Chik chik chik chik. Chik chik chik chik.
Squishing the flowers underfoot, the giant spider scurried across the field full of children trembling in fear.
The good news: the spider seemed solely focused on himself — otherwise, it would’ve attacked the closest child. The bad news: it’s a giant fucking spider, the size of a sheep. After incapacitating him, it would surely attack the others.
He needed to figure out a plan and fast. At the very least, he should try to snap the others out of it.
“Defend at the ready!”
A few drew their small spears. A couple, the ones in the back, took out slingshots and fumbled trying to load them. The rest were scared shitless and couldn’t do much.
‘Fuck. They’re not ready for real combat. Need to get it away from the kids.’
Rhun dashed to his right, pulling the enemy away from the group. “Lyle! Kyra! Cover me!”
“Got it!” “Okay.”
Luckily, the two understood the gravity of the situation at hand.
The tall boy circled behind the distracted arachnid, holding his spear in a lowered stance. The girl nodded and grabbed a sizable stone from a side pouch, drawing her sling back.
The creature locked onto Rhun like a homing missile, apparently attracted to the mana-rich moonflower. He could use this to his advantage.
Grabbing the small bag containing the flower petals, he pulled his arm back and flung it high up into the air.
The giant spider closed the distance, bent its legs, and pounced at the bag. Looks like it was after the moonflower all along — might’ve been why it left its nest as giant spiders do not typically move out in the open.
The girl released her sling, sending a rock straight into the spider’s soft underside. Shrieking out an otherworldly cry, the spider spun and scrambled around in a futile attempt to right itself.
Rhun sprinted into position, and when the spider landed on its back, he thrust his own spear into its unprotected underbelly, the rod sinking in deep. Green liquid oozed out of the wound, and the monster screeched yet again and flipped over in a flash.
Forced to leave his weapon embedded, he dived to his left, narrowly dodging the spider’s fangs.
Lyle, however, with the spider concentrated on Rhun, moved directly behind the monster and plunged his spear all the way in, splashing green juices everywhere. The spider shrieked and spun around at its new attacker. The tall boy leapt to his side, but not quickly enough, as the spider managed to sink its fangs into his meaty calf.
“Ahhhhhhhhh!” Lyle screamed and fell over.
Kyra and a few others fired stones at the spider, but the arachnid ignored the pellets bouncing off its exoskeleton, a tough carapace unlike its vulnerable underside.
Harper had dropped his spear when the spider bit Lyle, he and many others frozen in fear.
Rhun spared not a moment, picking up Harper’s weapon, and dashed to the arachnid. He hopped on its back and stabbed at the connection point between its head and thorax.
Wailing yet again, the giant spider released Lyle and shook its head in a futile attempt to try and remove the spear. This allowed Rhun to push the weapon further and further in, until all of a sudden, the monster stilled and its legs curled inwards.
It died. Finally.
Rhun exhaled a huge breath, then he realized Lyle must still be injured. He looked over to the older boy only to find someone already applying a salve and wrapping his leg in bandages.
“Elyn! How is he‽”
The girl added another layer of bandages. “The wound is very deep. I’ve stopped some of the bleeding, but I don’t know what to do now.” She’s still a child, sometimes he forgets the fact that they all are.
“Let me see.” He took over and examined Lyle.
The injured boy moaned in pain. The venom must be exacerbating the wound.
“We need to get him back to Herbalist Hilda to remove the venom.” He paused and looked over at the large corpse. “Bring the dead spider too.”
Nods all around as they complied with his orders, everyone rushing back to the small mill village near the river.
The two moons, one silver, one red, fought against the initial rays of the sun to illuminate the grassy field, slowly losing ground against the larger luminous body.
The roosters crowed, and the early risers shambled out of their dwellings to begin the day’s work as an assortment of children stood on the field, rubbing their eyes and yawning wide.
A tall figure towered over and scanned the line of youths in formation, calling out the slouchers by name and ordering them to do push ups.
After around half of the child-soldiers panted heavily from the early morning exercise, Chief Sigwald finally shouted a different command.
