Deep below the rock and soil of the Rokai Mountains, in a dimly lit mine shaft, a young dwarf ran for his life. Sprinting as hard as he could, stumbling occasionally over the tracks laid out for the mine-cars; he was so terrified he became clumsy in his desperate escape an unseen pursuer. After coming around corner into another shaft he collided with an empty crate. In the few seconds that he struggled to get back on his feet, his ears picked up the chilling sound of many footsteps hurrying after him.
The young miner squawked in fright and scurried off once again as the thuds of many feet echoed behind him. Unable to resist the temptation, he looked back. This would cost him dearly for it caused him to run into his pursuers trap; a large orb web. The silk clung to the dwarf and ensnared him instantly. All his struggles could do nothing to free him; he was trapped.
It was amidst his struggles that he looked back and saw the monstrosity slowly emerging from the darkness. A single stalk-like leg was the first thing to appear. It was soon followed by a second, and then a third and a forth. One by one they crawled closer towards the helpless dwarf; the terrifying creature moved in slowly, savoring the moment to come. In the darkness behind the four front limbs of the monster two large eyes appeared with four smaller ones beneath them; unblinking and glinting eerily in the low-lighting.
As the monster came more into the light, a pair of curved fangs faded into view. They flexed and stretched while a translucent green fluid dripped from their tips. Then, it a fleeting moment, the last thing the dwarf saw was the image of a monstrous spider charging out at him.
On the surface near the entrance to the mines, there was a gathering of its workers. They all bickered and argued among themselves. One dwarf with a large nose, bald head, and a long beard seemed to be the one rallying the strike.
"Those infernal things need to be dealt with!" The bald dwarf said.
Standing opposed to him was a younger dwarf with a short beard and a shoulder length hair.
Sounding more reasonable than furious, he said back, "I've already told the lot of ya! Nobody should be going down into those mines until the ranger shows up!"
"Our kin are making a mockery of us!" The bald dwarf said. "Since when do dwarves back down from a bunch of over-sized bugs!?"
"Take a look around you, Tannos!" The young dwarf said. "These are honest working dwarves, not warriors! My father said he sent for aid, we should wait until aid arrives!"
"Your father his making us put our livelihood on hold!" Tannos said, as he stormed towards the younger dwarf and got into his face. "We have families who are depending on the profit we make from these mines."
"You're right," The young dwarf said. "Families that depend on us. But now there are families who are mourning, mourning because you keep stirring men to go to their deaths."
"You're just as soft in the stomach as your father, Duran." Tannos said before returning to his man, "It's because of that same softness that these vermin have not made their homes in not one, but three mine shafts now!"
Tannos' men nodded in agreement and began to stir.
"I say we all go down there and take back what's ours!" Tannos said, garnishing more appraisals from his crowd.
"You'll do no such thing!" A more gravelly voice said.
The crowd turned to see an older dwarf with a long grey beard and long grey hair stepping into view.
"Thank the Gods you are hear father." Duran said.
"If I find out anyone else goes into the mines, all of you will be out of the job." Duran's father said.
"What are we to do then, Lord Dorian?" Tannos asked "It has been months. This Ranger has not shown himself and now all the mine-shafts are inoperable because of these spiders!"
"Calm yourself Tannos," Dorian said. "It won't be much longer now; I received word that three Rangers have been seen in the Rokai Mountains. One of those Rangers is heading in this direction."
"So we're just to sit tight and wait?" Tannos asked in frustration.
"Lord Dorian!" A balding dwarf with a thick mustache called out. "A Ranger! A Ranger is approaching the gates!"
The crowd of dwarves moved to the wooden gates of the mine yard. The three to four foot tall beings watched with curious and anxious eyes as the gates opened. A number of the exited faces turned to looks of concern upon seeing their savior; Vanessa Chen.
"Welcome Ranger." Dorian said as she approached them. "I'm sorry to say that we do not know your name."
"My name is Vanessa Chen." She replied. "I'm sorry if my arrival took long."
"Fortunately, I'd say you arrived just when we need you most." Dorian said.
"This is a poor excuse of a joke." Tannos said. "I can't believe this is supposed to be our rescuer."
Vanessa's eyes sharpened their focus on Tannos as he smirked and rolled his eyes.
