“Return of the Soul Eater”
The two warriors the Centipedian captain had placed inside the tomb heard a sound. It was lower pitched, more earthly, than the hum produced by the five different colored gems that glowed down from the ceiling. Guards became dizzy inside the tomb, nauseous, and for a Centipedian to be nauseated by anything was a rarity. Because of this, the guards inside the tomb were rotated regularly, while the rest of the two hundred warrior cohort remained outside in the excavation site.
The sound the two guards heard was like a big bee buzzing. It came from all the way across the cavernous tomb. They went to investigate and found a large round hole the size of a cart’s wheel had been drilled out of the opposite wall. The two Centipedian warriors bent down to look into the hole. A gleaming exo-skeleton blade shot out two times, and it was the last thing the two guards ever saw.
* * *
Riding their spiders, Magma and
entered a tunnel Magma had used in his escape from The Lair years ago. They took up positions at a bottle neck in the tunnel ways leading from the excavation. Igneous and Hunter would attack from inside the tomb, the last place the Centipedians guarding the tomb would expect. When they got word of the battle telepathically, Magma and Corona would close in and catch the Centipedian cohort between themselves and Igneous and Hunter. Then, they would hold until Corona could bring an entire rider army in to secure the deadly ground. It sounded smooth and simple. Petra
Igneous and Hunter circled into position on the hot empty desert above the dome. Dark clouds had gathered under the bedrock ceiling casting welcome shadows before the eternal sun. Still, it was hot. Hunter could feel sweat trickling inside his armor, even though the armor’s sensors had detected his rise in body heat and triggered the flow of gases through tiny channels in the armor, cooling it like earth side air-conditioning.
The clouds before the molten sun brought hot winds and lightning. Aeration by the great waterfalls plunging down out of the Inner World’s ceiling, and vast amounts of oxygen created by the enormous jungles, combined to produce a temperate paradise in this pocket of life at the earth’s core. More lightning flashed, and it began to rain.
“I hate water in all its forms,” Shadow mind talked to Hunter as the rain trickled down into Shadow’s armor.
Spider armor was not sealed against the elements as was their riders’ armor. Shadow wondered why, for the first time in his service in the ranks, he felt slighted by that fact? The huge sheets of armor required to cover a battle spider were surely impossible to seal, even for the great Oracle.
“Do you sense it?” Igneous said telepathically to his reliable spider, Flame.
“Yes, but there’s interference,” Flame replied, rain leaking into his armor as well, making him strangely bitter. “It’s coming from something—beyond.”
“Beyond?” Igneous, Shadow and Hunter said together, all of them listening in on the mind link.
“What do you mean, ‘beyond?’” Igneous asked.
“A force I can’t recognize. Buried there,” Flame said.
“Sklar!” Hunter gasped.
“And,” Flame ominously added, “it’s getting stronger.”
“We need the coordinates!” Igneous pleaded.
“I hope this is accurate,” Flame sighed then three ton Flame used the tip of one of his massive forelegs to daintily make an impression in the wet sand.
All quickly stood aside as Hunter climbed down off of Shadow and approached the spot in the rain. He pointed his manacle downward. “Narrow beam plasma blast!” he shouted, and the voice activated manacle obeyed.
The red beam hit the mark and sent up a shower of wet sand which rained down on them, adding to their discomfort. Hunter had blown about ten feet of sand away, exposing the unscathed dome of the tomb. Hunter jumped down onto the naked dome. “Nice work, Flame!” he said to Igneous’s spider mount.
Hunter pointed his manacle again, and again shouted, “Plasma blast!” But this time, a wide bolt of red shot from the manacle. It hit with full force! Hunter had forgotten to call for the narrow beam!
The stone roof crumbled, cracks forming from the force of the blast. The roof collapsed under Hunter’s feet. He fell with the rubble a hundred yards, down into the Tomb of Sklar! The boy screamed the whole way, then went silent when he slammed hard into the packed earth floor.
