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Stories from the Verse
Re Verse All
Chapter 55: Hastings 204
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Previous chapter: Beam 73
Lauren knew that her fear of spiders--well, she preferred not to call it fear, it was more like nervousness, discomfort. Whatever you called it, she knew it was irrational. Just because they had eight legs and a similar number of eyes, frequently hairy bodies that did not have real hair, made webs, sucked the insides out of smaller creatures up to and including some birds, sometimes ate their mates--just because they were very different from humans did not mean she needed to fear them. She had been told that the spiders that lived in the dark corners of her house were in fact house spiders that would die fairly quickly if put outside, and that they were good to have because they consumed thousands of other bugs every year, but she was still uncomfortable when she saw one and was not at all certain what to do with them, particularly if, for example, it was in the bathtub or on the kitchen counter.
On the other hand, that had nothing whatsoever to do with the present situation. If the webs she could see were from spiders, these were very large spiders. She remembered the name “Shelob”, a spider so large it would tower over even Sheegoka. She comforted herself with the observation that a creature as large as that would have trouble negotiating this tunnel--but just because there was unlikely to be a spider as big as that did not mean that there wasn’t a very dangerous very large spider in the room ahead. Even a spider the size of a mid-sized dog could prove a challenging adversary, if its venom was potent, and the more so if there were more than one.
The webs might be flammable. She could use magic to set fire to them, and kill or drive out the residents. Of course, such a fire would rapidly consume a significant amount of the oxygen leaving the party gasping for breath, fainting, and in need of help themselves. It was probably not the best choice.
Tiras was speaking. Lauren missed part of what he said, partly because she was lost in her own thoughts, partly because he was at the front and she quite near the rear. Whatever he asked, though, Princess Coronelle was responding.
“I do,” she said. “What do you want me to say?”
“Explain the situation to them, and see if they will agree to safe passage for us through their territory rather than having to fight us.”
Coronelle was moving forward through the ranks. “And if they say no?”
“We might have to kill them.”
“I would rather you didn’t,” she said. “Spiders are friends of the drow, servants of our goddess.”
“All the more reason why you should be able to persuade them to let us pass.”
Although she couldn’t see well from her position, Lauren thought that the princess nodded. She was now at the front, and she called out with strange phonemes Lauren thought were not in her own vocabulary. There was an answer from the darkness beyond, in very similar sounds.
Lauren realized that whatever the sound, this was language, and she could tap the language center of the princess to know what was being said. She was a bit reluctant once again to do so--perhaps it was the horrible botch Joe had trying to read the mind of the spy not so long ago that made her hesitant. Besides, she did not expect the conversation to last long--indeed, it had already lasted longer than she would have anticipated, but there were probably introductions, formalities, and other niceties, and perhaps negotiation of some sort. By the time Lauren was beginning to think it would have been worth knowing what was being said, it was over.
Coronelle said something to Tiras, and then returned to her protected place in the middle of the pack. As she was moving, Tiras said, “Everyone stay in line, follow the person in front of you exactly, don’t stop for anything until we are out the other side. If you see anything on the floor, or particularly in the webbing, don’t touch it. We have permission to pass, and they are going to show us a safe path through.”
Lauren was this time pleased to be in the rear, as it meant she could not see the spider leading them. She realized that there must be similar spiders in the webs all around them, but tried not to let her imagination put a number on them, focusing on the person in front of her. She realized that Gojo had come back and put a hood over the head of the most skittish of the mules, and was personally leading it through, but she thought it better that she not try to calm the animals herself, lest they sense her own fear.
She hardly realized that she had exited the cavern into another passage, but as soon as she did she let out a breath she had not realized she was holding, and drew in another.
“Afraid of spiders?” Nightstalker asked.
“I would not have said so,” she replied, “but it seems I am.”
They continued in silence.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #373: Nervous Characters. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: