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            When I finally stopped running, I clutched the painful stab in my side, breathing heavily. I sucked in breath after breath, and finally looked around at my surroundings. It was still night, the woods were completely dark, and I noticed that the trees were nearly white in wrapped webbing. It was such a vibrant white that I wondered if the webs could be emitting their own light. I still had Grandmother’s walking stick, but my pack was gone, probably webbed now like these trees. My skirt was gone, leaving me only in my oversized blouse and white petticoats. The hem of the petticoats were nearly black with dirt.


            “Raziel?” I asked quietly. I didn’t see the spiders that had made all this webbing but I didn’t want to alert them to my presence. I held my breath, trying to listen for any sound in the forest. It was completely still, I could only hear the fast beat of my own heart. “Raziel?” I was whispering, wondering if he was playing a trick on me. With his hood he’d be all but invisible in the shadows of the trees.


            I heard a chittering sound that made my blood run cold, I slowly began to back the way I’d come. Raziel could’ve have lost me, I was his father’s salvation, no way would he let me slip through his fists. The webbing between the trees looked like dark corridors. Slowly moving down one was the largest spider I’d ever seen. It was much larger than me, larger than Raziel, one could’ve ridden it like a horse.


            I brought Grandmother’s walking stick up as if I intended to use it as a weapon. As if would protect me from the giant spider that was quickly approaching. I could see my own reflection in its multiple black eyes, its mandibles dripped a clear liquid that sizzled when it fell onto the ground. It suddenly stood up higher, arched and bucked slightly, a glob of sticky white webbing goo had landed on my left hand that held the walking stick and I realized even if I wanted to, I could not put it down. The webbing had adhered my hand stronger than any sap.


            This would be a great time for you to rescue me, Raziel. I thought to myself, but I still saw nor heard any indication of him. I shrieked, hoping that alert Raziel of my location and turned to run away from the spider, but suddenly my right arm was stuck to my side, my foot to the ground. I tried to twist down to untie the lace of my boot. By the time I had my foot free of the boot it was too late, the spider had begun to spin me in its webbing, twisting and turning me, rolling me in its surprisingly delicate grasp, until I was completely cocooned. I had closed my eyes to the webbing, not wanting to watch my own death, but I was suddenly so tired. Was this death? I wondered as my thoughts began to slow as oblivion began to overcome me. I’m coming… Earth Mother… so… sorry.


            That girl had the speed of a doe, but the grace of a drunk ox. She shouldn’t have been hard for Raziel to follow through the trees, but his arm felt like it was on fire, as if someone had poured molten iron on it. He had only stopped momentarily, the tiny spider hatchlings had stopped following them, to look at the spider bite. A red lump had formed, and though it was too soon, the bite already looked infected. He grunted, curled his fingers into a fist, and set his mind to ignore the pain and slung the witch’s pack over his shoulder. Raziel hoped that it was worth him getting bitten by a spider over. When he looked up from his arm, the witch was gone and so was every indication of her passing.

            The webbing that covered the trees protected them from her flight, he had no broken branches to track with. The webbed ground was undisturbed, and though he listened hard, he could not even hear the sound of her steps. Raziel wanted to strangle that girl at times, but he needed her to explain to the dragon that Entia was dead, though he doubted the dragon could be reasoned with.

            Raziel wasn’t evil, just angry and prone to losing his temper. He had tried not to look at the witch, but he’d caught himself watching her. She would’ve been exactly what his Gretchen might have looked like all grown up. Little Gretchen at four who’d he’d promised his heart to all those years ago. He’d silently cursed at the witch, how dare she look like Gretchen. Perhaps once he turned her over to the dragon, for whatever reason the dragon wanted with Entia, maybe to eat her, maybe witches tasted better, he’d be done with that horrid girl. He’d never had to look upon those sherry eyes, that unblemished skin, framed by those red waves. He grunted again, the pain had shot up his arm, and he welcomed it, it took his mind off the past.