Thunder rumbled outside, and within the tomb rain fell in a wide, jagged circle. The spattering rain helped bring the Earthen boy around. Hunter’s eyes blinked open and he shook the cobwebs from his mind. The light of only one gem lit the cavernous tomb. Could the Oracle have been wrong? Was she mistaken about everything? Never! How could that doubt have crept into the boy’s mind? It must have been the long fall he’d just survived. He was still dazed.
“Are you all right?” Shadow said urgently inside the boy’s groggy head.
“Yeah, my armor saved me, but I’m a little loopy.”
“That’s nothing new!” Shadow replied. “We’ll be right down!”
“You’re too late, Spider Rider,” a high-pitched voice screeched in the near darkness. “My accomplice is removing the last gem, now.”
Still lying dazed on the hard earth floor, Hunter fumbled for his stun sword, unable to draw it. The assassin bug leaned forward from the shadows and shot out his razor sharp beak extension, stopping it just short of Hunter’s throat. It had the bug juice from the dead guards still dripping from its tip. “Now, I’m certain my little—proboscis can penetrate even Spider Rider armor,” Zelus Renard said, “but I have no intention of making the Spider Riders my enemies.”
“Too late,” Hunter mumbled, still woozy.
Hunter’s eyes finally managed to focus. High on the curvature of the ceiling, he saw a fluttering shadow. The rotund little creature hung in a harness held up by a network of ropes and pulleys. Dungobeet, pumping his wings to gain leverage, pried the last gem loose with a large tool. The gem fell.
The assassin bug raced to the wall like a big league outfielder and shot out his proboscis to deftly catch the baseball sized gem before it hit the ground. He then skillfully flipped the gem into his claw. Then into a thick cloth bag it went, with what looked like the glow of all five gems! Zelus Renard then grinned across at Hunter’s stunned and helpless face and, clutching the glowing bag, raced away across the expanse of the tomb floor. Zelus Renard ran almost as fast as a spider could run, toward the perfectly round hole in the far wall.
“Dug his own hole with that beak!” Igneous on spiderback shouted as the two spiders lowered themselves at high speed on thick strands of web anchored to the edge of the jagged opening a hundred yards above. They stopped their plunge in an instant and landed gracefully on the hard packed earth floor.
Hunter finally regained his senses from his fall and scrambled to his feet, pointing to the opening where the assassin bug vanished, “He’s got the gems!” Hunter shouted, as he scurried up Shadow’s mandible steps and onto his back.
With their razor sharp mandibles, about the only force that could, the spiders severed their steel-strong webs, then raced to get their riders as quickly as possible to the opening. They would never reach it.
Suddenly, the ground began to tremble. It was so violent, even the sure-footed spiders staggered. The center of the floor heaved up, flinging the colossal spiders away like flies on a cow with a talented tail. The two spiders contorted in mid-air, twisting, and landing on their feet like cats, riders, accomplished at hanging on, still in place.
Bathed in a long flash of lighting from above, the thing rose up before them, five times taller than a spider. It was the skeletal remains of a monster that still held within it the need to conquer and to consume. It longed for battle even more than the Spider Riders did.
The fight was short and futile.
The spiders’ stun darts bounced off the fifty foot creature’s white bone skull; their capture webs snapped like mere ribbons as the massive skeletal creature lurched its white bone appendages free. Manacle weapons did no better. Stun beams didn’t phase it, plasma blasts didn’t even leave a mark. It seemed some sort of impenetrable, invisible armor covered the bone monster, and kept any harm from even reaching it. But it had no weapon. It didn’t need one. When the beast counter attacked, it simply gestured, and a wave of energy flung away anything in its path.
“Freeze bolt!” Igneous shouted, and his voice activated manacle complied. The freeze bolt struck the beast under the jaw bone, and crackling frozen tendrils stitched their way all over the invisible armor, immobilizing Sklar in a block of ice.
“Retreat!” Igneous said, breathless.
“Retreat?” panted Hunter. “We have it!”
“Exactly what it wants us to think!” Shadow broke in telepathically.
