Memories of Connor's Adventures

Orlando the Adventurer pulled a Scimitar from beneath his Robes and smiled...

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Short fiction: The Swarm Masters

It had been a difficult winter for Cintra Bristol. Winter snow usually didn’t usually come this far south yet this year it had and so late in the season. She had struggled to survive with her family dead at the hands of Marauders and now beneath the weight of urgently needed firewood, her struggle was all the greater. Her only clothes were a muddy woollen skirt, a coat stained with the blood of a recent nightmare of loss, and a simple cloth wrapped around her head. The snow crumbled beneath her feet and beneath the lighter tread of her only companion.
The Jade was a white wolf befriended by her late father from a Pup and tended for in part by Cintra so he had become her companion when the others were lost.
“Tomorrow we must go to Sandpoint and sell some of father’s gold coins for that preserved sausage you so love to gobble down.” Cintra looked at the suspiciously fat wolf.
“Oh! Once I saw a Goblin,” Her voice was getting old.
“Sitting in a Tirro tree,” The Jade lobed through the snow with better pace.
“a Tirro tree, a Tirro tree.” A moment of happiness flitted through her mind as a memory of her father singing the very same song surfaced. Cintra smiled with difficulty.
“Oh! Once I saw a Goblin sitting in a tr…” Something under the snow snagged her right foot and Cintra ate snow as she was pushed to the ground by the weight of the wood at her back. She screamed with the pain of the surprise and the Jade instantly came to her aide with the warmth of his breathing. Cintra reached back and grappled the bound load pulling it to the left side of her body. Her real injury became instantly apparent as she put weight on her right foot.
“Damn! Wretched goblin distracted me…cunning little bugger.” The Jade looked around for the Goblin she was talking about. Cintra pulled herself on the bundled firewood and sat up. The Jade instantly put his head in her lap. Cintra laughed as she stared at the beautiful green eyes that expressed their concern with such meaning.
“Goblin got away, did he sweetie? Not to mind.” The old boots were cold to touch as she investigated her ankle. A feeling of frustration curled her brow. She kissed her wolf on the warm nose and took a lick of warm slobber that quickly became cold.
“How do I get the wood home now?” She stared at the distant dwelling that was a combination of straw mud brick, logs, stones, and rye thatching. It was a bonfire waiting to burn. They were so close but now it would cost her every footfall to the door.
There was a long rope inside the door, and the block and tackle. The thought hit her. She struggled without the load now through the snow and it took minutes to reach the door of her family home. The Jade entered the simple dwelling and took up residence in the open doorway as Cintra went to work looking for the tools of her need. The Rope and the Block and Tackle were still useable. She tied off the block and tackle to an anchor point her father used to strain ropes and carried both ends to the distant wood. The rope ends were short and she shook her head.
“Not quite long enough.” Cintra gave a lot of slack and ran one end of the rope out slowly to the wood bundle. Behind her the other end pulled back toward the house until there was perhaps five feet of slack. Cintra tied off the Rope on the Wood and turned back expecting the Jade to be behind her. He sat in the warmth of the distant doorway.
“Done for the day are we?” Cintra smiled as she made the return trip toward shelter. The Rope end was almost through the door.
“That was close.” Cintra struggled now to sit on the hard floor and brace her good leg against the timbers. A good grip and she began to pull at her load. The firewood now seemed ten times as heavy as when it was on her back as it pulled its way across the snow. The pain in her good leg burned like her right by the time the time the bundled wood got to where it was going. The Jade looked at her as though it was her fault the warm was getting out.
“All right, I’ll close it.” Cintra Bristol hefted the wood that last distance through the door and with the rope and tackle cleared, closed it.
“And now: a fire and my injured foot.” Cintra struggled with a paltry selection of wood and old straw and made a fire with flint and steel. Her foot no longer hurt. Such a prospect was most likely a bad sign. Cintra peeled off the boot and the poor cloth that had done such a botched job of keeping the cold out to reveal the bruises and a bone broken and out of place.
“Oh…Damn!” This would cost her dearly. She looked at the Wolf who stared at her foot.
“Sorry. No Sausage tomorrow.” Cintra looked about at what food she did have. Now she and her friend would live on cheese, some bread, and turnip and rabbit broth.
“Not the turnips…anything but the turnips,” The Jade joining her suffering at the prospect of turnip put his head on the floor. Cintra Bristol dragged herself across the floor seeking a pot, turnip and lean rabbit. It found itself lifted with difficulty into the stone and mud fireplace as Cintra worked the metal legged tripod that supported it into place without getting burned. The suspended iron pot sat more next to the fire than in it. Cintra rolled away from the fire so as not to put too much stress on her foot and came to a halt against her friend.
“Now it’s a waiting game.” She relaxed now to the aroma of turnip and rabbit broth…
Cintra Bristol woke to the screams and found herself tied down.
"What?" Her body was bound up in some web cocoon. A scream came from right next to her and she struggled to turn her head to look. A large brain burrowing worm was working on the twitching corpse of her faithful companion animal The Jade. Beyond the Jade were a hundred Villagers from Sandpoint; most seemingly dead and some about to be - the screams mixed with an unfamiliar screeching. They were trapped in some terrible web-hive. Is this what a spider egg-sack looked like from the inside? Cintra Bristol struggled for freedom.
