God of Shadow – Chapter 8

The catacombs beneath the building stretched far, making it clear that they had left the building’s perimeter. They were somewhere else beneath the city now, following an unseen path that Adahmri could not explain. He hesitated at every corner that presented a choice in direction, but he was confident that each turn he made was correct. He kept a firm grasp on Sielahiel’s hand, and she did not protest or question him. He was a man driven, and the fierce look in his dark eyes made the young woman’s heart pound. She was intrigued by his intensity, and her heart fluttered every time he squeezed her hand and glanced back at her.

The walls of the winding corridors around them were made from dark grey stone – almost black. The floor was smooth but cracked in many places. They came upon no other living beings or creatures as they hurried through the dark halls, which were lit periodically by torches. Adahmri realized, of course, that these torches could not have lit themselves, and that they could not have been burning for very long. There was someone else down here. There had to be.

Unless there was magic in them. The thought made Adahmri slow his pace. He approached the next torch and finally let go of Sielahiel’s hand. The young woman drew close to him as he reached out for the torch and held his hands in front of the flame. He could not feel the heat. With a frown, he moved his fingers closer. At his side, Sielahiel gasped with alarm as he pressed his fingers into the flame. But it did not burn him. Adahmri lifted his gaze toward the high ceiling and took a deep breath. Was this the work of the gods, to help him through the catacombs?

He preferred that possibility to others which entered his mind. If there were beings capable of magic living down here in these halls, then finding the pearl would not be so easy.

He turned away from the torch to face Sielahiel. She was speechless, looking from his uninjured hand to the torch and back again. She then lifted her gaze to his and he smiled.

“It’s all right, Siel,” he said. “I’m sure it’s nothing dangerous.”

She started to answer, but a strange sound interrupted her. Adahmri turned and looked down the hall behind him, but there was nothing there. They stood still and silent, and soon they heard the sound again. It was a low, chittering sound that neither recognized. Adahmri glanced at Sielahiel. His brow knitted with confusion when the sound grew clearer, closer. She didn’t like it. She grasped a handful of his cloak as she drew close to him from behind.

“What is that?” she whispered.

“I don’t know,” Adahmri answered, studying the corridor before them. It sounded like some manner of animal, but he didn’t know which animal made such a noise. His hand moved to his hip, where his knife was sheathed on his belt. It wasn’t a very large knife, but it would have to suffice. He tightened his hand around the grip and held the blade in front of him defensively. When he began to move forward toward the sound, Sielahiel kept close at his back. Her skirts rustled gently as they moved alongside the wall.

Adahmri narrowed his eyes when he caught sight of movement. His free hand swept back and touched his companion’s hip. It stilled her, even after his hand moved and he continued forward a few steps. The shadow grew. Adahmri’s heart began to race when he realized that whatever was coming might be quite large, if the lights were not playing tricks.

His body went cold when he suddenly recognized the specific shapes of the shadow, but he didn’t have time to react before the creature rounded a corner. It was worse than he had feared, and Sielahiel’s short scream behind him made him cringe. The spider was enormous. Its fat body stood as high as his waist and its thick, long legs reached several feet in front of it. Its black eyes faced them now as it paused in its movements. Adahmri gritted his teeth and hoped that he could keep its attention.

“Siel,” he said so softly that she almost didn’t hear him. The young woman’s hands covered her mouth, but she couldn’t look away from the still monster ahead of them. “Siel, you have to go back.”

Sielahiel’s eyes darted to look at Adahmri. “Wh– What about you?” she hissed. “I can’t just leave you!”

Adahmri’s breath caught in his throat when the spider moved. It crept toward them. He turned quickly to Sielahiel and grasped her arm. He pulled her close and clumsily pressed his lips to hers. The kiss stunned her into silence, but he did not linger. There was no time. He looked into her eyes, pleading.

“Go,” he said urgently.

She stumbled back, glanced at the approaching spider, and then turned and ran. Adahmri spun back around to face the spider when it let out a screech in protest to its next meal’s flight. The sound spurred Sielahiel to run faster.