"Is there a problem dwarf?" Vanessa asked.
"My name is Tannos." He replied. "And yes girl, quite frankly I think this is ridiculous."
"Hold your tongue." Dorian scolded.
Tannos shook his head in disgust.
"I must apologize for my worker, Ms. Chen." Dorian said. "We have been put in a dire situation."
"How many spiders are you dealing with?" Vanessa asked.
"By our count there are at least three." Dorian answered. "They managed to slip by our yard-watchmen one night. Out in the open they would pose no problem but our numbers account for nothing in the shafts."
"How many of your workers have you lost?" Vanessa asked.
"When they first got settled into the one shaft, we lost eight. However the workers have attempted to go in and kill the beasts themselves, resulting in ten more going missing. Six more were lost in the last evening."
"I must get down there quickly then." Vanessa said. "There is still time to save those last six men. I will need a guide though."
Duran stepped forth, "I can show you the way."
"Thank you." Vanessa said.
"Best of luck to ya, girl." Tannos said snide.
Before anyone could tell Tannos to hold his comments to himself, Vanessa halted them and stepped towards him.
"Your lack of faith is disturbing dwarf." Vanessa said.
"I do not doubt the abilities of a Ranger." Tannos replied. "Though their standards must be lowering if they let little girls join a man's profession."
Though Vanessa was not visually upset, her tension could be felt by the dwarves near her.
"It was never a requirement to be a man to be a Ranger, dwarf." Vanessa said. "The only requirement is to have the will to become one; an unbreakable will."
"Well then we shall see if that will truly is unbreakable." Tannos mocked.
"We most certainly will, dwarf." Vanessa said before turning back to Duran. "What is your name sir?"
"Oh, I'm Duran; Lord Dorian's son." Duran said.
"Well Duran, show me the way to these pests so that I may silence your bald friend." Vanessa said.
Tannos shook his head at Vanessa's bold statement.
Duran lead her to the entrance of the mine shaft. She began lightening her load; save for her weapons.
"The moment we get to their webs, you return to the surface." Vanessa instructed Duran.
"You won't need my assistance?" Duran asked.
"No." Vanessa said. "If you're down there too then that'll be one more person for me to worry about."
"I understand then, mam." Duran said.
With Vanessa ready she gestured for Duran to lead on. The pair entered the main shaft and disappeared from view.
Once gone, Tannos was at it again with the remarks, "What a complete rouse this whole thing is! We asked for a man and they sent us a doll."
"Tannos..." Dorian said. "You may have been a great warrior during the Baddoran War and I took you in because I knew you would be a great worker in the mines, but do us all a favor and shut it!"
Dorian's sudden opposition was a shock to the other workers.
"You men may doubt the capabilities of our Ranger but the Guild would not have allowed her to accept this assignment if they did not trust her to handle the job." Dorian continued. "The guild has yet to fail my requests and therefore I trust her, as should all of you."
Tannos did not respond to Dorian's brief speech; merely stood off to the side and waited to see if this woman he had no faith in would survive the ordeal.
Down in mines, Duran lead Vanessa to the main junction area where the three main shafts connected.
"These are the three main shafts that make up the mines." Duran said, "They do connect in other areas but this main junction will be the signal that you are near the exit. Should you get lost just follow every incline up until you reach this point."
"Which one of these did the spiders first appear in?" Vanessa asked.
"That would be the center shaft." Duran answered. "We originally had every entrance into the shaft sealed off or kept deterrents at every entrance but they somehow managed to get by into the other shafts."
"What sort of deterrent did you use?" Vanessa asked.
"That's why they got past then." Vanessa said. "Rasp Willow will ward off the males but to a female there is no effect. I suppose we best take the center shaft though."
As the pair began walking down the center shaft, Duran said. "Sorry again about Tannos back there."
"I've long grown used to people questioning me because of my sex, Duran." Vanessa said. "Seeing as how I am a Ranger and he is not, then I am more than fine with your friend back there."
"You get that sort of thing often?" Duran said as they slowed their advance into the mines.
"I received much of it from my family." Vanessa said. "Needless to say, I imagine they were more than shocked to receive a letter from me this year informing them that I am close to graduating from the academy."
The two came around a bend to an intersection between two tunnels and just as Duran was about to ask Vanessa something else, she threw her hand up and stopped him; startling him as well.
