“Return of the Soul Eater”
“Share? Share! Mantid doesn’t share!” towering Mantid raged, snapping his great claws in the air as quotation marks around the word ‘share’ and causing cowering Dungobeet to wet himself. “Get me those gems! Only I, Mighty Mantid, can unlock their secrets! Use them against the Oracle and her cursed Spider Riders!” Mantid ranted.
“B-b-but your supreme graciousness, the Centipedians are guarding against anyone taking the gems unless they get their share! I posted the guards myself.”
“You posted the guards yourself?” Mantid screamed, glaring down at the cringing beetle. Then Mantid sighed, and suddenly became calm. “Very well. Go to Salacia. Seek out an assassin bug by the name of Zelus Renard.”
“He can get into any guarded room, and gems are his specialty.”
“Who is this Zelus Renard?” Dungobeet wondered aloud.
“A tomb raider,” Mantid gleefully replied.
* * *
The Oracle glowed incandescently, her hologram projected there at the center of the circle of the six armored Spider Riders down in the Sacred Sepulcher beneath the palace. The holographic beam shot down out of the heart of the Oracle Stone, the great magical monolith carved into the likeness of the Oracle herself. There was no trace of the fractures where the shards had reunited. In both ancient stone and modern holography, the Oracle was the most beautiful of creatures.
“You must conduct a raid on the Centipedian Lair,” the Oracle explained, “take command of the tomb and keep anyone from removing the five gems in the walls.”
“Tomb? Yuck!” Sparkle muttered under her breath.
Hunter nodded toward the hundreds of sarcophagi containing the remains of long dead Spider Riders lining the walls of the Sacred Sepulcher. “You’re in a tomb,” Hunter whispered.
Igneous noticed Hunter’s antics, and frowned. Hunter grinned back crookedly then snapped to attention, respecting the Oracle’s presence.
“What is this tomb we must wrest from the Centipedians?” Prince Lumen asked, perplexed. “Why are these gems so important?”
“The gems are restraints,” the Oracle replied, “restraints against the occupant of the tomb. An ancient evil known as Sklar the Soul Eater.”
“Soul Eater?” Hunter recoiled.
Igneous’s glare of reprimand told Hunter a Spider Rider of Hunter’s status was to listen, not speak, when in the presence of the Oracle.
“Oracle,” Igneous offered, stepping closer, “to take a position by force within The Lair is one thing. To hold it—”
“The alternative is disaster,” the Oracle said. “I fear plans are in motion to remove the gems. If this happens, Sklar will be let loose upon the land.”
“This Sklar, what are his weaknesses?” Igneous asked.
“It has none,” the Oracle replied. “I say ‘it’ because Sklar is neither male, nor female. It just is. Sklar’s purpose is to conquer. To conquer all, and consume it. With mighty mental powers, Sklar seeks to make the noble fall prey to their own frailties. Sklar bends the will of the righteous, spreads jealousy, selfishness. The weak will lose their thoughts to paranoia, hunger for power, disdain for the welfare of their fellow creatures. Sklar will dash all dreams. Crush all hopes.”
“Is there any good news?” Hunter winced, again drawing a glare from soldierly Igneous, but this time a chuckle from Magma. There also came a giggle from Sparkle, who had a little girl crush on the much older Hunter, and sought at every opportunity to stand at the handsome Earthen’s elbow.
Hunter looked to
to see if his joke had found a smile in her. Instead Corona ’s face bore the same look of reprimand Hunter had just seen in Igneous. Hunter was relieved that Igneous was instantly preoccupied with strategy, and would leave any discipline until appropriate. Corona
“This will assist you,” the Oracle said as a three dimensional hologram of Sklar’s tomb appeared in their midst. “You must use the entire force of the Spider Riders to hold that chamber. But use stealth to take the chamber. The approach of a large army might prompt the Centipedians to remove the gems for safe keeping. In fact, the opposite would be true. I will leave strategy in your able hands, Igneous.”
The Oracle bowed her holographic head slightly, but without the smile she usually offered, and she vanished into a prismatic swirl of light that was absorbed into the Oracle Stone. The hologram of Sklar’s tomb, however, remained shimmering in the air.
will cut off the excavation site from the rest of The Lair,” Igneous ordered, taking charge, “for that, you’ll need spiders. Are the Centipedian tunnels wide enough, Magma? You know The Lair well.” Corona
The others all looked at grimy-faced Magma.
“Invited guest,” Magma said with a weak grin, trying not to recall the torture he had suffered as a rare Spider Rider captive of the Centipedians. It was after the
of the Rift, when he was a uniformed rider in the ranks. “The buggies have battle beetles in and out of The Lair all the time,” he said. “Should be no problem finding a tunnel wide enough for spiders. The big tunnels will lead to the excavation ‘cause they’d have a lot of dirt to haul out.” Battle
“The tomb is at the western edge of The Lair. You and
must seal it off,” Igneous continued. “We can’t let the Centipedian warriors guarding the tomb warn the rest of their army. None of the guards must escape alive.” Corona
“Uh, I get paid extra for that,” Magma noted.
“As always, Magma,” Prince Lumen sighed, “you are officially hired onto our mission, your services to be paid for, exorbitantly, I might add, by the throne.”
“Just checkin’,” Magma grinned.
Igneous went on. “I will lead Hunter around to the desert above the tomb. My spider’s senses can detect the chamber accurately from above.”
Outside the palace, awaiting their riders, the armored spiders listened in. Flame sent confirmation to Igneous that his senses would so perform.
