgaut. If I didn’t have to eat you, I’d keep you around to humor me.”
Thorgaut desperately tried to wiggle his fingers or toes. But he still couldn’t move any part of his body. The spider half-dragged and half-rolled his him over to the side of the cave. She leaned the human up against the wall.
Abyss Snarer maneuvered around him trying to find a convenient place to sink her teeth into his body. But it wasn’t a very suitable position for her because of the way her fangs folded out. She needed to maneuver his body beneath hers so that she could press her teeth down into him.
Thorgaut looked on helplessly as she dragged him back across the cave to a pile of rocks. She tossed him over the top and left his head dangling over the edge. It would’ve been a painful position if he had been able to feel anything.
“You know this is a dumb idea. Right?” Thorgaut asked. “If you bite me, you’re probably going to die. And if you don’t, at the very least you will become a slow, undead shuffler.”
“You and your scary mind games,” she said with a snort. “I don’t remember seeing you get bit by a shuffler when I sifted through your memories. I only saw you get bit by a wolf and a NightWalker.”
“And a spider to boot,” he added.
Thorgaut tried to think of something intelligent to say to stall for time. He hoped that Ariana would come back and save him. Or Svart maybe. But he knew that was a long shot.
“It’s okay,” Abyss Snarer replied. ” I’ll take my chances. I prefer to be a slow, undead, shuffling spider than to be a dead spider killed by a bunch of hatchlings. At least I get to live a little longer. Call it my survival instincts kicking into gear.”
Thorgaut tried to think of a smart comeback. Something to keep Abyss Snarer talking, but his mind drew a total blank. He knew it was pointless. Why delay the inevitable? He might as well go ahead and get it over. Let her finish him off and put him out of his misery.
He braced himself in preparation. This time he was ready. He wouldn’t scream or moan. The warrior didn’t want to do anything to give her the satisfaction of gloating over his suffering.
The image of his mother’s face floated in front of his eyes. He remembered sitting in her lap and listening to her sing. All the times she came into his room at night and sat with him until he was fast asleep. The stories she told him were all there in his memory. He never forgot one. Those were some of his most precious memories.
Abyss Snarer loomed over him. She smirked in his face while watching his expression for the slightest glimpse of fear. Thorgaut ignored her. He wasn’t even there. He was back in Jorundarfell surrounded by his siblings at his mother’s feet.
The old spider figured he was under the influence of her poison. She shrugged and moved around to a better spot. She shifted into position, stepping over him. He could see her soft underbelly. Her face about level with his chest.
Thogaut could look directly into her eyes. She was so close that he could make out the individual whiskers on her face in intense detail. Not even the spider venom could take away his robust, new senses.
A musky scent wafted off of her. Thorgaut could hear her jaws grinding and her stomach growling at the thought of her next meal.
Thorgaut watched as she probed around his belly for a soft place to inject her spider enzymes. She drew back her head for the strike. He watched her fangs sink into his stomach. He thought he could feel the location where she bit down on his abdomen. He wasn’t sure though. It didn’t hurt, and it may have been a trick of the mind based on what he was seeing.
Her cheeks pulsed as she released her enzymes into his body. She drooled as waited for her digestive juices to flow through his body in preparation for her next meal. She grinned at him when she realized he was still watching her.
Thorgatut didn’t feel much of any of it though. The entire situation felt so strange and surreal. He felt like he was merely a detached observer in someone else’s nightmare.
He realized he felt no anger or hatred for the spider. He didn’t even view Abyss Snarer as an enemy. She was a creature struggling to survive like himself or anyone else.
Sure, he would have killed her without giving it a second thought if he had the chance to save himself. But there wasn’t anything he could do under the circumstances.
Thorgaut felt a wave of weakness flow over him. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back in resignation. Mercifully, the darkness took over. He drifted off into a deep and dreamless sleep.
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.
Thorgaut screamed furiously. All the spiders turned toward him in shock. They fired back a warning for him to keep it down.
“Don’t use the collective web to express your emotions,” one little spider warned him. The unexpected feelings are a shock to those of us who aren’t expecting it.
Thorgaut apologized and continued to scan through the spider’s collective mind web. He searched for any information that could help him find Svart. None of the spiders claimed to have seen Svart and Abyss Snarer leave.
“How is that possible?” he asked in frustration.