Riders aboard, the two spiders raced back up their webs toward the opening. It was much slower, longer, going back. As they rose past the skeletal hollows the size of caves that were the beast’s empty eyes, they saw its fury grow behind the ice. Sklar burst out of the ice explosively and glared up at the escaping spiders. Sklar swiped up at them, and missed. Linking up telepathically through their spiders, who told them when to fire, Hunter and Igneous turned and shot simultaneous plasma blasts dead center into the hideous head looking up at them. The twin blasts knocked the creature back on its heels. It roared in anger. It was a soulless sound no Arachnian, let alone Earthen, had ever heard. The beast pointed a clawed hand of bone up toward the escaping Spider Riders. It grasped at the consciousness of both the riders and their spiders! They all could feel it pulling at them, coaxing them, ironically, to let go.
Just then, Centipedian weapons began striking the bone beast in the back. It lost concentration and turned to face a new threat that was like ants under the feet of an evil child. The Centipedian captain and his cohort, alerted by the sounds of the battle, had filtered into the colossal tomb through the opening their excavation had made. It was a grave tactical error, for when the two hundred warriors would shortly turn to run for their lives, they couldn’t crowd back through the narrow opening nearly fast enough. The spiders reached the ceiling and pulled themselves out of the jagged opening and into the rain. The spiders adroitly turned so they and their riders could look back down into the tomb.
Weapons fire, screams, and the haunting roar of the unearthly beast echoed up from the dark stadium-sized sarcophagus. “The Centipedian guard!” Igneous gasped, “It’s slaughtering them!”
The greedy captain was the first to go. Not long ago he considered eating Dungobeet, but that thought was far from his mind as Sklar splayed out its fingers and crushed the life out of the captain without touching him. The rest of the cohort were similarly, and summarily, dispatched.
Suddenly, the beast turned, looked up, and leaped upward. It’s great strength and mental powers enabled it to make the three hundred foot distance, vice-like fingers of bone at the end of massive arm bones, grasping the lip of the opening. The spiders recoiled, and backed up as the beast pulled itself out, squeezing through the opening like a horrible creature hatching from an egg.
Igneous and Hunter fired everything left in their arsenal. Their manacle power alarms began to sound!
“We’re both empty!” Hunter screamed.
“I didn’t think it could get out!” Igneous shouted.
Sklar leaped toward the two Spider Riders. It held out the bony claw of a skeletal hand and grasped Igneous and Hunter’s consciousnesses with its own mind. They were overwhelmed by it, unable to think, unable to move.
But the spiders had used their own great mental capacities to shield themselves from Sklar’s mind grip. They had foreseen the predicament of depleted manacles and of mesmerized riders. They had called in Lumen and Sparkle’s spiders even before they left the floor of the tomb. They told them only simultaneous plasma blasts had any effect.
Prince Lumen and his kid sister, Sparkle, had a strange little quirk. One knew what the other was thinking without using the spider link. They couldn’t mind read any other humans, and their abilities were pitiful compared to the spiders, but they had it. They had the storied power of those in the Arachna royal family lineage: mind talk between humans. It was this inborn ability, however, that allowed them to fire their manacles simultaneously. It was the key to escape, in the Oracle’s plans all along, and why they were chosen.
The twin plasma blasts surprised Sklar, stunning it for an instant, causing it to stagger, to turn its attention to the attack of the prince and princess. But the spiders had already concocted a strategy, using the moment of broken mind grip to yank their riders free of Sklar’s spell. All four spiders immediately leaped away, back toward the safety of the plateau. They blocked Sklar’s powerful probes from capturing their minds, and took their riders out of range. The spiders’ speed was what saved them, ten times faster than evil Sklar could go.
“Don’t look back!” Igneous shouted in mind talk, as Sparkle did just that, their three ton spiders thundering through the rain.
“She’s worried about Magma and
!” Hunter shouted aloud, “and so am I! We can’t just leave them!” Corona
“Listen to your spider,” Igneous said in mind talk through the spiders. “Magma and
have only the Centipedian army to deal with.” Corona
“He’s right,” Shadow said in the link. “The entity is—after us.”
CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER SIX: "JUST IN CASE"