"The Covenant."

Adaption is a crucial ingredient within the recipe of survival. This most enigmatic trait had permitted the araneae to remain relevant within an ever-shifting climate. Throughout the ages, Valerna's chestnut eyes spectated the rise and downfall of empires. This odyssey unending forced the spider to watch as even the most illustrious houses were chipped into fragments and dispersed within the zephyr of change. Whatever it might be, this temporal plane stood as an affidavit. Its mere permeance is a testimony that accentuated a scarcely affirmed truth. That everything succumbs to entropy and all men, whether affluent or impoverished, were slaves. Beasts of burden suffering under the pitiless yoke of their deficiencies.

 

This epiphany rattled Valerna's core, coercing her to assess avenues to prolong her reign. The desert lay broken and bleeding to the south, yet the people's wills were not ready for that great culling. It was then the schemer convoked forth a wily ruse. Within the sanctuary of her lair, the spider plucked her strands, transmitting forth a chorale that beckoned forth her most cherished investment. From the umbra, Niazmina materialized, her beguiling shape emerging into the light as the matron remained perched on her web. Those powerful eyes perforated through the veil, gawking upon the morsel as the queen struggled to keep her lesser inclinations at bay.

 

Initially, they didn't speak, esteeming the markers that had magnetized the two together. Valerna wasn't a harlequin; she speculated that this piggish necromancer was using her. That Niazmina lusted after only a few commodities. Chief amongst them is the acquisition of worldly attainments and power. In actuality, the chieftain wasn't irked by this theory. Instead, she found herself charmed. The pursuance of such alps spoke well toward the Jackal's character, and the crapshoot she undertook to achieve those ends only made her magnificence swell within the web spinner's eyes. This attraction made the commencing of her scheme all the more difficult, a fact depicted by how weighty she soughed while reposing within her mesh.

 

The Baderkekrhan (Jackalfolk) were rudderless and desperate within that sea of bleached dunes. The former head of the Eternal House lacked the clout to keep the floodgate sealed for long. And with disarray came a plethron of opportunities. Throughout documented history, such ambivalence supplied a highway that one could use to gobble up territories and set into motion their transcendence. The two ladies experienced their flesh within that den while initiating a covenant. Niazmina would be let loose with the chieftain's blessing to usurp the reigns of her kin. The purveyor of the dead would open up trade and serve as her eyes within that precarious providence. 

Valerna pledged to rise to Niazmina's defense in exchange for such fidelity should kibitzers aspire to wage war with her comrade. While reveling in carnal thralldom, she vowed as she lasciviously flagellated her tchotchke. This conspiracy and its importance only exalted the climax as the two assertive women sealed their contract via the old ways. Having each had their fill, they'd remain straddled on that silk canopy while Valerna whispered salaciously into Niazmina's ears. The spider affirmed how much she treasured her desert lily, attesting that she could spend an epoch with this dark sorceress.

 

There was no doubt that this outlander comprehended the power she exerted over the jungle sovereign. Somehow, the "evil" spider of the north had fallen quarry to the caramel jezebels pizzazz. The breadth of this captivation was unequivocal. The alpha forced herself deep into that nether garden one last time, holding the source of her eros close as Valerna, without clemency, broke in the inquisitor. For seven years, the two used one another's temples, yet, for the first time, the arachnoid addressed Niazmina as something other than by her pet name.

 

Tenderly, the giantess caressed her jowl, spooning the jewel of her life, only to spend one final evening with her incubator. Come morning, the one woman she worshipped would be gone and conceivably may never return to that web. Once more, Valerna would find herself alone within the shade. With nothing but her thoughts and work to keep her company. Lamentably, triumph alone failed to warm one's heart and bed. Hopefully, when their plan blossomed into fruition, Valerna could return and claim this sorceress as her betrothed. But until that day, all she could do was wait for the fruit of their labor...

 
 
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"The Homefront"

The forerunners of that looming disaster were evident to the chieftain. And realizing time wasn't a commodity she possessed, Valerna poured all her resources into a singular goal. She had confronted the horrors before and stood against their unappeasable appetite with her forces. And while they managed to repulse the incursion, the giantess apprehended it was merely a scouting party. With the goatkin's assistance and the flourishing of their studious driven minds, the jungle reached new zeniths. The acceleration of technology hastened at a pace not even she could have divined as plausible. However, notwithstanding their stride, she questioned tete-a-tete if it would be enough?

