Spiders. Huge, wicked things that served vampires. A swarm of them was approaching. Lemuel looked at each of his companions. Bujilli was tired. Leeja had suffered a draining attack that left her weakened. Hedrard was still struggling to free herself of the after-effects of the spells the Purple-eyes had used on them both. The other two were useless. Well, the roof-runner might manage to do something with the knife they'd given them...but he didn't want to bet on it...especially not with their lives.
"Get everyone moving. I'll buy us some time. Just let me know which way you're going--up or down--and I'll follow as soon as I am able."
Bujilli looked into Hedrard's eyes. A mistake. Lemuel knew that as well.
"Up. We'll look for a way to get back to the roof-tops and take our chances with the Synchronocitor. It got us here in the first place, I'm hoping it can get us out of here once it has recharged."
"Go then. I'll--"
Lemuel rushed past them both. The make-shift barrier collapsed as he pushed his way through it.
"Scheiss!" Hedrard made to follow then stopped herself. Lemuel looked into her eyes. She knew then that he was no longer her problem or property and never would be again. She smiled ever so slightly, then he turned back to the business at hand and drew his Grandfather's knife.
They said there was maybe six of the spiders out there. They were wrong. There were twelve of the things. The spiders were not afraid of the boy rushing to meet them. Lemuel smiled; they would learn to fear him soon enough. He had hunted river-spiders and the noose-weavers that infested the forests near his people's enclave. These things were bigger, but they were only spiders and he knew how to kill spiders, even really big ones.
Lemuel skidded to an abrupt stop. A single black spike of gleaming chitin jutted suddenly from out of his chest. One of the Varn-spiders had caught him from above, impaled him on its blade-like claw. He twisted about, tearing his wermhide sheath in the process, and hacked through the flexible joint of the limb. Three cuts and he was free of the thing. He drew out the spider-leg and cast it aside. Another spider sensing an opportunity rushed in to bite him. He stabbed it in one of its larger eyes. It shrieked and recoiled from him.
The rest of the spiders moved-in to surrounded him. Good. That would make this easier.
The knife flashed hatefully in the blue-tinted gloom as Lemuel charged the nearest spider.
Another spider-limb flew over his left shoulder. He brought his elbows back into the other one's eyes, rupturing them into a wet greenish mess. They'd given up biting him after the sixth time. He'd twisted off the front half of the last one's face or whatever you called their front-parts as it tried to withdraw its fangs. The poison coursed through his flesh, mingling with his fluids and becoming a part of him. It felt good. Warm. Comfortable. It made the Baby Teeth Hedrard had set into his jaw ache with the need to bite back...so he lunged toward a spider, clambered on top and sunk his teeth into it right behind its cluster of eyes. It tasted salty.
CHAK! A spider knocked him to the floor. They knew better than to try to impale him again.
Three more spiders swarmed over him. Biting, stabbing, rending, doing everything they could to hurt him, to kill him.
He snapped a spider's leg. Punched another in the fangs. Stabbed the third one in its belly and dragged the knife back out through its face in a spluttering gush of innards and fluids.
Twelve spiders, each larger than a pregnant cow, wriggled and writhed in a gore-splattered heap at Lemuel's feet. He'd hacked-off the legs of the ones he hadn't had a chance to kill yet. He walked from one to the other of the dismembered things and used the knife...Culver's hateful knife...to end each spider.
When he was finished, Lemuel surveyed his handiwork and felt conflicted. It had been a glorious fight, if a bit one-sided. The spiders couldn't really hurt him; not with poison, or fangs, or stabby-claws. He reveled in the languid, lingering heat of the spider-venom flowing through his body. It felt good. More than good. He looked down on the ruptured chitinous thorax of a spider, examined the contours of the exposed organs and tissues. There was something beautiful in it that he had never been able to see before. He felt as if his eyes were opening for the first time. It felt good. He reached down into the remains of the spider and pulled forth a dripping gobbet of flesh and swallowed it. The taste was like nothing he had ever experienced before. He took another piece. And another.
Lemuel gulped down the last of the sweet meat from his seventh spider-leg. It wasn't quite the same as bog-crab, but it was pretty good, once he got past the saltiness. He could feel his body breaking-down the spider-flesh, some portion of him studying the stuff, learning from it, incorporating it into his own flesh. His body was learning the spider's tricks. Already smooth chitinous plates were growing over the wrecked parts of his wermhide skin-sheath. He wanted to free himself of the truss that Hedrard had fitted him with, but he was not ready to do that just yet. He needed to learn more things, and not just spider-things. He smiled then tore off some shreds of wermhide and swallowed them as well. His body could learn the secrets of the werm-things to reshape and rebuild the hide sheathing his gellid form.
He looked at the knife in his hand. It radiated black, inky strands of festering hatred that coiled and curled like fetid smoke. Spider-flesh sizzled along the blade. It reeked like an old man's twisted ambitions and dead dreams. It made him sick. Then he realized that it was literally making him sick. The longer he held on to it, the more twisted and deranged he would become. He looked at the knife again. It wasn't his. It never was his, never would be. There was no reason to keep carrying it around.
Lemuel left the old man's knife stuck in the brain of the largest spider. It didn't stop calling to him until he was more than a mile away on his way down into the depths of the Gormenstille. The others wanted to leave this place, and he appreciated that, understood it, but he had a job to do. Besides, he felt like a kid in a candy store...