“Return of the Soul Eater”
Calling All Spider Riders!
A battle spider’s powers were all natural, and found in many normal-sized spiders on the surface world. Their nine-eyed pod could see clearly for over a mile, had infra-red imaging, and night vision. Since it was always day in the Inner World, night vision became a crucial factor in the dark tunnels and labyrinthine caves that often served their enemies.
The spiders possessed a sense of smell that reached out two thousand yards and skin that could mimic almost any background. They were very fast and had endurance that allowed them to run long and far. Offensively, they could fire organically-generated sleep darts from natural orifices under their powerful, razor-sharp mandibles.
With their webs they could swing their three ton bulk across chasms, spin bridges over rivers, and ensnare their enemies. They also used their talented webs to cocoon their sleep-darted enemies, putting the most dangerous Insectors into eternal sleep in the vast Cavern of Cocoons. Three ton, ten foot tall spiders had an exo-skeleton of natural armor, but it had to be implemented by Oracle armor to counter the ever evolving weapons created by Mantid and the Insectors.
The battle spiders’ greatest power was mind talk.
Battle spiders could communicate with each other and with their riders over great distances telepathically. The spiders and humans were formidable partners, and the reason the Inner World was at last at peace.
twin falls at the center of the placid lake threw up such a mist one couldn’t see the ceiling cracks from which they fell. On the placid lake far from the falls, Hunter and Corona splashed each other like the kids they really were beneath the warrior. In Pedestrian Mode, they teased, and laughed, and swam. The gossamer fabrics of Pedestrian Mode not only made the Inner World’s constant heat more bearable, it served as sleepwear and quick drying swimwear. The two frolicking teenagers were being watched over by the two colossal spiders sunning themselves on the shore of black volcanic sand.
“I’m not much for swimming,” Shadow said in telepathic spider talk to
Corona’s spider, Venus.
“Spiders are uncomfortable in water, but we manage,” she responded.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m a great swimmer, when I need to be,” Shadow assured.
“I was with you at the Battle of Quagmiro,” she reminded him.
Quagmiro, Shadow thought, shielding his ruminations for just himself. It was the mission where the Spider Riders swam across the ocean to defeat the Fungus Brain, and Shadow overcame his fear of water.
“You swam, as the humans are want to say, like a fish!” Venus telepathically offered with a spider smile, which can’t be seen, but can be felt by another spider.
She noticed, Shadow thought! Then he felt—embarrassed. It was a new sensation for any spider! It was a feeling he’d witnessed in Hunter many times. How did this bottomless empty emotion transfer itself into a firmly grounded spider psyche? He was spending entirely too much time with the boy!
* * *
The Forbiddens were a desolate range of snow covered mountains. Here, far from the earth's molten core that served as the Inner World's sun, great glaciers formed in the constant darkness. The masses of ice slowly crept, their movement down the sides of the majestic Forbiddens imperceptible, yet inexorable. It was a place unfit for human existence, but an excellent place in which a fugitive might hide. The darkness not only produced the cold, it reminded Aqune of the days when the Insectors had no sun, the days before the great wars, before the Oracle granted the Insectors all that they had fought for, even though they’d lost. Through it all, Aqune could appease neither side.
Aqune walked down the corridor that she, alone, had carved out of the ice. Over the years, she had come here to build her sanctuary, a place of which only she knew, thus only she could find. As she approached the room, she remembered that night. It had been over three hundred sleeps since she escaped, appropriated the cocoon, and brought it here to her secret place in these forsaken mountains. Aqune was a banished Spider Rider without a manacle, and without her spider, Portia. The night she escaped Aqune risked all to slip into the Cavern of Cocoons, there to rescue her mentor, her savior, the one who found her, a little girl orphaned after the transport she and her family were flying was shot down by Centipedian forces. The lights came on automatically when Aqune entered. The cocoon lay on a wooden table at the room’s center. The occupant of the cocoon had been stung by a spider sleep dart. He was one of the thousand or so Insector rebels cocooned in the Insector Colony uprising shortly after the end of the war. The leader of that rebellion now occupied this very cocoon.
“It must be so cold in there. So lonely,” Aqune said, choking back tears. “If only I had my manacle, had Portia here. She knows how to safely unlock you from your endless sleep. Don’t worry. I will free you—someday, somehow.”
Aqune hugged the chrysalis tenderly, as if she might share her warmth with the one inside.
* * *
In the most distant reaches of the Centipedians’ vast underground domain, the excavation was well underway. Dungobeet had found that the Centipedians were more than willing to dig a tunnel under the desert and up into the plateau city. Hate for the Spider Riders fired their resolve as they worked.
“The tunnel must be deep enough under the sand to keep it from collapsing,” Dungobeet ordered, trying not to notice that the Centipedian was eyeing him hungrily.
“We use our unique saliva to cement the walls,” grinned the captain of a full Centipedian cohort sent to guard the dig. “It solidifies like smooth stone. We also use it to immobilize our prey,” he added, but on the word ‘prey’ he couldn’t help spitting out a glob of gooey saliva that landed with a splat on poor little Dungobeet, covering him from antenna to thorax. Before it could dry, Dungobeet shook off the Centipedian saliva like a wet dog, a natural defense his meal-prone species had evolved.
Dungobeet was thankful that a startled shout from within the tunnel drew the Centipedian captain’s attention away from lunch. He and the captain scurried into the wide mouth of the freshly dug tunnel. After a short distance they came to its end. There, between two panting Centipedian diggers with dirty claws and dripping maws, was a break in what looked like a thick stone underground wall—an opening into a colossal buried chamber! A pulsating multi-colored glow emanated from within, emitting a low, almost imperceptible, hum. Dungobeet swallowed hard as he and the captain squeezed through the narrow breach the diggers had made in one wall of the chamber. It was a short hop down to the dirt floor of the circular structure. The hidden underground chamber was a vast dome under the earth, like a buried ancient temple that housed—nothing. The glow came from five large gems of different colors that pulsated down from half way up the curvature of the chamber’s dome, their combined light forming a multicolor circle on the equally circular earthen floor.
“What sort of place is this?” the Centipedian captain gasped as the multi-colored glow enveloped them, and made them dizzy. Some dark power of which they were not aware reached out to manipulate them, to force the two intruders to do its bidding. Somehow, Dungobeet knew instantly what to do.
“Do nothing!” he ordered. “Post your most trusted warriors at the entrance to the tunnel. Let no one in until Mantid decides what should be done.”
“Tell your glorious Mantid that if there are riches to be had here, we Centipedians will share in them, or keep them for ourselves!” the captain threatened.
“Do you know what will happen if you betray Mighty Mantid?” Dungobeet shouted. “Make him angry and you’ll find no end to his wrath! Don’t forget, everyone calls him mighty!” Dungobeet turned and hurried away.
“Not anymore. Not since the wars. Tell Mantid we want our share!” the Centipedian captain called out defiantly as Dungobeet crawled through the narrow break in the wall and hurried off, wondering how he got away with being so uncharacteristically bold? The captain had the same notion. What was it that made him so foolish as to defy Mighty Mantid?
* * *
The instant the Centipedians broke into the buried chamber, the Oracle awakened with a start. She had been in deep meditation, there in her dark and comforting Sacred Sepulcher. Still, when it awakened, she awakened. She sensed it. Already it reached out for her. An ancient evil about to again be unleashed upon the Inner World!
The Oracle forced her great mental powers to replace fear with calm. She sent out her telepathic call to every Spider Rider still manacled to the service, a message that traveled at light speed: “Calling all Spider Riders!”
CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER THREE: "SALACIA"