“Everybody, three laps around the village!”
“Now! Or it’ll be five!”
The children scrambled down the main road of the village and out through the open gates, a wide opening in the wooden palisade. The guards shook their heads in commiseration and proceeded to swap with their day shift counterparts.
By the time the youths returned from the exhausting run and recovered by sitting and/or lying down on the field of green, the yellow orb in the sky won its battle and forced the two other celestial bodies to retreat for now.
“Listen up!” They turned to face the man, and those lying down sat up.
The Chief continued, “I heard some of you pipsqueaks froze up when facing a real monster. Is this true‽”
None of said pipsqueaks, save for Rhun, met his eyes. The intimidating man approached a small boy, who looked ready to wet himself.
“Harper! Is this, or is this not true?”
The boy nodded an inch.
“Answer! Use that little hole of yours!”
“Sir, yes, sir!” He squeaked out.
“Is it also true that you dropped your weapon in the encounter?”
“Sir, yes, sir!”
“And why in all the seven hells did you fucking do that?”
“I-I was scared, sir…” A soft whisper escaped from his lips.
“You know what happens to scaredy-cats?”
“Only one thing,” he turned to address the other kids as well and enunciated, “they die.” A visible chill ran through the group.
“Not an honorable death, mind you. A fool’s death. A death where your remains are torn to shreds by wild beasts and gobbled up by monsters where even your own parents would not recognize you afterwards.”
A few kids started tearing up, and the Chief glared at them. “No use in crying either! It’s a rough world out there. Better to spend your time training than shedding tears, so that you can at least fight like a dog before you kick the bucket.” That shut them up.
He slowly strode through the sea of children, leather boots plodding the soft dirt and crushing the blades of grass, a hard gaze forcing them to avert their eyes.
“You were all lucky you had Rhun here to take charge or else more of y’all woulda been injured or dead!”
Said boy scratched the back of his head and secretly thought nobody would’ve been injured if they hadn’t been searching for magical plants in the first place.
The others hung their heads in shame, especially the ones that froze up during the battle.
“Alright, ‘nuff moping around.” The instructor spat a loogie to his right, narrowly missing a girl. “Grab your practice weapons from the shed, pair up with your usual partners, and spar for the rest of the morning.”
Unhesitatingly, the kids followed his orders; they knew dawdlers ran extra laps.
Rhun stood up to do some light stretches but paused when he realized an issue. His usual partner, Lyle, was still recovering from the spider bite; the older boy was mostly fine — he just couldn’t get around without makeshift crutches let alone train. However, Herbalist Hilda and the acolytes said he wouldn’t need them by the end of the week thanks to Rhun’s quick-thinking in retrieving the spider corpse and Hilda producing a potent anti-venom from it.
Fortunately, Chief Sigwald picked up on Rhun’s issue and addressed it.
“Rhun, my lad, you’re with me. You’ll learn the sword today. More flexible of a weapon than a spear and befitting for a leader anyway.”
‘What..? Leader? When did I agree to this? Also, Lyle’s going to be extremely jealous.’ He sighed.
“Oh and before I forget,” the man looked around, searching for something — for someone, “Harper!” The poor boy jumped ten feet into the air. “You and your partner are doing basic drills! All. Morning. Long. One round of drills. Then a lap. Drills, another lap. Repeat!”
His perplexed partner complained, “Why do I have to be punished too?”
“You dare talk back to your superior‽” Harper’s partner flinched. “Blame your partner’s slacking on his training and lack of discipline! Now, both of you, get out of my sight before you’re doing drills all day instead!”
The duo quickly vanished. Rhun went and grabbed the practice swords, tossing one to his temporary partner, as the rest of the children warmed up and began their sparring.
“Alright, let’s begin with showing you everything that the mighty sword can do.” The Chief smirked softly, then rushed at him without pause.
Rhun hastily moved to a defensive stance, and a single thought popped in his head before the Chief’s merciless onslaught began: this was going to be a long day, and Rhun was already pre-emptively tired.