“Tone down the emotions,” they fired back. “The giant spider most likely used a mental cloaking shield to hide itself and the child. And then they walked out of here without any of us noticing them. We’ve recently hatched. So, we don’t have enough experience or training to detect these things yet.”
“Right, but how did Abyss Snarer get free?” he asked with a groan.
“Well, obviously your boy let it go,” they retorted. “From the look of things, he pulled enough of the threads back to free the enemy.”
Thorgaut sensed an edge to their voices that hadn’t been there before. Somehow, they seemed to blame him. He sensed that most of their irritation was because he didn’t realize his role in the whole situation.
He asked the spiderlings for help in tracking Svart down. None of them were willing to help. As far as they were concerned, the damage had been done. But since they weren’t in danger, none of the spiderlings wanted to go looking for trouble.
“Let it be,” they said. “Go home.”
Thorgaut sat down to weigh his options. He remembered the memory pack that Happy Feet had left him. He tore it open and pawed through it clumsily. He finally located the sections of the cave that he recognized. It was easy to spot the entrance where they had entered the cave back at the house. From there, he trailed down to the map to their current location.
He picked out a couple of key locations that Happy Feet seemed to have tagged for him. One appeared to be the location of Abyss Snarer’s trap for unwary miners and dwarves. There also seemed to be a few other areas that she had marked with a similar tag. He assumed that these were additional traps that could be dangerous. He was grateful to have these guides to get him around in these caves safely.
The other tags seemed to refer to exits. One was a cave exit near the river that was most likely where Thorgaut had last seen his friends. And another that was most likely the town they had raided.
There were also a couple of other tags on the map with question marks. He assumed that these were locations where Halldora’s magically, cloaked glad would be. Happy Feet had left them as questionable was because she wasn’t sure which came out the closest to her meadow. He was still pretty excited though. All he had to do was locate Svart and then follow these maps out of here.
Thorgaut stood up and bid the spiders farewell. They seemed surprised that he was leaving so soon. The two little spiders who were supposed to go with him came scurrying over. But once Thorgaut told them that he was going to search for Svart first, they went back to their original tasks.
“Let us know if you survive,” the spiderlings said as they waved him off. “We’ll go with you to the humans, but not out to face that nasty spider.”
Thorgaut walked to the edge of the cavern where it narrowed back down into three tunnels. He paused to take a deep breath. He would have liked having the company of even one little spiderling. Heading off into the darkness by himself wasn’t a prospect he looked forward too. But what could he do?
He was on his own here. He would have to suck it up and make the most of the situation. At least he had the maps and a couple of fangs to keep him company. That was more than he had started with in the beginning.
The Viking warrior held the fangs in his hands. He called one ‘Terror’ and the other ‘Chelicerae’. He put one in each pocket and studied the cave maps Happy Feet had given him.
The tunnel to the right headed down towards Abyss Snarer’s nest. The middle shaft circled back to the river where he had left his friends. The third tunnel to the left went deeper down into the cave.
He didn’t try tracking it on the map because it wasn’t necessary for now and would take up precious time. Thorgaut didn’t think Svart could have been gone more than fifteen minutes. If he moved quickly, he should be able to catch up with them effortlessly. The spiderlings had injected Abyss Snarer with a lot of poison. That alone should have left her in a weakened and frail state. He didn’t imagine she would be able to move very fast in her current state.
Thorgaut entered the tunnel and walked as fast as he could while still not making much noise. He probed the tunnel ahead for any sign of Svart or the giant spider. After a few bends in the shaft, he picked up a strange presence that seemed to be coming from behind him.
He cloaked his mind and stepped into a large crack in the tunnel wall. He knew the cloak wouldn’t make him invisible like Abyss Snarer. But at least whoever was behind him wouldn’t be able to track his mind from a distance.
Thorgaut could tell that whatever was following him stopped as soon as he cloaked his mind. After a few seconds, it started moving cautiously again his direction.
Soon, he saw it coming around the bend. It was one of the little hatchlings that was supposed to travel with him. He waited for it to notice him. It perked up immediately and came scampering over to him.
“What are you doing?” he demanded to know while trying to give it a disappointed scowl.
“Coming with you,” it replied cheerily. “I didn’t think you were going to chase down your friend by yourself.”
The little spider giggled and hopped around while tapping its feet. It seemed particularly pleased to see Thorgaut. He couldn’t keep the scowl any longer. He snickered and stepped out from the crack.
“Okay. Okay!” Thorgaut said. “I’m happy to see you too, but we need to get moving.”