That skirmish within the skeletal highway may have corroborated their existence to her people. Yet, unbeknownst to the layman, the worse was to come. The furnace of industry never quelled, their blistering heat burning day and night as those she elected made numerous strides. The filigree of her children was harvested, woven into instruments that fueled a boon. From the mundane to the extraordinary, quantum leaps were achieved. With this newly fashioned tech, the queen puttered little time revamping her people's infrastructure, military, and amenities. It was a race against the clock. 

The first obstacle presented itself almost immediately. The logistical aspects of this revolution were taxing. Thankfully, Florentina had managed to coerce the turzien's to join their fold. These turtles supplied much-needed transport to alleviate the initial dilemma. The subsequent crises were that of labor and education. Using her popularity, Valerna moved from city to city, beseeching the people to enroll within the labor force. That name and genuine belief were infectious. And while not all hopped at the opportunity, enough did to thwart that crisis. 

The slowest one to resolve was edification. The people needed to be instructed on using and adequately handling the organic fibers. And despite capital acquisitions and a few campaigns, mishaps were inescapable. Nevertheless, the advantages of spider webs and crystal technology were too ample to be refused. And while some feared it, in due time, their misgivings subsided. That storm may have been averted. Regardless, the queen quickly turned her gaze to the future. This attainment wasn't the end. It was just an additional step up the ladder she visualized so long ago.

Time passed as they fortified their positions and kept advancing with each year. Meanwhile, much to Valerna's chagrin, word had reached her ears that the desert regressed once more. And while she would have loved to aid them, she lacked the resources, energy, and time to do so. Whatever happened, happened. She had endeavored to rescue them a few times, evidently to no avail. And if they were that intent to chart a path of self-destruction in the face of danger, who was she to renounce them this liberty? But, to be safe, she'd have to assemble her ships and reclaim something buried 'neath the dunes. And see for herself if she couldn't make one last ditched effort to preclude their annihilation.

Then, the mist wormed over the mountain and blanketed the jungle. However, this time it never receded. That haze had returned, which meant the storm had finally touched the dynasty's shores. The nightmare Valerna had fretted over would soon become a reality.

 

"Emeralds fall (wip)"

Deep within the jungle thrived a conglomerate that had stood the test of time. A manifold collective tethered by the webbings of an enigmatic mistress. The extent of her filigree was ubiquitous, enshrouding every facet of civilization as she monitored progress from her lair. Many might be content to rest on their laurels, to peer athwart the horizon and bear witness to the fruits of their drudgery. However, the spideress felt no such magnetism. She understood that progress was an incessant pursuit, and a lethargic mindset can only beget one's unfurling. Within that labyrinth of trees and 'neath the misty mountains, the wheels of her vision continued to turn. The arachnid found herself inching closer to true apotheosis with each waning second.

 

Long ago, before the keeping of record, Valerna had prowled this very same foliage. It was a distinct era, yet the same woes still abound, albeit they assumed different guises. A byproduct of her immortality was the realization that while the globe spun on its axis, that nothing new materialized under the sun. The tribulations of yore merely exchanged hands, an infinite loop sustained by a single form of sustenance, ignorance. Many a hubris-induced sovereign had surfaced, yet they all invariably fell quarry to the same predator. The giantess had repeatedly borne spectator to it, the inconvenient truth that few philosophers appeared keen to consider. Everything was a prisoner, and their warden was none other than their flawed nature.

 

And so, before she assumed the mantel of matron, Valerna set out to conquer her worst inclinations. There was no opprobrium in acknowledging one's shortcomings. For many centuries she meandered across the breadth of the globe. Her feet trekked from one side of the horizon to the next. Across the pilgrimage, she stumbled across many folks and encountered a plethron of cultures. Tribes that the ink of time had omitted to preserve. Nevertheless, the legacy of their society still existed as an echo within her imperfect recollections. Through this exposure and this eternal odyssey, the then mercenary started to fashion her philosophy.

 

She'd return home, bearing the cross of enlightenment the whole voyage. Valerna invoked those days with absolute lucidity, recalling how intensely she mulled over her travels. The people she met, the ones she failed. The spider culled erudition not just by what they said or did but also by what they wouldn't do or say. The advantage of being cursed with life unending is that one has ample time to dissect the intricacies of their experiences. From the blood of the fallen and the ashy soil, the scourge of the north was conceived. Her roots ran deep, intertangling with that of the jungle itself as she felt herself becoming one with this world. Then she turned the first stone, planted her banner into the dirt, and initiated this campaign.

