I scaled the temple, a sleek black building constructed of many towering spires. I kicked open the wooden shutters of a window until I cleared a way, then dropped down to the empty vestibule. I crossed to the entrance and opened the outer door for Angrok.
Once he was inside, we found our way to an interior room – the hatchery. The birthing chamber was immense and covered in sticky silken webs. Some strands were as thick as limbs on a body. I shut the door behind us and reinforced it with a solid wooden bar.
I produced a torch from my pack, lit the oil-soaked linen quickly with flint, and tossed it onto the immense network of silky webs. The flame began to grow, slowly at first. I noticed the frightening spider hatchlings, some dangling from the ceiling by their spinnerets and some crawling through the webs, their vicious jaws dripping with venom. Perhaps I would extract some later. I could also see a few human skeletons caught in the webs, a horrid fate I did not wish to contemplate.
Before long the entire birthing bed was burning. The little spiders hissed and writhed in desperation as the fire consumed them. The egg sacs were destroyed, and the baby spiders were killed long before they could become monstrous adults.
We heard pounding at the door. We had drawn the temple attendants. But they weren’t the only ones whose attention we had attracted.
A long-haired man cast open the double doors which led to the Nest Mother’s chamber and came barreling out in terror. He drew a dagger and ran for us hysterically as he surveyed the smoking, blackened webs and charred spider corpses.
“What have you done?” he shrieked. “The babies! My poor babies!”
Angrok took a few somber steps toward him and pulled out his warhammer. I carefully drew my crossbow, bolt already in place.
“Freeze!” I ordered. The long-haired priest did just that. He was as much a coward as he was an evildoer.
“Yama,” Angrok said. “Is that your name?”
The priest nodded frantically.
I was sure Angrok was smiling in pleasure behind his helmet.
“Death welcomes you!” Angrok roared.
He pitched back his hammer, swung hard, and sent Yama’s head, separated now from his body, hurtling into the wall. Angrok ran over and grabbed the grisly trophy by its greasy hair. I nodded in approval.
As the temple attendants began to break through, I noticed an open window at the top of the room. We quickly scaled the loose brick and watched the flames grow higher. The window overlooked a dark alleyway. We dropped down and surreptitiously walked out of Khorthaire. As we hurried off, I swore I heard the temple attendants weeping and cursing the dark-hearted outsiders, the men who had slain their eight-legged gods.
By now the sun had set. Angrok returned to Tiana holding the bludgeoned head of Yama in his hand. She was convulsing now in constant spasms. But she looked at us, her face unnaturally pale, and took the bloodied trophy in her shaking hands. For a brief moment, I saw a trace of a smile.
The little girl looked into Yama’s lifeless eyes as she shook, holding the head up by its blood-caked hair. She spat in his face and she cursed him. She threw the head on the ground and uttered blasphemies to the eight-legged gods of Khorthaire.
Angrok and I kept her company until her wretched death was almost complete. “Goodbye, Tiana,” I told her.
“Goodbye,” she said, her voice only a faint whisper
At that very second, she writhed, gasped, and shut her eyes. The eight-legged gods of Khorthaire had taken their prize, but they had lost their vicar in the process.
I put a hand on Angrok’s iron shoulder plate.
“Sometimes you are a mystery even to your greatest friend,” I said.
Angrok’s answer was only silence. But in my heart, I knew that Angrok was indeed the Avenger and not the Destroyer, the man who crushed the wicked under his feet like a hammer of the gods.
Angrok pitched back his warhammer, swung it hard at the Spider Priest, and sent Yama’s head – separated now from his body – hurtling into the wall. The Destroyer strode over and grabbed the grisly trophy by its greasy hair. I stood behind him and nodded in approval.
“Satisfactory, my lord?” I asked the hero of the tale who had listened in silence as I’d read to him my latest entry.
Angrok pondered a moment, then looked me in the eye. “So I am to be the Destroyer in this telling, eh, Marcellus?” His smile was grim.
“As the chronicler of your adventures, I must make certain…judgments, my lord. Are you not known by such a title among the princes of these desert kingdoms?”
“I am indeed, but this particular matter was motivated by vengeance, as you well know.”
This was true. Angrok killed the high priest of the spider goddess Nekra to avenge the death of Tiana, a victim of the eight-legged gods of Khorthaire. I thought he would continue his lecture, instead he said simply, “Do not neglect to pay homage to the young girl and her sacrifice when you conclude your account.”
“It will be so recorded,” I assured him.
“Then let us be on our way, my friend.”
Friend. Two years as his traveling companion, and I still cannot say if I am truly Angrok’s friend. Or if he is mine. I admire him greatly, respect him profoundly, and term him the Avenger when the story warrants, despite his reputation to the contrary. His enemies are quick to denounce him, but no one questions his power or prowess. Let history judge him, I say.
The route we were traveling was unfamiliar, at least to me. Angrok exuded such confident determination whatever the destination, that if this were a novel path for him one would never guess it. With Khorthaire many leagues behind us, we wound our way through the northwestern desert lands known as the Barrens of Bajir.