Adahmri held his knife tightly. It wasn’t a very large knife at all. But he did not flee. What if Sielahiel became lost in these catacombs, and the deadly spider chose to chase her instead? He would not let any harm come to her.

He gritted his teeth and surged forward to meet the monstrous enemy. It chittered noisily and lunged away from the blade. Its long legs reached for him, but they were thin and brittle, and he was no easy prey like the rats. A swing of his arm knocked two of its legs aside, cracking one of them. The spider shrieked and Adahmri’s eyes grew wide when it bared its fangs. He ducked out of the way when it lunged at him again to bite him. He felt the weight of the animal, but it was not especially heavy. He shoved it with his shoulder and spun to drive his knife into the spider’s abdomen. His footing was unbalanced, so he stumbled and fell forward with the movement.

The knife plunged deep into the abdomen, and the spider shrieked once again. Adahmri had not expected the spider’s body to be so delicate, and as he tried to catch his balance again, the knife sank deeper. His hand followed the knife into the spider’s gooey insides, and he nearly retched on the spot. The spider’s legs kicked and battered him. He jerked the knife out once he found his footing again, and then kicked away from the thrashing monster. A sharp pain exploded from his shoulder and he cried out with alarm. It had bit him. Its deadly fangs gleamed in the light from the nearby torch.

Adahmri scrambled back from the spider and pressed against the opposite wall, his chest heaving. The spider writhed as the gaping hole in its abdomen oozed a growing pool of blood, slime, and organs onto the stone floor. The young man’s shoulder burned like fire and he had to take the knife in his other hand. His arm was already beginning to numb, and he knew that if he did not finish this quickly, the poison would paralyze him and leave him helpless to the spider.

“Adahmri!”

His heart clenched painfully at the sound of Sielahiel’s voice. She had not kept running. He looked at her and groaned when he saw that she was so near. His heart both warmed at her concern for him and chilled with fear for her.

The spider had heard her, too. It dragged itself toward her, no doubt intelligent enough to know that the poison would soon neutralize the other.

“No!” Adahmri screamed. His vision blurred as he pushed off the wall and stumbled forward. White-hot anger surged through him. He couldn’t let the monster have her. With renewed strength, he jumped after the spider and landed on its abdomen. It squealed angrily and twisted its body around to get to him. Adahmri swung his hand down, ripping the spider’s abdomen open with a clean cut the size of his arm.

It bucked under him and his foot slipped in the slime of its entrails. He fell without anything to grasp for support and hit his knee on the stone floor. The spider’s innards were all over his trousers and boots and covered halfway up his arms. Scrambling away from the writhing animal, he didn’t stop until his back pressed against the wall again. The spider didn’t move toward Sielahiel this time. It shrieked and twisted and curled its long legs into the center of its mass protectively.

It was dying, and Adahmri exhaled heavily with relief. He couldn’t focus his eyes anymore, but he heard Sielahiel’s shoes on the floor. She ran toward him, and then dropped to her knees at his side, ignoring the spider in the throes of death next to them. She put her hands on him, pushing the torn pieces of his sleeve aside so she could see the wound on his shoulder. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back, letting her do whatever she wished. The adrenaline that had coursed through his body had certainly helped the poison along, but it did not hurt so much. He hoped that it was purely a paralytic that would wear off eventually.

Siel pressed her fingers to his skin and glanced up at him, but he did not react to her touch. She was no expert on toxins, but she thought that it was a good sign that his flesh was not black. It was only slightly discolored.

“Hey, kid,” she said gently. Adahmri turned his head toward her. Sweat beaded on his brow and it didn’t look like he could focus his eyes. She smiled, though. “Good thing I came, hm?”
Adahmri tried to make sense of her words, but he couldn’t see what she was doing. She had reached behind her, and he vaguely recalled that she had been wearing a satchel. She had brought supplies? When he soon felt her begin to tend to his wound, his heart warmed once again.

It truly was good that she had come.

 

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Jes A. Condrey
Line Art and color by Jes.

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