 

From that chaos, order arose. The clangor of her ideals roused many antagonists, yet none withstood her ability to outfox. The araneae assimilated them via a myriad of strategies, for every assignment, a tool. Sometimes it was via the employment of force, but it was often the infiltration of their culture and the slow digestion of their language that she reaped fidelity. That century game had long since ended, giving way to the rise of the Verdant Dynasty. However, the true purpose behind the conquest of this new frontier was anything but evident. Some craved after domination, yet never would they find their barbaric inclinations assuaged. And while it might be effortless to judge them, Valerna refrained from acting snobbishly.

 

The spinner of threads had conquered her nature, acquiring the sort of internal solace few could profess to know. She deduced long ago that true honor could only be realized when one subdues their inner demons. That bedlam all must confront, even if the form it might assume might vary wildly. And rather than become swallowed by it, one should strive to master embodying it. After all, was it not admirable to gape into the abyss than to turn tail? Such introspection wouldn't last as the auburn-haired giant opened her eyes while her transport vessel bobbed against the waves. The ship's creaking had become a familiar din, as palliative as the psithurism back home.

 

Silently, the chieftain advanced from the darkness as she strode from the bowel of the vessel and onto the deck. Her alabaster skin sprouted goosebumps as her body felt the welcoming kiss of those solar rays. The air was filled with that saline redolence, a bouquet that reminded the queen of better days and simpler times. Stretching, the bone-clad giant let out a mighty yawn before strutting to the side of the craft. Those eyes of brown surveying the panorama as the ship sliced through the sea and dashed closer to its distant terminus. The desert appeared serene from the safety of the waves, yet that bewitching vista would fail to manipulate her. The spider had scurried across this realm many times and intimately knew its sanguinary and hedonistic core.

 

In the distance, it glittered. Its emerald glass, like a lighthouse, guided their ship to its docks. It didn't take long for the marred stone to be realized, an affidavit supporting her estimations concerning the upheaval of their collapse. The desert was scarred, bleeding, and ripe for the taking. Providentially for the residents, the chieftain had no interest in forcing her web on them. No, she'd fancy them tugging on her mesh of their own volition. And, despite her seeding of ideas and culture, she understood the denizens were not inclined to join her coalition.

 

Valerna hadn't traversed the waters to bring war to these shores. The objective behind her unforeseen appearance was anything but so uncivilized. For now, she'd don a cloak and hood of brown. An unremarkable shade that was stained to echo one struggling from impoverishment as she slid on the fake ears to help disguise herself as a mer. That often towering stature had been compressed through the aptitude of the flesh. An old skill that better allowed her folk to blend in or deal with outsiders. Eventually, the ship docked as it began to offload barrels of supplies. Abundance she took from their warehouses to help alleviate the famine that struck this city.

 

Leaning against a far wall, Valerna watched as the malnourished gathered. Freely they handed out the food, her soldiers denying any form of compensation. Once more, she struggled to shatter the misinformation propagated against her people—a mode of rebutting the ludicrous notion that they were unsympathetic savages. The expression of dismay, that ambiance of dread, was omnipresent. Her heart went out to these people, lambs suffering from a system of wolves. Nevertheless, she couldn't entirely omit their culpability. For depravity to indeed prosper, the virtuous must remain muted...

 

"The Index Part 1"

Life was an unchanging tempest, an interminable onslaught that separated the wheat from the chaff. It was this contemptible reality of the macrocosm that the desert best epitomized. Ostensibly, these dunes of sand may have appeared pearly in hue. Yet, in actuality, they were daubed in the claret ichor of the fallen. 'neath the grains of earth slumbered the remains of former civilizations. Epochs of ancient history that the chronicles of time had abstained from documenting. Their temporal attainments and architecture, once thought grand wonders of the world, were now diminished to necropolises—vestiges which reverberated with a harrowing affidavit concerning the fragility of civilization.

 

The militancy of this rancourous badland facilitated the lesser compunctions of its denizens. From the heated zephyrs that lambasted across the sea of knolls, animosity was propagated. The seedling of iniquity whisked within the wind devoid of psithurism. Its whispers possessed a dearth of hope, an element that ingrained itself within every facet of this barbarous providence. Notwithstanding such dreary introspections, the distant glimmering on the horizon filled this eternal voyager with hope. Hope that one day the vicious cycle might be broken. And that from this cadaver, an era of prosperity might linger. Although, the giantess began to question if perhaps what she perceived was nothing more than a mirage. A distant apparition meant to assuage the forlornness riming her core.