They continued walking down the tunnel. The little spiderling ran circles around the Viking man. It crossed the path in front of him and up the wall on one side. Then it would come down and traverse back to the other from behind him. Sometimes it would run up across the ceiling and come down on the other side. Thorgaut got dizzy watching the vigorous, little spiderling buzzing around.
“Why did Svart let Abyss Spider go and leave with her?” Thorgaut mused out loud while deep in thought. “I’m going to kill that kid when I find him.”
“The giant spider hijacked his mind and turned him into a puppet,” the little spider replied. “He’s no longer in control of his body.”
“What?” Thorgaut practically yelled. “How does she do that? And how do you know that?”
The spider shrugged. It looked funny since the creature had to use all eight legs to get the same effect.
“Because I can sense the boy’s mind up ahead, and he’s not in control of himself,” the spiderling answered.
“You can tap into his mind and read it too?” Thorgaut asked in surprised. “I didn’t think Svart was a mind reader.”
“He’s not,” the spider said. “But I am and I can.”
The spiderling pushed a replay of Abyss Snarer hypnotizing Svart. The spider had magnetized the boy conversationally by merely asking him various questions. Svart had soon slipped into a trance, and from there it was easy for Abyss Snarer to take control of the boy’s mind.
“That is crazy,” Thorgaut said in awe. “It must be an amazing skill to have.”
“Shh!” the spiderling whispered into his mind. “They are just around the next bend. Cloak your mind.”
Thorgaut stepped back to let the hatchlings come straight on through. Abyss Snarer backed up and started to turn, but by then they had already started crawling up her legs. She tried to shake them off and to run. Several small spiders began leaping over the heads of their siblings to get to her first. They grabbed on to keep her from getting away.
The hatchlings bowled her over and swarmed across her body. Thorgaut watched with satisfaction as the little spiders pulled her down. Justice served as the mean old spider deserved.
Several spiders grabbed each leg and helped pin it down. Others started weaving webs across her body to keep her down. A few of the spiders even attacked the exposed areas of her abdomen and neck. They tore into her with their fangs and injected their poison.
He watched as Abyss Snarer struggled under the growing number of baby spiders grabbing on to her. She was almost completely immobilized.
“Stop! Please,” she wailed. “What have I ever done to you spiders?”
Thorgaut laughed out loud. “You killed their mother and their sister,” he replied. “You don’t think they’re going to let you off that easy, do you?”
“I’m sorry,” Abyss Spider screamed. “Wait. I can explain. Stop.”
But the little hatchlings continued weaving her down into place with their webs. Svart looked on in shock at the terrifying scene. Thorgaut pulled him off to the side towards a rock. He didn’t say anything, but instinctively pushed the idea of sitting into the boy’s head.
Thorgaut caught himself with a chuckle. He kept forgetting that the boy wasn’t a mind reader and wouldn’t understand. He motioned to the rock with an outstretched hand.
“Have a seat,” he said. “No need to watch the spiders avenging their mother’s death.”
“It’s awful,” the boy said. “I know she was bad and probably deserves it for the things she did. But still, she was a spider trying to survive.”
“It’s the law of nature, boy,” Thorgaut replied. “The fittest will survive. And fortunately for us, we’re still a part of the surviving group. She would have killed us if the little ones hadn’t taken her down.
He left Svart sitting on the rock and walked back over to the cluster of spiders. They had surrounded Abyss Snarer. There were more spiders than he remembered. The eggs must still be hatching. He couldn’t even see the giant spider under the teaming mass of bodies crawling over her.
Several more little spiders came spewing out of the opening in the crevice. They scampered over to get their pound of flesh. Thorgaut got glimpses of her between their shifting bodies. He could see that they had covered her with their silvery silk threads. After they finished, the spiderlings jumped off one-by-one and started spreading out.
Eventually, there were only a few of the little spiders left. They tugged at the threads to make sure they were secure. Here and there, they would spin out another string or two just to tighten down a loose end.
The little spiders mostly ignored him. They were careful to step aside or move out of the way when he got to close though.
Thorgaut tapped into their collective mind to see what was going to happen next. They didn’t seem to be giving it much thought. They had each gone back to doing their own thing around the cave. Most were busy spinning webs in dark corners of the cave.
Every once in a while, one of the hatchlings would throw a bit of information into the pot. But that only happened when they got outside the current perimeter of the group.