“Hunter will use a narrow beam plasma blast to blow a hole in the center of the roof of the chamber.” Igneous pointed to the top of the dome of the hologram. It wavered, almost aroused by his touch. “It must be precise. Wide enough for spiders to drop in and take control of the tomb, but narrow enough so as not to collapse the ceiling and dislodge these gems in the walls.” Igneous gestured to the holographic images of the gems in the translucent walls of the hologram. “It’s vital these gems remain undisturbed, lest the entity be released.”
“Let it come,” Magma said, hefting his mighty club, more to instill confidence in his fellow warriors than to profess bravery.
“All four spiders will close in on the cohort from the front and rear, cocooning those we can,” Igneous went on. “We four must hold the tomb until
’s army arrives to secure it against the attacks sure to come from the Centipedian armies.” Petra
“But Igneous! What of us?” Princess Sparkle pouted. “How do we figure into your plan?” she said, gesturing to her startled brother.
“You are our reserve,” Igneous quickly explained. “Should any trouble befall either of our twin attacks, we will call upon you to rescue or reinforce us.”
“You’re just making that up!” Sparkle said, stamping her foot. “My brother and I will be far to the rear, safely out of any chance to join the battle.”
“Now, now, sister,” Prince Lumen said, stepping between the two, “Igneous knows what he’s doing. Remember when she used to be so sweet? Growing up, I guess.” Lumen said to his captain.
Igneous smiled a thank you at the prince, but inside he worried that all his planning might not stop the entity. He somehow knew that he was dealing with a force like none he and his battle hardened veterans had ever faced. What was this sudden loss of confidence he felt?
* * *
Deep underground, held captive by the glowing gems, Sklar the Soul Eater tried to move what now were only massive bones compacted tightly in the smothering grip of a harsh mother earth. But they were large, strong, powerful bones: arm and leg bones that still had super strength, a massive skull that still contained the entity’s vast intellect. Sklar still had the unconquerable aptitude to accomplish anything. If only it could get out of this prison of earth and gem!
The opening of its tomb had awakened it. It had already planted the seeds of its escape plan in the minds of those first to enter. It told the dung beetle what to tell his master, filled the Centipedian captain’s head with greed. Soon, the gems would be removed. Soon, Sklar the Soul Eater would be free!
* * *
Aqune was awakened by an unremembered dream. She found herself still in the chilly room where she sometimes slept, and where the occupant of the cocoon slept eternally. Aqune had fallen asleep on a hammock made of cozy spun spider webbing. In the many secret trips to the Forbiddens, before her banishment, Aqune had always had her spider with her. She was able to make the treacherous trip easily with Portia as transport. Together Aqune and Portia had built the hidden retreat under the ice, multi-leveled connected rooms with several escape tunnels. They mined minerals from the mountain under the ice. Aqune designed and built automated metal security doors, plumbing, lighting and portable heaters, her genius for the mechanics of war easily transferred to the construction of creature comforts. Yet the cold still held sway.
Accused of treason, Aqune was stripped of her manacle, her spider exiled to the penal complex behind the spider pens. Aqune, too, was confined to quarters, no longer permitted to associate with Insectors, Spider Riders, or especially spiders. House arrest was unbearable for the free spirit that dwelled within her. She escaped. Now, she was a fugitive hiding in a distant world of ice, yet all Aqune ever wanted was peace and fairness.
Aqune caressed the cocoon containing Buguese and left the chamber. A voice had come to Aqune in the unremembered dream that had awakened her. It was a familiar voice, one that told her to pray.
* * *
In Salacia, Dungobeet shuffled through the teeming streets certain every eye and eye-pod cast upon him bade him ill will. It couldn’t be helped. He was the ultimate lackey, and determined to do his duty to further the will of his master. He found the place where he was to meet Zelus Renard, the tomb raider Mantid sent him to hire. The establishment was simply called “The Cliff” and Dungobeet’s heart was reduced to a mass of jelly when he found himself among the worst cut-throats and death dealers in the Inner World. He nervously asked a few denizens if they knew the infamous Zelus Renard, and received a quick “No!” or stares of mistrust and no answer at all.
“‘Tis me you seek, beetle,” a high pitched voice said in what passed for Dungobeet’s ear.
Dungobeet whirled, afraid. “A-a-are you Ze-Ze-Zelus Renard?” he stammered,
“Funny. I had to kill the last two individuals that asked that question,” the needle nosed assassin bug grinned.
Dungobeet swallowed hard, and delivered his message. He told Zelus Renard the layout of the tomb. How Mantid would reward him handsomely for stealing the gems from under the Centipedians’ noses. Then, looking at the tip of the razor-sharp exo-skeleton beak protruding from between the assassin bug’s multiple eyes, Dungobeet instantly regretted using the term “noses!”
The large-brained Insectors had been honed through eons of insect mutations caused by radiation. This ancient radiation had come from the Inner World’s sun—the earth’s molten core. The radiation killed all living organisms of the Inner World in prehistoric times, except for the insects. For eons, the bugs mutated as the Falls From God brought plant seeds and water from the Outer World. By the time the humans arrived, the core had cooled, the radiation had waned, and the jungles had exploded in the endless sun. But the insects had already evolved into the wide variety of deadly creatures that now called themselves Insectors. Zelus Renard was a seven foot tall prime specimen of that breed.
“Well, I’ll be on my way,” Dungobeet said, jumpy, and anxious to put distance between himself and Salacia.
In a flash, Zelus Renard’s lance-like proboscis shot out, extending his deadly natural weapon to three times its normal length.
“Not so fast, beetle,” the tomb raider said, cutting off Dungobeet’s escape with his sharp, glistening beak. “This difficult job Lord Mantid wants me to do? It’s also very dangerous.” He withdrew the deadly lance, then into Dungobeet’s astonished face he pointedly said, “I’m going to need an accomplice.”
CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER FIVE: "ANCIENT ENTITY"