 

Underneath the pitiless rays of the binary sols, she trekked. Her wide stride left its imprints on the surface. The infrequent cloud blotted out its blistering influence, entitling that sweat that formed over her alabaster skin to cool off the wayfarer. One by one, she ascended the rolling waves of sand, only to sparsely be blessed with that reprieve from the twin suns. Aloft the vultures encircled, these winged bottom feeders emitted their signature screeching as they cruised above the desert. Something or someone had met their end. A grim reminder that this merciless wasteland shows no clemency to the ill-prepared. Wordlessly, the giant veered her chestnut eyes away from the welkin, only for them to concentrate on a distant structure.

 

A ruin. One that might harbor the solutions to the query which motivated this stroll. It always bewildered Valerna why so few people felt a magnetism toward these exquisite corpses. Many wrote them off as inconsequential or suffusing from omens. Instead, what should glitter as a beacon for erudition subsisted as a falsely labeled augury. Keeping her senses whetted, the spider secured her cloak of brown, and its hood kept her body shielded from snooping gazes. On her ears rested a cast of flesh, one made to mimic the appearance of the indigenous mer. That formerly towering stature lessened so that she appeared slightly smaller than your typical elf. A facade that was integral if she expected to circumvent trepidations.

 

Time passed, and the two stars navigated gradually athwart the firmament. With each waning minute, the explorer closed the gap between herself and this ruin. Eventually, the spider pulled her arachnoid feeler inward, laying them across her back as she sashayed beyond the perimeter of this structure. It was then, with those otherworldly growths obfuscated by her clothing, that her brown eyes noted the camp. It was humble and far off. So distant that it almost appeared to be the size of an ant. She desisted her stride as Valerna mulled over her options. If someone else had already set up shop or was about to start an expedition, perhaps it would be judicious to introduce herself to limit any room for misconceptions?

 

After wrangling in thought, the redhead decided it would be best to investigate at least. After all, despite her appearance, this voluptuous lady was anything but defenseless. Tentatively she ambled closer and closer before eventually standing fifteen feet from the meek setup. Attentively the spider surveyed the scene yet found little amiss. However, she did notice the carcass of a quarry's aroma. Without much sound, she dwelled over it for a brief second, wondering if that was the stench of death that alerted the vultures? Soughing heftily, only to then call it to make her presence known.

 

"Hello? Is anyone here?'

 

She examined the corpse from her inert position. She gathered quickly that this unidentified individual was assumably a hunter given the kill. Which meant whoever staked their claim near the delipidated ruins was armed.

 

"Please pardon my intrusion if it offends."

 

Her voice flowed with the breeze while particles of sand were booted off the earth. They gently pelted themselves across the scene, with nothing but its howl and the possible flapping of the tents to comfort the giant. Patiently, she abided under the cerulean and nearly clear sky, waiting for some type of response. All the while, Valerna stayed on edge just in case the worse conceivable event were to beset her. 

The quiet surroundings wouldn't prevail for long, as the faint murmurs of the man shifting about in that tent were caught by the sojourner's ears. Valerna would remain relaxed, her deportment bearing a neutral state while those eyes of brown advanced toward the gullet of that makeshift dwelling. It didn't take long for the stranger to materialize into her sight. The Machiavelli frittered little time, her amber orbs analyzing the strange as he puttered about in a lackadaisical manner. The habiliment that bedecked the mer's form was unpretentious, natural shades that blended with the panorama. Eldar's form remained unarmored, and besides a dagger, he appeared to be unarmed.

 

The ridiculous size of her curves was likely noted, which stood as queer given her lilliputian stature. The wanderer that happened on his tent said nothing, her chestnut eyes peeking through that hood as a few stray strands of red hair were perceptible. That skin was pale; its color directly contrasted with most aborigines of the desert. There was a healthy glow to her, a visual stimulus that swindled many. A mode to sway any that might hypothesize the number of years she sauntered from horizon to horizon. Unlike the desert, within her primordial motherland, it was often the most dazzling of things that carried the most danger. From flowers to the venomous stalker, the more prominent the vibrancy, the more imposing they were within the natural hierarchy of the jungle.