In a slight panic he asked, "What? What's going on?"
Vanessa drew her Kamas, adding to his alarm. Then she merely pointed towards ground before them. Duran looked to where she was pointing and saw the light from the torches reflecting against something that was covering the tracks; strands of silk. A few yards ahead where another junction lied, there was a lot more webbing.
"It appears we reached the point where you must turn around now." Vanessa said.
Duran heeded Vanessa's word, and began to head back up to the entrance. He took a moment before going around the bend to look back; his curiosity got the better of him of what Vanessa's tactics were going to be.
She knelt down to get a better look at the strands of silk and where they lead. After a getting a good look at the layout of the webs, Vanessa did something concerning; she reached out and plucked one of the strands. Like a high tension wire, the silk vibrated. From down the tunnel there was a shuffling amidst the rocks on the ceiling. A small trickle of dirt and dust could be seen falling at the junction end of the tunnel. Additionally there was the sound of similar shuffling from the intersection between her and Duran.
After a moment of waiting Vanessa plucked the strands several more times in succession. As she stood up she turned away from the junction with her Kamas at the ready. Duran ducked around the corner so that she wouldn't see him. A few seconds went by before suddenly the four dangling stalk-like legs began to creep down into view from the junction's ceiling. There soon followed the body and front six eyes of the large cave spider. The brown, eight-legged beast's decent and touchdown on the floor of the junction was completely silent. The tips of its legs graciously touched down and made no noise.
At the intersection which Vanessa was looking a second cave spider, identical in appearance to the first, crept down to the ground as well. The two arachnids had Vanessa surrounded. She remained frozen for a moment, until the first one began to crawl forward; to which she slowly got herself into a fighting position. The second spider, seeing the slight motion she was making, began to slowly crawl forward as well.
Vanessa was tense, her muscles and joints began to flex. As the two spiders were inching closer to her, she started to crouch slightly. Duran slowly peered back around the bend to see what was happening. His heart almost leaped into his throat when he saw the creatures closing in on Vanessa.
Suddenly the first one raced forth, prompting the second to do the same. Just before the first was about to pounce on Vanessa from behind she quickly through her hands up. Her kamas stuck into the tunnel's ceiling and she hoisted herself up. The two spiders collided with each other. Vanessa remained on the ceiling and watched, upside-down, as the two creatures’ accidental collision escalated into ferocious fight. The two tussled back and forth, their fangs hooking desperately at each other while their many legs pushed and pulled at one another.
They tumbled back into the junction area where they separated for a brief moment before colliding together again. It was then that Vanessa dropped down from the ceiling of the tunnel. She unsheathed her rapier from her side and raced at the two spiders. They were so preoccupied with their mortal combat that at a moment when they were close to almost sinking their fangs into each other, Vanessa thrust her thin sword into the back of one. The weapon punctured through one spider's thorax and into the other's. There was a high pitched screech from both of them as they struggled briefly before their shaking legs curled inward.
Duran started to emerge from behind the bend in awe of the fact that Vanessa had slain both of the spiders at the same time. She removed the rapier from the creatures' bodies and began to wipe it clean against one of them. As she cleaned the weapon's blade, Duran took notice of movement from one of the tunnels to her left. A larger set of black legs began to appear from the darkness, it was followed by the same set of eyes that the first two spiders had. It was the larger, female Cave Spider.
The black arachnid crept out of the shadows, gradually revealing the menacing red stripe along its abdomen.
Just as Vanessa sheathed her Rapier, Duran shouted in a panic, "Look out behind you!"
Vanessa whipped in the direction of the female just as it charged at her.
Duran could only watch as Vanessa reached out and grabbed a hold of the spider’s fangs before the two began to tumble with each other. After a brief rolling motion the female gained the upper hand and seemed to have Vanessa pinned on the ground. From Duran's perspective he saw the spiders' abdomen with Vanessa's boots sticking out from underneath it. Her feet struggled for a brief moment and the thorax of the creature gradually lowered.
Suddenly Vanessa's boots tensed up and then went completely limp. After a few moments, the spider stepped away from Vanessa long enough to reveal two holes in the front of her clothing. Her eyes were wide and there was not even the slightest bit of movement. Duran feared the worst and raced back up the shaft just as the female began wrapping Vanessa in a cocoon.
