Chapter 43
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I rush through the darkness in pursuit of the hero-party, subconsciously landing each step of my eight legs with immaculate precision as I stride through the midnight forest like an ear-bound whisper of a stalking banshee. No twig snaps, no leaf crunches as I prowl far behind the bright light illuminating this bleak wood. Spider-kin are trap hunters, we usually don’t actively hunt and pursue prey. But there is still a predator instinct I feel churning inside of me as I become one with the long-casting shadows of the hero-party; flickering and waving into ethereal midnight. As I walk in their literal footsteps, an itching voice in the back of my mind is craving for me to pounce, to leap from the shadows and drag one of them back into their motherly protection. To consume.

  I look down at half of a red-cap laying on the trail, his eyes still follow me as I walk by, his disgusting little hand still reaching out to try and grab me even if he has no stomach left for me to fit in. I successfully suppress that animal urge within a moment. I don’t want to be like them. This isn’t a hunt. This is reconnaissance. Looking down at the little beast I feel the urge to stick my spear through its eye to put it out of its misery. I could use the exp too. A moment later just as my spear rises into the air in preparation of the killing blow I decide against it. Glaring downward at its writhing upper torso still clawing after me I feel disgusted at the sight. The sight of the thing thinking of nothing but more. More food. More meat. More red. More killing. More. More. More. Red-caps get what they deserve, I won’t have any part of it or any sympathy for them. I feel sick enough as is.

  I look away desperately chasing after the shadows of the adventurers I can never seem to catch up to. I don’t know anything about the hero-party, I’ve watched them for so long, so closely, but never saw anything that answers my questions even when I was in their midst. But maybe, maybe she knows something. Maybe she can tell me something. I grip the jagged spear tighter in my palm in anticipation. This only ends in one of two ways. Either I get cut down by them or the red-caps or I avoid them and I fade in maybe twenty minutes tops. I need to make the most of it.

  The shining light birthed from the hero’s blade, from its… no, his nearly infinite magical energies fades away as they slip out behind some thicker underbrush ahead. They don’t need torches or dark-vision, magic potions or anything like that as long as they have the hero. As long as they have the luxury of having a hero. My eyes narrow as I lower my front half down further, trying to allow my silhouette to blend in more to the backdrop of the blood-drenched forest. Skittering like the creature of the night I am, I bound forward with an incredible speed following in their wake. Stepping over one mangled, wretched little body after the other. They’re killing the red-caps without even breaking their stride and the little idiots just keep rushing at them wave after wave.

  Reaching the edge of the brush I creep my head through the leaves and peer out of the bush to see them, the hero-party, standing there around the lake; making small talk and laughing. The wizard girl sits down at the edge of the water staring up at the darkness above, the monk next to her leaning her head on the red-haired girl's shoulder. The priestess is standing in front of the pool digging through her bag, for a coin I assume as the hero stands next to her. For a moment I think the thief has vanished off on her own again, but I see the vague glint of something silver up in the trees across from me where she is perched, keeping over-watch from a higher vantage point. An arrow nocked and ready for any little red-hatted silhouette to exit the forest if I had to guess. The hero steps away and stands there on his own, staring out into the darkness, towards the east and the direction of the sub-boss arena still half-way across the floor. I wonder what it is he sees.

  The priestess says something in her high toned, cheerful voice. Chipper as always. I know it sounds weird, but I like hearing her talk even if I can’t understand her. She just has one of those soothing voices, you know? Straightening herself up and clasping her hands together tightly she looks as if she is saying a prayer with her palms pressed so tightly together in front of her lowered, hood-covered head. Bangles of her golden locks fall around her clasped hands. A second later the color shifts and I think her hair leaves her, but no it’s just the coin sharing the same vibrantly golden hue. With an almost cliche metal ring it leaves her hands as she casts it into the water where it lands straight, dead-center in the middle of the pond.

  A single ripple emits from the core of the pond, sending a wave of energy over the surface of the tranquil water off of which the streaming light of the hero bounces like a pale moonlight. Something glows beneath the surface as it starts to bubble and broil like a pot ready to burst out over the top. Then I see her. The dark silhouette of the slender woman who sleeps beneath the water rising upward as if drawn towards the heavens themselves. For a moment I think she will transcend further and just float up out of the dungeon forever and in that second as she rises higher I feel an urge to rush out of hiding, to grab hold of her and be taken away with her to that place higher still. To scream not to leave me here.

  But then she stops, just as her body leaves the water, just as the last inch of the skin of her bare toe is about to stop touching the water she stops. With arms held wide open like a welcoming host, that kind-gracious look on her face that I remember; with the great blue stone shining out before her catching the radiant aura of the hero inside of its sapphire splendor, she calls out the familiar words in her fairy language that all living things can seemingly understand. The hero-party reels back in shock at the development. What?

  “Oh dear adventurer, did you drop this in my pool?” She asks, opening her eyes to look at the priestess with a kind smile. I realize now that they have vaguely similar features. The priestess is a little shorter, but otherwise, hmm. Maybe she has some fairy blood in her? It’s not unheard of for humans to… ah… intermingle, if you will. Matriarch fairies are tall as all hell though, tell you what. For I second I think of the fairy-mother down so far below in the moonlight-arena and for an odd nostalgic moment I miss her. There must still be some fairy juice left in me from then. That was a long time ago now though. It feels like it at least. So much has happened, but so little has happened. I guess the more things change, the more they really do stay the same, huh?

  Laughing the priestess waves her down meekly and shakes her head ‘no’ in denial of the question. The fairy of the fountain looks at her with a satisfied nod and smile and returns down to the water. A moment later she emerges with a small box in her hands. Looking to the others, I notice that they are watching intently. Something bothers me about their expressions, their reactions. Something is not as I expected. They’re… surprised. I narrow my gaze to be sure. But I don’t have many doubts about it. The monk and the wizard who were sitting sleepily are staring wide eyed at the sparkly fairy woman as if they had never seen her before. The hero looks on curiously, his sword held not at the ready, but not relaxed either. I don’t understand.

Why does their body language suggest they don’t know her? They beelined it right to her pond. The priestess threw the coin in. They have to know about her. This can’t just be chance. Can it? No. No. Or? No, I don’t think so… ugh, I close my eyes for a second as the world starts spinning ever so slightly again until stopping just a moment after.

  As the priestess opens the little box out of which shines a bright yellow light with almost comical intensity, she begins jumping up in joy and shouting; the fringes of her baggy robe flying up with her energetic movements. Huh? She turns to the hero and shows him her prize before scrambling over the wizard who has risen to her feet now too. To the monk who looks up with a strangely tired expression that glows a little brighter as she sees the treasure. They all seem to brighten up a lot actually. They seem to be celebrating something now all together in a tight circle. Damn it! Now I want to know too. I squint my eyes but I can’t make out anything apart from the yellow light they now all stand around. It’s probably just some dungeon loot, right? Yeah. Probably.

Ugh. Come on. Hurry up. Get out of here. Before she goes back to sleep. Already now she is sinking back into the water as the party gathers its things to set out on the move again. They don’t take long breaks ever apparently.

Slowly they disperse and head eastward and as the last flimmer of the hero’s light fades away into the woods, the light of their prize dimmed as it was tucked away into the priestess’ bag. Rushing out towards the water in a full sprint I drop down, sliding a few inches on my chitinous belly and splash down into the water.

Please be awake!