 

The elf's simple greeting inspired a smile, leading the giantess in disguise to consider if this chanced floundering into one another might proceed amicably. That simper was visible while the alabaster sphinx tilted her head and gesticulated with a wave of her dominant hand. Once this social ritual had concluded, they returned to her hips, where they'd nest. Those broad hips arced to the right imperceptibly as the spider shifted her body weight. There, within the virtually barren backdrop, Valerna stood out. Like a feminine flower that flouted the scythe. She was spared so that those that strolled to and fro might marvel at her beauty. Without additional delay, the queen of the north would reply as her drab clothing moved about within the wind.

 

"It is indeed wise to be cautious during such trying times. I take no offense. Some might dub it paranoia; I've learned that such suspicions separate those with foresight from those plagued by an absence of acuity."

 

That sense of trepidation was generated as a method of defense. And having had been conferred enough time to rummage within introspection, such anxiety quickly abated into nothingness. The Araneae sighed; she sashayed a few feet closer but left enough room with the hopes of not triggering any fear or offense within this mer.

 

"It isn't becoming of a lady to enter a man's tent so readily. While we may be far from civilization, I still retain some manners. Nonetheless, thank you for the kind offer."

 

That jeering was subtle but wasn't delivered out of spite. It was more helmed with the aspirations of breaking the mood with wit. With Eldar's back turned, she'd quickly scoped out the camp, only to swerve her focus back onto the busy host. Nothing seemed off, though the fetid stench of decomposition and the spectacle of a fresh kill hadn't perturbed the well-spoken traveler. Breadcrumbs that in and of themselves wouldn't disclose anything profound. Valerna elevated her brows heavenward as the hunter proposed libation and sustenance. A benign yet remarkably kind gesture, showing that perhaps this tracker was anything but uncivilized.

 

"I had my fill earlier this day. Still, thank you for the hospitality. I suppose I should introduce myself. We may be isolated and loitering about by the corpse of a prior age, but that doesn't mean we should forego expected pleasantries. My name is Val, and I have wandered this far into the sea of dunes with the hopes of exploring the depths of that ruin. My research has led me to believe that inside its belly lies something I've been seeking and require to further my research. Have you seen anyone else poking about?"

 

What a good concoction that blurred the lines between truth and falsity. Technically nothing the spider stated was inaccurate, but it did undersell and muddied the waters. The elf needn't know everything, and in fact, it was likely best he didn't. There was enough propaganda against her and her people. Deceptive kernels that embed themselves within the hearts and minds of the people. And while acts of empathy have limited the number of weeds within this garden. There was no stemming a few from emerging into view and asphyxiating a portion of the future harvest. For now, Valerna would remain silent and await a reply from this odd hermit.

While scarcely an irregular occurrence, the lad's undeviating gaze elicited a hyperbolical twinge. Valerna understood the pizzaz of her shape and how it often unearthed the inner degeneracy within the shoal minds of lesser men. They were akin to putrid varmints unworthy of sampling even a pittance of her hedonistic performance. The sort of salacious dance typical within her culture, yet alien to this prissy cesspool of unscrupulous charlatans. A collective of reprobates who were quick to cast pebbles for alleged affronts concerning her people. Yet lacked the sagacity to glimpse into their immoral core.

 

This highfalutin philosophy served as a stimulus for hastening their demise. And one needn't look further than recent events to bear witness to the travesty of their society. The elf's inattentive demeanor only highlighted his complacency. It must be blissful to cavort about one's day, oblivious of the predator prowling just exceeding one's perception. How effortlessly she could gorge on this man and enshroud him within her filigree while she feted on those scrumptious innards imploring to be liquefied. Such cravings wouldn't commandeer control over the web weaver. No, she had long since contorted such bestial compulsions.

 

Valerna feigned obliviousness, repaying his licentious stare with a meek smile. She demonstrated a great degree of temperateness by behaving so refined despite such degradation. The whirling vulture overhead was of no threat, so the spider paid them no heed. Whether or not they surfeited themselves on his game was a minor inconvenience. Indeed, a strong knife ear like himself could procure gainful employment doing some menial labor if that's what it took to survive. That smile wilted, being followed by a scoff.

 

A lady such as herself? There were no women like herself within this blighted of a realm. The fact her gender was distorted to depict enfeeblement agitated Valerna a great deal. But she wouldn't hold it against the hunter. Eldar was a victim of his environment, and here the ladies of the sands were seen as a second class within several cultures. And it wasn't as if he could present ample indemnification for such malfeasance. The sojourner's tongue delignated across her lips, moisturizing them as she reflected over the other words surrounding that insensitive remark.