Ten Minutes later, Duran erupted from the mine on the surface in a panic.
"Father!" He shouted, drawing everyone's concern. "The Ranger!"
Dorian stepped forth, "Duran, what happened?"
"The Ranger father!" Duran shouted once again trying to catch his breath, "She killed the smaller two spiders, but then a bigger one emerged..."
"The wench is dead isn't she?" Tannos said as he stepped out of the crowd.
Everyone looked at Duran as he tried to acknowledge Tannos claims but he could not bring himself to say the words.
"I knew it." Tannos said. "I told you lot, didn't I? Now that girl is dead, and why? Because you can't work up the courage to finish these vermin off. We're dwarves! Let's go show the Ranger Guild that we are perfectly fine handling these foul creatures!"
Dorian and Duran felt powerless to stop Tannos from stirring some of the workers enough into grabbing torches and pickaxes. He led a group of six down into the mines. Unable to stop them, Dorian and his son reluctantly followed.
As the small mob descended into the mines, back below ground, the female dragged Vanessa's cocoon into a main chamber. The walls were covered with webbing with bio-luminescent algae giving an eerie bluish colored lighting. Gently picking her cocoon up with its small forelimbs, the female stuck Vanessa to the wall amidst no less than a dozen other cocoons. The female took great care in making sure that its newest catch firmly placed.
Once finished the female left the chamber. After a few moments, one of Vanessa's Kamas erupted from the center of her cocoon and cut a gash in the webbing. Not long after, Vanessa herself emerged from the cocoon. She took a moment to remove a few strands of webbing that were still stuck in her hair before getting a better view of her surroundings.
After looking back at the other cocoons she began cutting them open one at a time. The first three she inspected, revealed the horribly shriveled remains of dwarves that had all the fluids drained from their bodies. The sight of the dwarves' corpses made Vanessa cringe a little but she swallowed her disgust and continued her examination. The next one she opened revealed the dwarf not only was in good shape but was alive. Her hopes heightened and she continued to find that there were four more dwarves still alive in their cocoons.
Once she identified the live ones Vanessa then went around with a small vile of purple fluid; holding it under their noses. One by one the Dwarves regained consciousness. Though they all tried to speak Vanessa was able to keep them silent and began leading them out of the chamber. With Vanessa in front with her Rapier at the ready, one of the dwarves guided her with hand gestures through the maze of tunnels back up towards the surface.
While coming up an incline there was suddenly a commotion coming from ahead. Vanessa quickly deduced that it was more dwarves engaging the female spider in battle.
"Hurry!" Vanessa said as they finally broke their cautious escape to aid the workers before the spider had a hold of them as well.
By the time the group reached the junction where Vanessa first encountered the female, the spider had already paralyzed all but Duran and his father who were backed into a crevice while the female ferociously tried to get at them with one of her limbs.
"Pull the others out of the way." Vanessa said to the five dwarves she rescued.
While the dwarves followed her instructions, Vanessa pulled out one of her Kamas and approached the female with it in one hand and the Rapier in the other.
"Hey!" She shouted at the spider, getting its attention. "Get away from them you bitch!"
The spider, with Vanessa's image reflecting clearly in its front six eyes, instantly recognized her. It turned its attention away from the Dorian and Duran as it began to slowly step away from them. Though the female could sense the two dwarves running from the crevice via their footsteps, its attention was focused solely on Vanessa.
Like before it charged at Vanessa attempting to hook her with its fangs, but Vanessa countered by daringly dropping to the ground and sliding underneath it. Realizing its vulnerability the creature quickly stepped aside before Vanessa could stab it with her Rapier. The Ranger Recruit sprang back up and got ready for the spider to make its next move.
The spider tried a new tactic by strike at Vanessa with its forelimbs. She was able to parry the first few strikes. However the creature's new form of attack began to back Vanessa towards the wall. With room to move diminishing, Vanessa's situation became increasingly more difficult. At one point the female had backed Vanessa into a more narrow area and was able to land a blow to her midsection.