Thorgaut wasn’t sure what to do now or who to approach. He walked back over to Svart and threw himself down.
“Well, I guess all’s well that ends well. Huh?” Thorgaut asked him with a grin.
The boy shrugged. After a bit, he spoke up. “What are they gonna do now?” he asked.
This time it was Thorgaut’s turn to shrug. “They seem to have gone about their regular life here. I guess we’ll have to move on and try to find our way out of her.”
“Why don’t you ask them?” Svart asked.
“They know their way around the caves yet,” he chuckled. “They’ve only scanned these two caves so far.”
Thorgaut could track a few spiders up in the cavern close to their mother. A few had spread out in the other direction but weren’t that far off. He got the impression that they would spend most of their lives here in this area.
One of the little hatchlings went by. Thorgaut probed out with a question.
“What happens to the big spider?” he asked.
“Food,” it fired back. Thorgaut got the mental image of the little spiderlings all having a feast later on.
“Do you know how to leave the cave?” he asked.
“Only the big spider does,” she answered.
He didn’t say anything else, and she scurried off before he could ask another question. Thorgaut didn’t feel like messing with Abyss Snarer. He could still sense a weak presence emanating out under the web. She must have sensed him probing and called out to him.
“Thorgaut,” she whined. “Help me, please. Let me go, and I’ll leave you alone. I’ll go back to my web. Or I’ll even leave this section of the cave for good and never come back. Please let me go.”
“How do we get out of the caves?” he asked.
“Let me go, and I’ll show you the way,” she offered.
“No way,” he said adamantly. “You would turn on us in a heartbeat.”
“I swear I won’t,” she replied.
Thorgaut probed around trying to sift through her memories for a view of the caves. He wasn’t able to pull them out though. She snickered.
“Sneaky, Thorgaut!” she said. “I closed the connection once I realized you were messing around in my head and playing mind tricks on me.”
He scowled and stood up.
“Where are you going?” Svart asked.
“Pay my final respects to Happy Feet,” he said. “Wanna come?”
Svart shook his head. “Nah, I’ll wait here. Don’t be long though. We need to get out of here soon. We can’t live off spider food.”
Thorgaut walked quickly up the tunnel till he came to the cavern where he had last seen Happy Feet. He found her broken body surrounded by green ooze between some rocks off to the side of the chamber. He knelt down beside her like he would for any of his comrades who had fallen in battle.
“Thank you for helping us, Happy Feet,” he whispered. “You saved our lives even though you didn’t know us and didn’t have any good reason to do so.”
He reached out to touch her. He was surprised at how soft she felt. He thought her exoskeleton would have been much harder and firmer. He felt a tremor run through her body and a flicker of a presence of consciousness.
“Happy Feet,” he probed excitedly. “Are you still alive?”
A few of her eyes blinked open as she tried to focus on his face.
“Thorgaut,” she whispered. “You’re still alive. Good. Where is Abyss Snarer?”
“It’s okay. Your children took him down very efficiently. They’re good little spiders like you.”
He gently pushed some images of Abyss Snarer’s current position into her mind. She smiled and coughed lightly. He pressed her thoughts into the mental network and alerted the cluster of her state. He could sense them coming in her direction.
“Good. That’s good, Thorgaut. Take two of my babies with you. Let them learn the ways of men. Teach them to survive among your kind. But you must return them to these caves when the wars begin. It’s important for the survival of my species and yours.”
“You come with me, Happy Feet,” he said. “Show me the way out, and I will take you to my kingdom.”
“I won’t make it,” she said. “My time has come to say goodbye. But I will show you the way out. Pay close attention.”
She pressed a massive ball of thoughts and memories into his mind and the collective consciousness of the spiders. It was more information than he could grasp at the moment. He pushed her knowledge to the side carefully for later unpacking and analysis.
“Go quickly,” she said. “Time is of the essence.”
The hatchlings came scampering in their direction. Thorgaut could hear the patter of hundreds of little spider feet echoing off the cave walls. He stood up and backed away to make room for them to gather around her.
“You will not be forgotten, Happy Feet,” he whispered. “I will make sure that your name lives on throughout history. I will tell every one of your brave and selfless sacrifices.”
She smiled softly as her children gathered around her and breathed her last. As she drifted off, Happy Feet pushed one final thought into his mind.
“After I die, take my fangs. Use them to defeat the King of Death when his armies sweep over NorthWorld.”