 

After a momentary dissection, the chieftain encountered a quandary. Was this member of the lesser sex forthcoming within his protestations concerning his family's traditions? Or, feasibly, was this all some manipulation endeavor to coax the arachnid into his dwelling? Valerna considered this while Eldar glanced about the ruins as if lost or straining to piece something together. Whatever befuddled the mer was outside her scope, given that Valerna didn't care about such trifling details. Regardless she might as well offer her thoughts once he completed that second slew of prattling.

 

"I've surmised a great deal. I'm anything but a vulnerable patrician. And while the body is an excellent tool at keeping the pincers at bay, so is the mind. And while I am delighted you pay reverence to your genealogy, I'm not beholden to your ancestral customs. It is a matter of principle on my end."

 

Valerna swatted away that thought with her right hand, only to fold both arms underneath her bosom for support. That chest filled with air, deflating as the giant forced out the oxygen inside her lungs. Cooly, the guest tilted her head, tapering those eyes as the pupils fixated themselves on the elf. Was that a tinge of excitement in his voice? Could it be the marksman yearned for that call to adventure? How riveting...

 

"Ah, yes. Scary stuff, to be sure. But I assure you I'm seasoned enough not to fall prey to such trappings. Whatever is down there, I won't become ensnared by it. No, they'll become entangled by me. El, you're faced with a dilemma as old as time. Do you stay where it is comfortable? Or, perhaps take a gamble and embark down a perilous road?"

 

She smirked, exposing those pearly fangs as the creamy enigma stood confident before the lad.

 

"There is a flicker of valor within those eyes of yours. You were audacious enough to admire my figure ever so brazenly. I would caution against moving further down that path. I'll bruise your hips, and then you won't make it back to town in time before that meat of yours spoils. I'm a demanding mistress, the likes of which the weakwilled hardly survive unchanged."

 

The spider was spurring the mer, chortling as she wondered if he'd pursue further and jeopardize himself. Or would he bashfully recoil and frantically apologize? Who knows what web they might design by the end of the fortuitous meeting? So many threads to tug and so little time.

A well-read hunter? Valerna had caught many oddities during her travels, yet she never envisioned such a thing would cross her path. A plethron of reevaluations inundated her mind. The giantess was genuinely curious how he afforded so many books to whet his lexicon? Eldar must have been quite the fortunate hunter to have felled so many beasts to barter their carcasses for enough coin to purchase such lavished gifts. Could he have been the bastard of some aristocrat who showered him with capital? Unlikely, but there weren't many possibilities that made sense.

 

That juncture where the mer marshaled his resolve was evident, a proclamation that the son of a savage could acclimate relatively quickly and without acrimony. However, judging by his initial nictation and speechlessness. The knife ear was anything but conditioned to contend with a lady of her caliber. And notwithstanding his loquacity for one of such piddling rearing, she wouldn't regard him as much, not yet anyway. There was much more to intelligence than a well-sutured vocabulary, and thus far, he alluded to being secondary in other paramount areas. And struggle as he may, Eldar would find no reprieve.

 

His effort at deflection failed. A pitiable crack to repress the primal urges Valerna believed facilitated his previous stare. How lamentable. Had his kind not learned that there was no shame in reveling within the flesh? To truly understand oneself within the universe, one needs to indulge. Regardless, she wouldn't mollycoddle the lad. If that's what he desired, the elf would need to locate another teat to nurse on. Or some forlorn crow desperate for affection.

 

The arachnoid maintained her grimace despite his incessant drive to appear as desultory. A few tsk sounds divorced themselves from the giant's tantalizing lips. Valerna raised her pointer finger and waggled it as the wrist bent to allow such a vivacious display.

 

"Ah, unique? So..if I wasn't objectified, then I was viewed with repugnance? I don't know which is more alarming. I reckon it doesn't matter El. You're entitled to your sentiments. Naturally, this doesn't mean I need to endorse them."

 

Such a mesmerizing crooning rode across the distance, defying the surge of wind that swept through the region. Steadfastly Valerna abided, her chestnut eyes skimming athwart the horizon as the man stepped off to his tent. The wait was excruciating, leaving the Araneae abundant enough time to contemplate over the novelty she blundered across. A myriad of rationales caromed off that inquisitive intellect, only for her brown eyes to peek into the tent as she watched from just beyond the flap. Gaily, the spider smacked her lips together and yawned, stretching to further the illusion that he had taken a long time to get outfitted.

