The great spider doffed her hat and gloves and stuffed them in her satchel. The grunting sounds from the ravine reached the edge and her scarred leg twitched in anticipation.
A snorting, grotesque monster, shrouded in dark clothing, scrambled over the edge of the gorge and put its face to the ground, snuffling for tracks. In its hands it held a pair of kopis, ancient curved Greek blades, wicked sharp. Overhead the screeching of a flying scout alerted the tracker. It lifted its head just as Arachne charged forward, her legs pumping, her head tilted back exposing her vicious fangs in preparation for her strike.
The shock of seeing the black terror descend upon him paralyzed the creature. Arachne bowled him over, and with her numerous appendages pinned the monster to the ground, its weapons went flying.
“Mercy! Mercy,” cried the porcine-like being, his squeals and grunts advertising his heritage. The screeching overhead intensified.
“Call them back or die!” said the spider, her mouth parts working wetly next to the snout of the pig-man beneath her.
The beast tried to roll, testing the strength of its adversary, but Arachne thumped her abdomen down onto its stubby legs and levered one fang into the cowl that hid the being’s face, ripping it open and exposing its full features in the moonlight.
“I cannot. They are commanded by Eren.”
“Lie to me again and I will pluck your tiny pig eyes from your head and suck them dry.” She spread her fangs and lowered them to within a finger’s width of the creature’s eyes.
“I must use the shrill.”
Arachne, her many eyes having identified the small silver whistle hanging from a lanyard around the beast’s neck, freed his one arm.
“Now call them!”
The tracker grabbed and blew at the whistle. The spider heard nothing from the device, but the echo of multiple annoying cries came to her from behind. A long minute passed while the flying scouts returned to the frightened pig-man.
The loud flapping of foul smelling birds sounded around the pair, the air from the beating buffeted the hairs on the spider’s legs. The lead scout screeched a muffled reply and the pig-man cried, “They have been called.”
Scanning the perimeter Arachne identified the bald heads and ugly grimaces of harpies.
“I see only three, I know I heard a fourth blare out its cry.”
“As I said, Eren commands them. Only these three can I control.”
The spider backed off the being, releasing its other arm and lifting her body. “Run and you know I will catch you, and this time I will not hesitate. I’ve bled dry your kind before. In fact, I recall that you were-beasts taste rather pleasant.”
Her threats held no sway with the pig-man. He sat up and folded back his ripped hood revealing his full presence.
“Ah, Eryman. I should have guessed,” Arachne said. “Harpies and the Boar-Man, how do you come to be here? Your kind vanished back when the gods dimmed and faded away.”
Eryman glanced about, he might not escape, but… He brought the whistle back to his mouth.
“I’ll take that,” Arachne said as she lanced her shear-like pincers and yanked the leather thong and whistle from his grasp.
“You cannot command them,” Eryman said with a barely disguised sneer.
“No, but then neither can you. And I think I know a human or two who might figure out how, someday.”
“What will you do with me?” The boar-man, his small tusks now evident on his face, rose and stood, thick, though not too tall.
“I thought we might chat. You’ll answer my questions. And then we’ll see.”
The harpies, as tall as African vultures, but twice as vile and twice as weighty, stepped closer, their human female heads wrinkled and blotched, even in the dark. They listened in, always on the trail of blood and information.
The boar-man responded, “I know little. I came to be in this land just tonight. I was buried. I had to dig my way out. The harpies, too, erupted from the soil around me.”
“Go on…” Arachne rested her ponderous rear, but kept her legs tensed. Nothing here is as it seems.
“When I was half out of my hole, a spirit being grabbed me and pulled me up.”
“What kind of spirit?”
“He was shrouded, but his grasp was cold. Moisture froze and crackled from his claws. He instructed me to call him Eren.”
The spider considered if this boar-man’s words could be trusted. She decided to test them. “This spirit, its eyes glowed what color?”