            The deeper he went into the forest, the less he saw the trees under the layers of webbing. Raziel glanced up to see giant webbed cocoons hanging from above, the moonlight barely getting through the ceiling of the cavernous webbing. He pulled his hood up over his head. The Wizard Gerfast hadn’t only allowed the hood to cloak him in shadows, but it increased his nightvision. Now he could see as clearly as if he was standing outside on a sunny afternoon. Was Hazel in one of those?

            He sighed and dropped her pack on the ground and began to climb up the webbing. His hand didn’t seem to want to work right, it almost seemed to have a mind of its own. The hand seemed to keep wanting to go for one of the swords on his back. Raziel had to concentrate to force the hand to grip and release the webbing.

            Raziel pulled a small dagger from his boot. His throwing knives were all lost, used and gone in the dead attack on the castle. This dagger wasn’t for throwing, he used it as a service blade. He carefully cut and pulled away the webbing from the cocoon, and stared at the mummified corpse within. It wasn’t Hazel, just some poor bastard who had wandered into the forest. He’d have to slice all the cocoons open, if it weren’t for the muted shriek that came through the webbed trees.

            Raziel arrived in another cavernous junction between the trees in time to watch a spider larger than an ox carrying a cocoon to the ceiling of the webbed chamber. He had remembered to grab Hazel’s pack and dropped it on the floor again. He knew he was going to have fight this creature, and he didn’t want her bag hindering him. He pulled dagger from his boot, sighed, flipped in his hand, and threw it at the spider. Surprisingly it lodged in the spider’s abdomen, the spider squealed much like a pig, and dropped down to the ground. It looked more pissed than Raziel.

            Zeke had the true agility of the family, he had their mother’s grace, and her heart. Raziel realized he could’ve really used his brother’s skill with a bow. Raziel was more of a rush head on, all things could be defeated with brute strength, type of person. He wasn’t sure how the spider could see or track him, but even with the hood up, it came straight towards him. Raziel already had both of his swords in his hands. In climbing the webbing his hand hadn’t want to work, now it seemed over eager to stab and slice at the spider.

            The spider tried to shoot webbing at him which he dodged easily, rolling to the side. Then the spider tried to impale him with its front legs. Raziel blocked with his swords, they clanged off the legs. He lunged forwards, attacking, but the spider brought its hard legs up to protect its soft abdomen. Raziel ran, took a step off a tree trunk, and flipped over the spider and suddenly on its back. It bucked harder than any bronco he’d ever ridden, but he jammed one of his swords down into as far as he could, giving him leverage. The spider tried to crawl up a wall of webbing and drop down, hoping to squash Raziel its bulk. Raziel released his sword, and rolled to the side, as the spider fell, he brought the other sword around in a slice and had severed the head. He kicked it aside. The dead spider curled its legs inward. Raziel pulled out his dagger, and realized he’d have to roll the dead spider over to get his sword back.

            After retrieving his sword he climbed the webbed wall again, and fought with his hand that was back to not wanting to let go of the sword to climb the wall. What had possessed him? Possessed his hand? Like with the first cocoon he had carefully cut, and had to prevent his hand from stabbing the person within. He’d pulled the webbing away from Hazel’s face. She was unconscious, her eyes closed, the long lashes like lace on her cheeks. She looked so harmless, so at peace, well she had always looked harmless, but now she appeared… precious. Raziel’s left hand stroked her cheek. He wasn’t exactly sure what he in more shock about, the fact he’d touched her so tenderly or the fact moving outwards from the spider bite on his arm were what looked like tiny black cracks under his skin. Was he possessed by the spider’s bite?

            Raziel quickly cut down the cocoon and once on the ground, he tried to remove as much webbing as he could from her hair and clothing. She was missing a boot, and had somehow managed to get cocooned with that carved staff she almost refused to let go of. He’d removed his hood, and he could sense life in her, she was breathing and her heart was beating, she hadn’t woken up.

            “Hazel,” he said her name, shaking her shoulder. “Wake up.” She didn’t stir. He sighed. This just kept getting better and better. He found her boot, freed it from the webbed goo on the ground, and placed it on her foot. Raziel slung her sack on her pack on his back, slid her staff into the belt that held his swords in place, and gently lifted her into his arms. Unconscious or not, Hazel still had a date with a dragon, and a life to save.