Friday, November 1, 2013

Day Five-Sixty-Five: The Great Escape

It was difficult to remain confident in the dark. Tarantula poodles aren't as dangerous or scary as the Non, but they're still freakish amalgams of nature. To say that I figured we'd get out of their caves, Jeffrey and I, in one piece... that would be at least a partial lie.

What part of it is truth faded this afternoon, during a time when they're supposed to be asleep. Thank the gods I was wrong.

Even under the fateful blade of mortal peril, it's tough to be constantly vigilant. Hell, it's downright boring. So to pass the time, Jeffrey and I told stories of our youth, whispered while we moved cautiously from one tunnel to the next, looking for a way out. It was an illuminating experience, and I'm not just referencing the dim glow of our lanterns.

Son of aristocrats in a city full of scholars, Jeffrey had a rather sheltered upbringing.  He spent most of his time buried in one book or another, learning about the world through letters rather than direct experience. Justly so, too, as he grew up with a case of debilitating asthma that only departed when he hit puberty.

"Asthma?" I whispered, staring at the end of a hole that curved abruptly upward. Another reject. "Sounds like it sucks. What is it?"

"Respiratory problem," Jeffrey replied. He began to shuffle backwards to the main cavern where we've been hiding. "It does suck. Though in reverse. You can't 'suck' in air like you should. Your lungs... mmm... they close up. Tighten. Makes it difficult to breathe. Try doing anything physical like that."

"Yeah, I can imagine." I couldn't. My lungs are fine. "Why'd it leave at puberty?"

Jeffrey shrugged. "My brother, he was a doctor, told me that people grow outta asthma all the time. Or grow into it. One way or the other. I suppose I got lucky - not the kinda ailment you can take a potion for. Well, other than sterolixir, and that's for temporary relief."

"Ah." I backed out of the tunnel, stifling a cough. It was very dusty down there. "You have a brother? Older? Younger?"

"Older." Jeffrey paused, eyes to the floor. "Well, he would've been. He died ten years ago. I think it was ten."

"Ack." I patted Jeffrey on the shoulder. "Sorry. I... know what it's like."

Jeffrey smiled sadly. "I guess you do. More condolences to your own loss."

"You don't have to. Already gave 'em a while ago."

"There are plenty to go around." Jeffrey paused. "He was the best cook I ever met, by far."

"Thanks." I directed my lamp to the next hole over, brushing aside a thick strand of cobweb. "Maybe this time -"


Oh shit. I turned to Jeffrey, suddenly quite aware of the movement of air in the room. "Wasn't you, was it?"

Jeffrey already had his dagger out, the tip stained with dried, greenish blood. He pointed across the room. "N... nope. Look."

Emerging from a hole we hadn't yet checked, head wobbling weirdly, was a tarantula poodle. It looked smaller than the others, its pink afro not so well-developed, and it looked more surprised and curious than outright hostile.

Maybe it's a baby, I thought, casting my eyes around for any larger spider hybrids. Maybe it doesn't know how to hunt. Maybe it doesn't know that it's SUPPOSED to hunt. Maybe we can, I dunno, convince it, get it to lead us -

The thoughts would have continued, save for drastic action. Jeffrey, raising his blade, charged through the frail cobwebs and caught the thing off guard. Before it or I could react the tranatula poodle had a blade shoved into its hair, and given the noise it made, I doubted it would be getting up again.

I gawked. "Jeffrey, what the fuck - "

He cut me off with a sharp wave of his hand. "C'mon! It's young! The young can't climb so well! This hole is the way! Hurry up!"

Jeffrey's proven himself to be a well-read kinda guy, and as the sounds of scuttling filled the air I decided it would be best not to doubt him. As he plunged into the hole I scrambled forward and followed, accidentally smashing my lamp in the process, keenly aware of the sounds of skittering in adjacent passages.

Jeffrey was correct. Though long and gradual, the tunnel was not nearly as steep, and it curved upward and around like a spiral staircase towards an unknown destination. We climbed, pinpricks of light in a great darkness, and as the noises grew around us and older tarantula poodles began to howl we emerged in another wide room -

- and the babies, by gods, there were dozens of tarantula puppies, scampering out of our way and alerting their parents -

- and as we went from one large chamber to the next we saw lumps suspended from the ceilings, like silky stalactites, hanging over huge piles of rusted armour and age-old weaponry, overlooking an enormous pit -

- and soon we were back at the top of the crevice, back where we'd started, back with at least four fully-grown, groggy, surly tarantula poodles. They were unsteady on their eight feet, but their eyes shone with alert irritation.

I expected us to try to run. More, I expected us to fail and get caught. Instead, I received the unexpected: Jeffrey leaped right at the tarantula poodles, pulling all four of them down in a flailing heap.

"RUN!" he screamed, a thick line of puffy silk already whirling around his legs. "GET HELP! I'LL BE OKAY!"

I should have stayed. I should have fought them. I should have forcibly pulled the red out of my hands and used it to cut every one of those fucking dogs to pieces. Instead, I heeded my king's command and I ran. 

I should have slipped. Should have fallen. Should have bashed my head on the jagged rocks. I should have done all these things a dozen times. Yet somehow, incredibly, I bounded up and out of the cavern. In moments that seemed like frightful years I was back on the surface, wincing at natural sunlight.

My lungs burned. I imagined that asthma might feel something like that. But I kept running anyway.

Four people did not return to the cavern that day. Instead, it was a full expedition of thirty brave souls, my wife in the lead. They went forth with torches and swords, and in the face of such a clamour the tarantula poodles fled into the depths. They left their would-be meals behind, all three of them hanging above the corroding heaps of metal that had brought us here in the first place.

They're going to be okay. Ed, Grylock and Jeffrey were pumped full of sleeping venom, so they're suffering from the effects. Aside from the beating he took, Jeffrey looks to be in the best condition; the creatures only managed to bite him a few times, and an anti-venom was administered quickly. Grylock was still awake, possibly because he's conditioned to resist poisons, and he'd been working at cutting open his cocoon with his teeth. Ed was in a coma, but he's reacting favourably to medicine.

We're leaving. The Dauphine is still in terrible condition, but Libby's managed to get it limping along at a slow pace. We'll just have to hope that she can manufacture the parts she's missing with what we've got on hand. We'll also have to hope that she can find the time to manufacture said parts, as she's spent most of today screaming at me. Yikes.

Safe again. Another close scrape, another narrow escape. These are gonna catch up with me, some day...

... though with somebody smart like Jeffrey around, I feel a little more confident about the future. Just a smidge.

I should be spider food right now,

Dragomir the Wanderer

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe I caught up. It makes me a bit sad.