Thrown to the grown by the force of the hit, Vanessa was left wide open for the spider to pounce. It lunged forth at Vanessa ready to sink its fang into her. Once again Vanessa was able to catch the spider's fangs before they plunged into her. Alarmingly, the angle which the thing attacked placed Vanessa's head directly under its unnervingly bizarre shaped mouth. With all her might she was able to keep the fangs away from her but with every struggle they were inching closer to her midsection.
Quickly realizing that her legs were sticking out from under the spider's head, Vanessa suddenly kicked the spider square into one of its large front eyes. The eye ruptured with an unpleasant yellowish colored blood. The female screeched in pain and reeled back in pain while grasping at its wound with one of its small forelimbs. Freed, Vanessa snatched up her Kama and Rapier then jumped onto the spider's abdomen.
Before the female could throw her off, Vanessa stuck it's abdomen with her Kama to keep her on. Like a rodeo bull, the spider swerved and kicked its back into the air trying to get rid of her. Vanessa swayed every which way but was able to remain latched onto its back. Once she was able to get herself into a good position, she then lunged forward with her rapier and plunged it into the female's thorax. Like the two brown males it let out a pain stricken screech, before slowly curling its twitching legs inward until it ceased to move.
With the conflict over, Vanessa took a moment to catch her breath. It was then that she realized that the dwarves had witnessed the whole event from the tunnel. All of them stood watching with their mouths dangling open and their eyes wide.
"Please..." Vanessa said with a slight laugh. "It's not polite to stare."
Later on as the workers were giving Vanessa thanks for her assistance, Dorian and Duran approached her with a revived Tannos.
"I suppose you're off back to the academy now?" Dorian asked.
"Yes." Vanessa said. "My teacher's assistant gave me a list of things I have to gather which will take me a while so I have to get going as soon as possible."
"We won't hold you up then." Dorian said. "Just like everyone else, we just want to say thank you for saving those workers and the mines."
"Do you have time to answer me this though," Duran said drawing her curiosity. "When the big one attacked you the first time, how did you not become paralyzed like the others?"
Vanessa then poked her fingers into the two open holes of her leather armor and answered, "With the way spider fangs are shaped, I was able to make it think it bit me but in actuality it only pierced my armor and not my skin."
"Well that makes sense then." Duran said.
"A certain someone has something else they want to say as well." Dorian said.
He looked at Tannos and gestured for him to speak up. Vanessa looked on with an eyebrow raised and a smirk in victorious anticipation.
Tannos felt humiliated but swallowed his pride, "Thank you for your help... And I'm sorry for the things I said when you arrived..."
Vanessa's cockiness diminished to a more humble demeanor and replied respectfully, "You're welcome and apology accepted. Well I must be off."
The young recruit set off on the next part of her final test. After leaving the front gates, she reached into her side pouch and put her hands on piece of parchment that she received from Quint when he retrieved the spider's corpses.
"Oh before I leave I have something for you." Quint's voice echoed in her memories. "It's a letter from your father back home."
"My father?" Vanessa asked.
"Yes, just arrived this morning." Quint replied. "Seeing as how you completed the hunt, there's no harm in letting you have it now."
Vanessa walked for some time with her hand on the letter, contemplating on reading it or not. Finally she could not resist and decided to have a seat on a boulder to read it.
To my dearest daughter, Vanessa,
We received your previous letter and were rather surprised to see that you had made it so far in the academy. I know the day you decided to become a Ranger, your mother and I were not very enthusiastic about your decision. We did not think it would be very wise for you, a daughter of noble birth to take up such a dangerous profession, nor did we believe you would make it far in the academy. Instead you have surprised us by making it this far.
Vanessa, my daughter, we owe you an apology. Your mother and I apologize for doubting you, for trying to sway you from the path you have chosen, for trying to keep you from being what you want to be. One day, should you have a family of your own, we hope you will understand why we did so. For now we hope that we can be forgiven. We are proud of you Vanessa, and on the day of your graduation we look forward to seeing become a Ranger.
With Love always,
Vanessa closed the parchment and just remained still on the rock. Her mind was clogged with thoughts trying to process what she had just read. There was so much emotion that flooded her soul that she was unsure how to feel.
She then stood up and took a deep breath. After a few moments she tucked the parchment carefully back into her side pouch. Vanessa looked out across the Rokai mountains; a most magnificent view from where she stood. No view, no matter how magnificent or beautiful could overcome the emotion that was still overflowing in her.