A shadow loomed over her. It was a faceless creature. It held one of those brain burrowing worms which it placed on her head. Cintra Bristol Screamed with terror at its wet touch.
The Jade was on her in a furious attack as it pulled the wretched worm apart. The Jade collapsed by her side as the moment of relief washed over her and fell away into the darkness.
“The Jade?” her companion through so much died in the web next to her. She wept now at the loss of her friend.
“No.” Cintra grappled for the flint edge in her pocket. Its edge cut at the cocoon from within. They must have sensed her bid for freedom. Her thoughts of resistance drew them now from across the web hive.
“Come on damn you, cut!” People around her cried with despair. They pleaded for help and begged for mercy from the horror that had them. Cintra Bristol was mad with desperation now as strange and terrible hands reached out for her, unhuman hands seeking to hold her down. One of them assumed the face of the memory of her father.
“Cintra Bristol. Stop squirming. Its all right Cintra, I’ve got you. You are safe.” The voice oozed a calm that would have overwhelmed her had it not been for the fact that several of them wore her father’s face and came from all of them; Closing in the distance a fiend of a Spider that would undoubtedly tighten her bonds or worse. She panicked now as it disgorged a large worm from between its sword scaled mandibles. Cintra screamed in horror at what she was now witnessing. Cintra pulled her arms free and her hands carried the flint and its steel companion past her head as she reached away from the monsters that held her firm.
“Please burn! Please just burn. Damn you!” The striking flint sparked repeatedly and drew their attention. They reached for what she had in her hands.
Horror of her failure struck her as they took the tools from her and pulled her down. The demon spider adjusted the web before cutting it away. Now it grappled her and turned her slowly as she dizzied, then attempted to empty her stomach contents. The new web began to constrict her now and she could only scream and then not even that. For a long moment she glimpsed something toward the centre of the web. Spiders were emerging through a storm of light and others carrying off the cocooned. She would be lost if they got her that far.
The nest shuddered and she was dropped through the web around her. Now nest of monsters moved to investigate the new threat. Cintra was narrowly missed by the harpoon of some siege engine that had penetrated the web. The outer wall sliced away and she was free. She fell through the hole into a darkness of smoke and fire. The web snagged above her and she unravelled in a downward direction. Free of it she fell several feet onto a building roof. Some madman with an axe was working on a web anchor the thickness of a tree trunk as spiders clamoured down it in defence.
“Are you all right? Did you see any others?” her woodsman of the moment attacked a Spider that came at him knocking Cintra Bristol through the weakened thatch roof. A scream came from above and blood and organs emptied on her through the hole in the roof.
Cintra fled the gore of it. The streets were awash with chaos as archers fired at the spiders above them, the nest; anything that moved across the top of buildings was challenged with fire. Children stood in the middle of a battlefield and screamed for their parents to rescue them from the Monsters only to be carried away by the Monsters or worse still to become the Monsters.
The nest became visible as she left its shadow. It sat over the town of Sandpoint anchored to it by many cables of terrible strength. Fire had failed to burn its almost smoke-white outer surface though it had certainly smouldered.
A harpoon flew overhead and penetrated the outer web. Cintra couldn’t see where it had penetrated the envelope. Cintra looked in the direction the harpoon had come from. Was that toward the harbour or was it some place else? Then she realized something. Hadn’t her ankle been broken? She looked down at her foot. Then felt it for broken bones she knew would protrude…Why heal it at all? It was strange that they would do something out of kindness only to feed on their victims later. Cintra ran toward hope.
The town was ablaze with spot fires. Where the Nest had proven inflammable, the community of Sandpoint had not. Nearer the docks, recruits worked to pull a burning building down into a heap that wouldn’t ignite the buildings packed around it. The sound of heavy Ballista hurled a harpoon from the deck of a ship crowded and busy.
“Hello? Where can I find…” Cintra was pushed down the busy vessel gangway and struggled to force her way back through the crowd.
“Where is the Captain?” Cintra looked toward the crew at the Ballista as they fired another shot at the distant nest. The crewman looked about and indicated toward the forward Ballista crew. Cintra pushed through the crowded deck as they busied to load.
“Are any of you the Captain?” A rough looking fellow looked about.
“Captain? Woman wants you…” The man on the Ballista winch looked up.
“What is it Madam, we are rather busy here.” He continued on the winch.
“Captain. You need to burn that thing.” Cintra pointed at the nest.
“Unless you noticed, the web doesn’t burn.” The Captain
“Captain, I don’t know if anyone has told you but your Harpoons are getting through the web. You need to wrap them in fire and burn that thing from the inside.” Cintra stared at him with a tired weariness. He nodded with some understanding at the gore covered sight before him.
“Right, you heard the lady lads, break out the pitch and cloth. Let’s light this cobweb lantern up.” Cintra smiled and collapsed on the deck…

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