Part 9, Bowing Before the Spider Gods

(Ruined Pages—Fragments)

Monks…slavers…
…affixed the chains to our wrists and connected us to the line of other slaves.
…they eat their foes….dragged….
A portal in the archway…
…elsewhere…high-plateau, very arid…
…now near a brackish lake, we…
…thermal spring…leaping snake shot like an arrow…which poisoned Agosto!…
….Never should have left home…
Sharp teeth…taste of webbing…
…torments abound…

…Leng…

From the dales upon the wind-swept Plateau, the train of chained slaves descended into sharp-sided valleys, crisscrossed with spider silk the thickness of bridges. The Monks of Zhong Mok guided us down steep trails barely wide enough to walk, and several times I feared I would fall to the depths below. Soon enough, we came upon La’nga Ngari, the arachnid city of the Spider Gods of Leng, suspended between the two steep sides of the valley upon a massive web of vast gray strands. The buildings overflow the web, spilling out onto the sides of the slope and are made of stone mortared with webbing.

Once upon those black streets and avenues, I beheld the fell inhabitants of La’nga Ngari—arachnids of every size and shape. Some are humanlike, but for multiple arms and spider heads, and these labor in domiciles or workshops crafting tools and weapons from steelsilk. Others are more traditionally spider-like in shape but the size of dogs. Still others tower above our heads, and all give way before them respectfully as they stride here and there on mysterious errands. Humans and other races exist in this place as well but only as magically controlled slaves. The collars they wear bind their minds and impart harsh punishments for disobeying. Agosto and I exchanged fearful looks, realizing this was to be our future.

At the center of the outermost district of La’nga Ngari is the Slave Auctionorium, a great plaza ringed by webbing perches for the great spiders where the inhabitants of the arachnid city bid on the latest arrivals. Our slave train was forced into a wide cage at the edge of the plaza while our captors negotiated with the slave master, a bloated humanoid spider.

“Master,” Agosto whispered, “fear not. I believe I have a way out of our current situation.”

I scoffed at this, I admit. “Are you hiding one of the empire’s Morza in your shirt? Or the Lord of Demon Mountain, perhaps?”

“No, master,” my servant replied. “But I have been talking to Qatin here, and there may be hope.”

The creature he indicated was a strange being. Wide and short, he was swathed in robes of dirty silk and leather with vaguely goat-like legs and a pale purple hide. He was captured only a few days ago and our captors seemed very excited to have come upon him. Agosto made introductions, and I wasted no time in asking him about his plan.

“My people, the folk of leng, have long time hate for the spiders,” Qatin rasped, his accent thick and halting. “We travel often across the void. To trade. A knack we have with spaces larger inside than outside.”

Qatin indicated a small pocket in his robes and, after making sure we were unobserved, proceeded to plunge his entire arm into it! It was, I realized, an extra-dimensional space. He withdrew three small metal feathers, passing one to Agosto and myself.

“When unchained we become,” he said, “hold tightly and speak Zhro-Uaaah.”

That was all the time we had before we were hauled out from our cage and shoved into the center of the plaza. The bidding began immediately, the spiders calling out in hisses and clacks of their massive jaws. I wished I could ask Agosto if he trusted the goat-like Qatin, but before I realized it, we had been sold to a huge spider easily the size of an elephant.

Our moment had come. As the leader of the monks accepted payment for us, his men unchained us. The instant we were free, Agosto, Qatin, and I screamed the command word.

I soared up into the air! The monks attempted to seize us, but like arrows, we shot away from them. This was not magical flight (which I had experienced as a young man). No, this was as if gravity itself had failed me.

As La’nga Ngari fell away beneath us, I felt a moment of elation. Then a sudden thought chilled my very bones.

“Agosto!” I shouted. “We appear to be rising up into the sky at an alarming rate!”

“That is true, master!” My servant called back to me.

“What now then?!”

Agosto gave me a cheeky grin. “I know not, master. But at least we have escaped the spiders!”

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