Happy Feet sluggishly pushed an image of her facing a fierce NightWalker in battle. In the struggle, she bit him and subdued the foul creature. That was the last thing he saw as her consciousness blipped out.
The hatchlings didn’t stick around long after that. Most scattered right away. A few stayed behind to wrap their mother in long, silky threads. After they finished, the rest continued scattering out until there were only two left.
“Let’s go,” they said. “Take mother’s fangs.”
“Huh? What?” Thorgaut asked.
He looked down where her face had been covered with webbing. The spiderlings had left the bottom part of her face uncovered. He reached down and pulled lightly at the area around her mouth. He could see her fangs curved back into their protective sheaths.
Thorgaut pulled them out carefully so he wouldn’t poke himself. The points and edges were remarkably sharp. The fangs were a shiny black color that looked like polished marble. They were exquisite. It took him a while to pry them loose with the help of the hatchlings.
When he finished, they walked back down to the other cavern where he had left Svart. He looked around for the boy who was nowhere in sight. He tapped into the spider network to see any of the little spiders could locate him.
The boy was gone. Something was wrong, but Thorgaut couldn’t place his finger on it. He continued scanning for Svart. Suddenly he realized what it was. Abyss Snarer was gone too. There was only a pile of empty webbing where they had left her.
Thorgaut and Svart scrambled backward. He tried to get as far away from this giant spider that had dropped in front of them. Thorgaut looked around for a rock, but there weren’t any close at hand.
“You sneaky little human! You set a trap for me in cahoots with Happy Feet.” she hissed. “I didn’t think you had it in you. And I never would have expected a sneak attack like that from Happy Feet.”
Thorgaut noticed a small pile rocks a short distance from him and kept backing up towards it. He let her keep on talking.
Abyss Snarer tapped two front feet together in mock applause. “Bravo! Bravo! Well-played. Unfortunately for you though, your plan didn’t go as expected.”
“There was no plan,” he fired back. “Happy Feet was afraid for her babies.”
Thorgaut streamed an image of the location he had left Happy Feet to the hatchlings. He wanted them to look for their mother. Maybe they could find her and get her to help. Most of the cluster continued running up the tunnel in the direction he sent them to see what had happened to her. A few of the hatchlings stayed behind. They turned their attention to Thorgaut and Abyss Snarer.
Meantime, Thorgaut had arrived at the pile of rocks and picked one up. He held it awkwardly in front of him. He didn’t know what to do with it now that he had it. He didn’t expect it would do much damage to the spider even if he did throw it. It would most likely bounce off her.
He could throw it at her eye, but she had several. So, even if he did manage to blind one, she would still be able to see him with the others. It wasn’t like one rock would do much to keep her away from him.
Thorgaut noticed several of the little spiders continued scampering over in his direction. They sent out feelers and fed it back into the group. The rest of the cluster had disappeared up the tunnel to find their mother.
Abyss Snarer laughed out loud. “Do you think that rock will protect you? I could pounce on you before you even raise it over your head.”
Thorgaut knew it was true. He had seen how fast the spiders were when they started to fight.
Abyss Snarer twitched at him like she was going to jump. Thorgaut held his ground firmly. He didn’t flinch or back up. He yelled back at her angrily with ferocious Viking war cry that made her recoil.
The little spiders who had come running towards him shouted out, “Mommy! Mommy!”
A few of the others broke off from the cluster and turned back thinking this was Happy Feet.
More of the little hatchlings came racing towards Abyss Snarer who ignored them. She was inching her way closer to Thorgaut. She completely ignored the baby spiders and prepared to jump.
Thorgaut could see that this was the end. He read into her mind to see what she was planning. She intended to string him up in her web and save him for a later snack. She considered Svart to be a younger, tenderer morsel. She planned to eat the boy first. She attacked Thorgaut first because he was taller and stronger. He knew that he was more of a threat than Svart.
Suddenly, a thought flashed through his mind. He remembered Abyss Snarer’s concern about the threat of the NightWalkers. She seemed pretty worked up about it during her conversation with Happy Feet. He grinned wickedly at the idea that had just popped up.
Thorgaut pushed images from his fight with the shufflers into her mind. She hissed and gave a short jump back. Her head and front legs were down low with her back legs and abdomen raised to attack.
He continued to feed her images of shufflers spitting and vomiting. He used his imagination to create visions of shufflers transforming other people into shufflers. Then he imagined those shufflers attacking spiders. Thorgaut shoved those images into her head. He enjoyed showing her how slow and strange a shuffler spider would look.
