Spiderlight@Adrian Tchaikovsky Page 0,1

spoke to Nth, and a wave of his siblings caught up, a tide of gray-haired, bulbous bodies and arching legs, fangs gaping, furious at the deaths of their kin, at the damage to their home, at the sheer temerity of these trespassers. Fire roared from the Men—not one of their small fires that guarded them as they slept, nor the smaller ones they held by hand, but a great deluge of it that seared across the Brood, boiling them in their skins, setting them briefly ablaze before they broke open from the heat, writhing and twitching in momentary agony that the ground took straight to Nth and all the others.

Together! one of his siblings drummed, and they were all rushing—more of the Brood in once place than Nth had ever known, drawn from all over the wood. He braced himself for the fire, telling himself, It cannot kill us all, and that if he died for Mother it would be worth it.

He had forgotten the light they had spoken of. From the center of the Men there issued a golden radiance—not heat, not force, but pure light, so bright that his poor eyes were blind instantly, but more than that. There was a mind behind that light, and it despised him. It punished him. He felt its vast and potent displeasure crush him to the ground, sweep him away, so that he was running, they were all running, and the Men pushed on, horrible, unstoppable, unbearable in their desecration of his home.

The Brood rallied, and now he was among that wave running after the Men, catching up—and there was another gout of flame that crisped the hair on his legs, and another half-dozen of his siblings died screaming.

And Mother.

The Men had broken into her lair, a clearing in the heart of the wood that was so hung with centuries of webs that it was like a cave, and there they faced her, and the Brood had come from all around, thronging the trees, blackening the ground behind them, to either side, climbing the webs overhead, ready to descend and sacrifice everything to have some hope of saving she who had given them life.

She had raised herself on her limbs, a giant ten times the size of the largest of her Brood, her largest eyes bigger than the head of a Man, her fangs as long as their metal claws.

But the Men had fire and light, and so many of the Brood were dead to prove it. They could kill Mother. They could end it all. Nestled amid his siblings, Nth trembled, hearing the messages of fear and confusion and anger from all around him.

Then Mother spoke to them, even as she took a few careful, stalking steps forward. Be still, my children. Hold your fangs. They speak.

“Steady!” Dion called. The disc of Armes in her upraised hand bathed them in radiant light that brought confusion to the great host of spiders all around them. She could see its purity burning the monsters’ eyes, driving back their Dark nature. In her white tabard over the bronzed scales of her mail, she positively glowed with reflected light: a figure from legend, indomitable. But there were so many of them.

There were five who had braved the forest. Dion led them, infused with the radiant power of her faith. Each of them had sworn to her cause to bring down the blight on the world that was the man-god Darvezian but they were a disparate lot who followed for their own reasons. Cunning Lief thought there would be profit in it. Vengeful Harathes the shieldman loathed all creatures of the Dark with a passion, while the archer Cyrene served to expiate some long-hidden guilt, some action or inaction of hers that had driven her to this bloody and dangerous atonement. Of Penthos, the fifth member of their desperate band, whose hands even now crackled and roared with ethereal fire, Dion had no idea why he had come. Right now she was only glad he had.

“We’ve been in worse places than this!” she reminded her fellows.

“Penthos, what’s a word for something that’s all over covered with spiders?” Lief asked, crouching virtually at her feet. He held his spear close to him as though loath to get it filthier with spider ichor. His dark leathers were crusted with the blackish residue, his bare arms coated to the elbows with it where he had been forced to resort to his daggers.

“Arachnidous, probably.” Parts of Penthos’s robe were