I turn around just in time as the two behind me are in the midst of their approach, having missed the first kill they are eager to make their own. Taking the initiative I swing my heavy lower body around behind me, my legs angling as the weight of the base swings sideways from the sudden momentum. In polite company, one could say I am bottom heavy. They snarl at me and continue their charge, spittle and froth flying from their mouths as I stampede forward to meet them midway.
I hate red-caps! First me completely forgot they were a thing, but spider-me? Spider-me hates red-caps and you might be able to see why, guy. They’re vicious, ghastly little rabid savages. Red-caps fight in swarms, groups of a dozen or more usually that have no clear leader or direction. They just amble around following the direction that the one next to them is going who’s probably just following somebody else in the group. It’s a chaotic collective that usually doesn’t get far traveling through the forest in such a random, scatter-brained matter. But when they find something they want to eat they all find a common narrative to follow.
I hit like a ton of bricks, the huge weight of my rushing eight legs and massive arachnid body thrusting behind the jagged wooden spear that skewers the one on the right, who lets out a disgusting wet sound as his body is impaled on the branch like the one before him. But this time even deeper. The hole in his torso spreads wide letting out the sound of his cracking ribs as he reaches the thick mid-point of the makeshift weapon. The other one leaps up, rusty axe in hand in that instant. His feral, gangrene eyes meet mine that second as he flies through the air and I prepare to die. I smell him for just a moment, the rot of his breath only a foot away from my face. The glint of his axe only an intentful whisper away from my neck.
The chipped, rusty axe strikes the experience bar that pops up out of nowhere like an ethereal shield granted to me by the mercy of the dark-lord personally, as the mangled body still wrapped around my lance stops writhing forever. The sound of glass being struck by metal rings out like the toll of the hero’s bell. A wretched, wild scream escapes the mad creature who has no idea what’s going on. Instinctively, giving in to the spider I reach out and swing my arm towards the experience bar.
Just as I reach the glass window of the piece of the menu, it vanishes into the thin air; disappearing back into nothingness. My hand flies through to meet the surprised little wretch just as he is about to fall back down and I grab him by his disgusting little neck. A wet, scratchy, gulp comes from him as I wrap my hand around his throat and press down tightly. Spittle drips from his gnashing teeth down onto my fingers and in disgust I turn and whip him back to the crowd behind us who are fighting over the last scrap of the first one down. A single tattered tendon from his leg being wrestled for between the entire group is all that remains of the carcass. That and a deep stain over the pristine forest floor.
Tumbling over the grass he knocks one of the others over and they smash against a tree just behind them, the bark of the thing already stained and besmirched enough as is. Frenzy. The other red-caps jump on their weakness. Two fresh screaming voices cry out now as the one I tossed and the one he struck are both set upon by the others. Screams. Gargling with blood and bile and spit they try to fend the others off in vain; to push them back and swing them away with their weapons. But even as they do so the others hack and gnaw at them. I see an axe cleave through a leg and one falls to the mass to be clawed and torn apart on the ground like the first, fingers tearing into his mouth, fingers tearing into his eyes. Ugh.
Red-caps travel in groups, but they’re anything but social creatures. They travel in groups relatively peacefully, they live in a group relatively peacefully. But they also spring on the slightest hint of weakness to meet their desire to eat. Even their own. No. No. It’s not eating. It’s… consuming. Gorging. I’ve never seen anything kill so disgustingly. Even when the hero cuts me in half. Cuts my friends in half. There is a silent dignity to it. An unspoken purpose and cleanliness to his strikes. This… this is just… tearing. I feel sick.
Any single mistake, any weakness even amongst their own and they’ll tear you apart and eat you alive. I feel sick watching them, sick listening to the screams, sick looking at the red. Red. I hate red. Thankfully their greed also inhibits them from hunting well. If they had all come at me at once I would be dead now, or worse lying on the ground being hacked and torn at with their disgusting little fingers and teeth, tell you what. But they wanted to gorge. To satiate their own insatiable greed and hunger and blood-lust. I should run, now’s my chance.
Turning away from the group I run as fast as my eight legs can carry me through the forest. I run as fast as I can, trying to follow the direction I was heading before. I run until I can’t hear the screams anymore. Not because they stopped. But because I’ve just gotten too far. Red-caps kill slow, friend. I hate them. I hate them. Looking up to a tree I place a large spider-leg up on it and climb up as effortlessly as if I was walking on the ground. It might be a little slower, but it’s safer up here.
I’m close to leveling up again. My second level up. I probably only needed to kill one more. Maybe two at most? Maybe I should have. But I don’t want to risk it. I don’t want to die to red-caps. Dying to the hero. To the fading. To a trap or to my own stupidity is one thing. But I don’t want to go out like that, friend. No level-up is worth that risk. I’ll get there taking the long way if I have to. I look down to my lance and shake off the body still clinging there. Ugh.
I rise along the great trunk of the massive tree, climbing higher and higher as my long, moonlight colored hair dangles back down behind me. Reaching into the bag I take the bottle out and look at the liquid, thankful that it’s purple and not red. I take a sip. I feel like I need it right now. I feel a little strange, I mean sure I’m a little rattled from the red-caps. But I feel… warm. Like the potion is making me forget in a good way. The bottle meeting my lips lets out a glug as I realize I’m still drinking from it having taken much more than just a sip now. Exhaling with satisfaction I release it and cork it back up, which is a little awkward to do when standing sideways on a tree but I manage. My body feels warm, my face feels warm.
The trees here have many branches higher up, but are bare near the bottom. They are perfect for us, they keep us safe in their heights. Thank you trees. I run my hand along the bark as I straighten myself out and stand on a long branch, taking a moment to make a fresh web lifeline. Thankfully nobody is around to see. It would be really embarrassing.
Crossing over from one branch to the next I continue my journey in the direction. It is slow going, but I feel safer. I also feel a little dizzy, but it’s kind of nice, haha. Slowly but surely I see a break in the crowns of the trees ahead of me and jumping over the last gap I look ahead, feeling the light of the eternal sun grow dimmer as night is set to fall. I should clarify that the gigantic magic orb here is called the eternal sun. Why? Because the dungeon-master has a flair for the dramatic and you know what? I respect that. What a strange thing it is, to have a night and day.
But there, just ahead of me is the large pond I was searching for. Checking that the coast is clear, I attached a new web again to the tree I am on and lower myself down with surprising grace, floating down like a feather from heaven. Removing the string I walk forward towards the water and look at it. It’s beautiful, a shade of a bright vivid pale blue off of which the dying light of the day reflects. Looking down I see my own reflection and touch the skin of my face as I look. So this is me, huh? I place a foot in the water, it’s cool but not icy like the water two floors down. It’s almost nice. It reminds me of the fountain water in the grand-treasury. Okay. Secret stairs. I cross my fingers and take a deep breath, lowering myself into the wet. It is a steep incline and I float at first, but slowly as my body and bag become soaked and I release a little air from my lungs do I sink lower and manage to keep my feet on the soft, muddy floor.
With my eyes open beneath the blue I scan the foggy water beneath the surface of the pond and stop as I see the thing moving in the middle of it all. The vague silhouette of a human figure, huddled together. Her hair flowing around her; a large shining blue stone in her hand.