“That’s so evil,” Abyss Snarer hissed in fear.
“Happy Feet tried to warn you,” he said.
“I’m not referring to the coming war,” she said and then paused for effect.
Thorgaut realized she was referring to his mind-reading skills. He wanted to smile at her surprise but held himself in check.
“How long have you been in my head,” she demanded.
This time he did laugh. A loud, ironic laugh to mock Abyss Snarer.
“You’re the one who opened the connection in my head. You taught me how to read minds, you eight-legged goofball.”
He sensed the rage emanating from her at feeling like she had been played. She twitched uncontrollably and her feet tapped rapidly as she moved around him. He backed away from the pile of rocks, and she climbed up onto them.
Thorgaut tapped into cluster web for a second to see what was going on with the hatchlings. He saw that the first of the baby spiders had already reached their mother. She was lying unmoving and still.
They surrounded her and called it to her. It was heart-wrenching. The sight of what Abyss Snarer had done to their mother infuriated him.
Thorgaut turned his attention back to Abyss Snarer. He popped an image of him spitting on her as she slowly transformed into a shuffler spider. She leaped back off the pile of rocks.
“That’s what will happen to you when the shufflers and NightWalkers start the war. It’s what Happy Feet was referring to earlier,” he said.
Thorgaut had no idea what Happy Feet had actually seen. She hadn’t shown him any images, but Abyss Snarer didn’t know that. He was going to milk this for all it was worth.
He kept walking forward and forcing her to back up. The thought went through his head that he might be revealing too much of his hand. She could use it against him somehow, but it was too late to back down now. He had to see this through to the end.
Abyss Snarer kept backing up and ended up tripping over one of the little hatchlings. It tried to move out of the way but got caught under her legs. Abyss Snarer broke off her connection with Thorgaut in frustration.
She turned and reached down to deal with the baby spider. She grabbed it with her two front feet and raised up towards her face. She bit its little head off and chewed it up. Then she swallowed it.
Thorgaut was shocked and horrified. He sensed the hatchling’s connection to the network of spider minds blink out. None of its other siblings seemed to know why. So, he projected the image of what Abyss Snarer had done back out into the group.
A sense of horror and rage rippled throughout the hatchlings. Thorgaut could sense the entire cluster of little spiders racing back his way. This was it. Time for action. Either they all united against Abyss Snarer and took her out, or she would pick them off one by one.
Abyss Snarer was busy shaking a couple of the little hatchlings off her leg.
“Get off me, you little brats,” she screamed at them. “What did I ever do to you? Leave me alone. Didn’t your mother ever teach you any manners.”
She kept trying to shake them off until one of the hatchlings managed to sink its fangs into her. Abyss Snare screamed and yanked it off of her. She raised it high above her head and smashed it down into the rocks. It didn’t die immediately. The little spider lay there squealing pitifully. It flailed the three remaining legs that Abyss Snarer hadn’t broken off of her body.
Fury flowed through Thorgaut. He wanted to see Abyss Snarer suffer a slow and painful death. He wished he could rip the legs off her body one by one. Then leave her there for other cave creatures to eat up little by little, just like she wanted to do with them.
Thorgaut projected images of the baby spider’s broken body into the collective mind. As he did, the rest of the cluster came racing around the bend. They screamed in fury and picked up speed when they saw the scene for themselves. The spiders clambered over each other trying to get ahead of each other in the crowded tunnel.
Thorgaut sensed that some of the hatchlings were still confused. They didn’t understand why they were attacking this giant spider. They felt it was a suicide mission and wasn’t worth the effort.
“Chickens!” he screamed in their direction.
The angry Viking wanted to show them once and for all who this wretched spider was. So, he reached past Abyss Snarer’s surface thoughts and dug deeper into her memories. He extracted the firsthand view of her fight with Happy Feet from her head.
Thorgaut found the memories of the old spider biting into their mother’s neck. He sifted through and included the one of her injecting Happy Feet with poison. He projected them to the cluster, and the hatchlings went berserk.
The horde of little spiders rushed at Abyss Snarer without holding back. There was no longer any question in their minds. This spider was the enemy, and they wanted to avenge their mother.
Thorgaut didn’t know if these new hatchlings could take on the giant spider. She was wise and had plenty of fighting experience. And on top of all that she was a master of deceitful strategies.