Eryman hesitated. He might not be able to understand why he might lie, but he felt that he should. “White. But I barely saw them before he ordered me to track the Eye. And he gave me that shrill to control the scouts.”
The spider mulled the beast’s half-truth. She knew Erebus had directed this first attack; Erebus, the spirit whose eyes gave no light but rather drained it from the world around him. And she suspected he hunted the Eyes, as well. She decided this Boar-Man knew little else that would help their cause. The odyssey of the Eyes had begun. She’d hoped they would have more time before the forces gathered. Perhaps she could buy them more…
“Nothing else?” the spider asked quietly, leaning up close to the face of the tracker. The harpies each stepped in closer to hear the exchange. They bird-shuffled within reach of Arachne’s misleading grasp.
Apparently, sensing that his usefulness might be at an end, Eryman played his only leverage. “I was not alone. There was another that the spirit pulled from the midnight soil.”
“And what of this other, another like you?”
“No, a messenger–” blurted the pig-man.
“Sent where, or to whom?” The spider tapped her fangs together in front of Eryman’s squinting eyes. She could see the loathing curl of his pig lips. “Reveal their destination and in the morning you may still breathe.”
Her tapping fangs, a liquid thread of venom stretching between them, overwhelmed his intent to deceive. “I… I heard words Eren spoke to the other.”
“Fetch the Gorgon.” The boar-man barely whispered the word.
Eryman stuttered, “A teacher or s… something.”
The craven-faced harpies had leaned in too far. Nothing to be done for the Professor. But I can help Sathena and the Truthsayer. “I thank you.” She whispered back. Then, like the strike of a whip, three of her legs lashed out and struck the harpies in their throats. Though blunt, the hydraulic force that drove her legs crushed the small bones there and each harpy fell, their wings slashing at the tall grass like dulled scythes.
To the pig-man she murmured no apology.
But having sensed and heard the attack on his spies, he must have felt compelled to react. He tucked his short stout legs up under the body of the spider and kicked Arachne to the side.
She tilted, ponderously, but regained her balance. “You are alone, Eryman. Out of your time, lost.”
The tracker rolled onto all fours and made for the cliff’s edge.
Arachne, quick as a trap, rattled forward and with her two pincer legs grabbed the creature’s fat heels, his flesh giving easily to her sharp shear-like claws. His squeal echoed up and down the ravine.
“P… Please, spare me. I’ll bare witness. Your bidding will be–”
“Silence!” The spider, livid now with frustration, yanked the meaty boar-man back from the edge. “Trust is not a badge to be bought. It is a brand you wear.”
Like a toy she flipped the beast onto his back. With her two forelegs she grasped him about his rotund body, pulled him close and without another word sank her fangs up past their length deep into his chest. They easily penetrated the crude woolen cloak he wore.
His last words, dying promises in the night.
She first pumped in a teacup full of venom and then tore downward rending a massive hole which burst with blood, his heart bared, pumped out a spray of gore. She buried her mouth in the hole and sucked deeply.
But she did not drink long.
One harpy had nearly recovered. The fourth has escaped me, but you three will die here with your friend. She scurried back to where one choking bird-thing hopped away toward the south, attempting to take flight. It wore a tattered vest, and in vanity a bracelet around one clawed foot. Arachne dashed forward and lunged up just as the harpy gained the air. The spider hooked the bracelet with her bladed foreclaws and brought the creature slamming to the ground. She stood two legs to either side of its body, stretched the wings of the repulsive beast and quickly snipped its throat with her scissor-like pincers. The other two harpies had drowned in their own blood, gurgling their last breath. She rolled the remains of Eryman, his body still quivering, and the three harpies into the ravine.
“It has begun, but badly,” Lady Ara spoke, looking up to Selene, the silver disc of the Moon. Exhausted by the activity and stress of the encounter, she slowly headed back toward her warren, her crippled leg aching with the effort.