Part 7: The Webs Of The Old Forest
They pushed their way southeast through the forest, bear, maiden and warrior, looking for any signs or scent of the young man who had gotten lost somewhere in it’s depths. Morko the bear was in front, his nose to the ground in search of the faintest of smells, followed by Laralini, then Mericc as rear guard. The going in this part of the forest was rough, tree’s pressed in closely and the undergrowth was particularly thick and troublesome. At times the brush was so thick that the massive body and claws of Morko were not enough and Mericc had to assist in cutting away a path. When he wasn’t helping with path clearing, he found himself answering an almost inexhaustible series of inquiries from the young(Or so he thought of Laralini, there was no telling how old the elf actually was.) scholar.
“Is Forochel really as cold as they say?”
“However did you end up defeating the drake?”
“What is summer like in Dale?”
“Is it true that the horses of Rohan are the best?”
“Do you always ask so many questions?”, Mericc asked finally, his head swirling from the onslaught.
The elf maiden’s cheeks turned red and she laughed softly, “I am afraid I can get that way at times. One of my old teachers used to say that there weren’t enough answers in the world to cover all the questions I have. I do apologize”. Mericc could well believe it, but he could also tell that it was not the whole story. He would keep an eye on her as they went along, every once and a while she would look south and her face would take on a much paler tone, she would turn to him as if to say something, bite her lip and then resume following her companion. Mericc wondered what was troubling her but was occupied with his own feelings of foreboding. At whiles he thought he heard in the distance faint sounds…tap..tick..tap..tick..tick but it was slight and Mericc supposed that he might just be imagining it when it would resume again far off in another direction..taap…taap.
Soon they came to a place where the trees opened up into a wide space dominated by a single hill in the middle. The ground was spongy under their feet and they could see many willow trees throughout the glade, feeding off all of the extra moisture, their leaves drooping down in the moonlight. Morko stopped at the base of the hill, raised his head and sniffed at the air, seeming to catch something on the wind. Suddenly with a dash he ran up to the top, towards a single tree that grew at the base and began to circle around it.
“Have you found something dear Morko?” Laralini asked, but Mericc wasn’t waiting for an answer and quickly he joined the bear at the summit. When he got there he saw that the ground had been recently disturbed, the slight indent of footprints could be seen along with other markings that he couldn’t figure. The tree was rent with small gashes and hidden under a tuft of grass Mericc found a piece of cloth that looked as if it had been cut and torn. Laralini saw the cloth and her face turned white.
“You don’t think we are too late do you?” She asked, her eyes wide and troubled but the guardian only shook his head. “It is possible, but I am not certain, the ground shows all the signs of a struggle but I haven’t found any blood or other markings to help discover what might have happened here. No body, but that may or may not mean anything.” Mericc got up and wiped his hands on his armour, they were sticky and as he looked as his fingers he noticed a thin film of white filament. A thought came to him that he didn’t express out loud, he hoped he was wrong.
A growl at the edge of the clearing brought Mericc out of his thoughts and he looked over towards Morko who was sniffing around an opening in the tree’s towards the southeast. Laralini looked towards her companion intently for a moment then she turned to Mericc and spoke, “He has picked up the young man’s scent, it leads off deeper into the woods to the south. He thinks the boy is alive but just barely”. Mericc looked and saw that Laralini was shaking slightly, “I am afraid Mericc”, she confessed as she watched Morko, “There is some dark evil that dwells down that path, I have felt it for some time and hoped that the trail would not lead that way. We are in terrible danger”.
Mericc put a hand on her shoulder, “If you wish to turn aside I would not blame you Laralini, you and your bear-friend have been of great assistance to me and I am grateful for it. And there is nothing wrong with being afraid, I have been around many a veteran campaigner and if any of them told you they didn’t feel fear before every battle they are either a liar or a fool. But this is my task and I will not lay it on another unwillingly.”
Laralini thought for a moment, “No, I will see it through. I have a feeling you may need us before the end”. She sighed, “There is a world of difference between reading about the old adventures and being thrust into one of them. I do hope it’s a happy ending”.
“So do I”, Mericc replied. “Now lets get going, I think your’ bear friend is getting tired of waiting for us”.
They left the glade and plunged back into the vastness of the Old Forest. As night deepened around them a fog came down, covering all in an eerie gloom and Mericc distracted
the young scholar with tales of his previous adventures. At times he would still hear, off in the distance, the sounds that he had heard earlier now closer tap..tick ..tap..tick..tick and this time he was sure that he was not just hearing things. Taap..Taap, The great bear’s head turned towards the sound, Laralini asked what it could mean but Mericc only shook his head. He had a feeling they would soon find out.
Ahead the forest seemed to darken and at first Mericc was at a loss as to why, but soon it became apparent. Passing through a dense layer of fog they saw with their own eyes what was blocking out the light of the moon and stars. Webs of every size and shape covered every inch of the forest floor then spiraled up to dizzying heights, keeping all but the most stubborn rays of moon-light from getting through. Vague shapes flitted in and out of the shadows above them and they could hear the sound of chittering and clicking coming from every direction. Morko growled deeply, a warning to anything that would dare approach the elf maiden, and Mericc also prepared himself for a fight. The light would break through in places and the travelers would see the shadows of many legs in the half-light, but soon they would disappear back into the gloom. The noise picked up again ahead of them and they noticed that the shadows above them traveled towards it.
Tick Tick…Tick, Tick…Tick, Tap Tap, Tick..
They made there way as best they could through the web-covered brush, the scent trail leading them in the same direction as the noise and the shadowy forms. After a while their stalkers didn’t bother staying hidden and they could see the definite shapes of spiders above them in the treetops, hairy and horrible in form. Strange eyes beyond count glared at them in the darkness ahead, watching and waiting. The noise ahead grew louder and more distinct as they followed along, the spiders drawn towards it as if by command. Mericc and the others crested a small rise, Laralini’s hands shot to her mouth, stifling a scream.
A young man was hung high in the base of a large crooked tree, his body covered in webbing, his arms outstretched. His face was as white as a sheet and Mericc was unsure if he was alive or not. They had found Tom and they had also found the source of the clicking noises. Two wicked looking spiders dropped down on silken threads not far from the tree where Tom lay hanging but they were not the source of the clicking, that came from the monstrous form approaching behind them. This time Laralini couldn’t cover her scream as it came into view. Morko let out a roar and Mericc held his sword out in front of him. Dozens of spiders surrounded them on all sides, but Mericc’s eyes were fixed only on one.
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