 

Eventually, he had finished getting bedecked and directly addressed the chieftain while demonstrating an iota of courtesy. Could Eldar be characterized as being rather sesquipedalian? Could he be seeking to instill disarray and obfuscation by dousing his speech with such wordage above one of his indigent status? It didn't matter, for now. She'd entertain his bravado and pseudo-intellectualism in the off chance there was anything to back up this perceived facade.

 

"Slow me down? I was jesting. I'm sure a hearty man like yourself will keep up and guarantee this damsel remains unscathed by the monstrosities that might lurk 'neath our feet."

 

Valerna abhorred this deception. But it was essential to behave differently to dissuade any linkages to her true identity. After all, if he pieced together she was the great bane of the desert, the nefarious spider sovereign of the north, he might be less agreeable. Or, worse, retard any headway. Smiling, the alabaster siren motioned with her hand for the "caretaker" to proceed. If he did, she'd stay close to his side and pace confidently through the ruins. The web weaver strived to passively usher them to the mandibles and throat of this echo of the past.

 

"It's refreshing to meet someone who can handle their share of quips. It might make this likely uneventful exploration far more palatable or rememberable."

Had the mer suffered a bout of mania? What delirium could have scintillated forth such a jovial retort? Or had this doctored persona struck a chord with the knife-eared hunter? Whatever the case, Valerna wouldn't meander too long in thought. She'd conjecture that the puckish banter had ameliorated the previous sourness. And from its lessening hold, perhaps greener pasturages might present themselves? The arachnoid stood steadfast and silent.

 

Her attitude was unwavering in its display while those chestnut orbs cruised to the jabbering marksman. It appeared Eldar had taken a fancy to the nomenclature of damsel and wasted little time regurgitating that trite line back at the chieftain. While feasibly hackneyed, the deceptive maiden extracted no dudgeon from it all and took the entire skit in stride. The tracker she had met at the camp warmed up fast, even going so far as to taunt at the expense of Valerna's precious declaration. Such infantile antics wouldn't win him any points, nor would it deduct them. She was apathetic to the entire thing.

 

Unamused, the matron diverted her concentration back to the approaching entryway. From within the tenebrosity of that tight corridor, a whistle resonated. Such an innocuous, seemingly minuscule component might have evaded most, but it wouldn't elude the giant's seasoned acuities. The murmurs of the breeze informed the araneae that there was likely either a gap or another exit. However, the data wasn't enough for Valerna to say for sure, stoking a great deal of inquisitiveness. But before she could dwell much further into thought, her concentration broke as the elf played around in the dirt. Silently she spectated as Eldar amassed stones.

 

Uncertain of the objective behind such behavior, Valerna resolved it was best to say nothing and wait. The mer was correct. She didn't require his assistance. In theory, she was more than capable of managing this task alone. Nonetheless, why exert more energy when another avenue remained available? And on the off chance the situation devolved into a bedlam exceeding her capability to uphold, he'd stand as insurance. That bravado from before roused forth a chuckle while the foreigner uncovered some humor. Eldar stood with nothing but a bow, dagger, and some stones.

 

How was it he expected to use a long-range weapon inside such a cramped tunnel? His bladed implement lacked reach, which would increase the elf's probability of an injury. No, whether the spider liked it or not, she'd have to take the front so the ranger could skulk about behind and pick off any threats they might blunder across.

 

"I would hope you have gathered by now that I'm destined to take the front. Your bow isn't much use in such confined spaces. And that tooth you call a blade will not avail you. And unless you have a sling stuffed in your pants, the rocks will be of limited use without the aid of magic. In all likelihood, magic would prove detrimental given the wear and tear on this structure and the chance of enclosed corridors."

 

The redhead omitted the second slew of thoughts Eldar expressed. Maybe there was something of value inside for him, maybe not? There was only one way to say for sure, and Valerna would refuse to make promises she might not be able to keep. Now that the knife ear had collected his pebbles, his scrotum oddly became swollen from testosterone. The balls on this man were so inflated it was a miracle the giant couldn't hear them beating against his legs with each step further into that descent.

 

Nevertheless, she would move with him, staying back lest she accidentally trampled on that saggy sack. And if there was one thing the arachnid knew, men didn't take fondly to having their egos bruised. However, some weren't opposed to having their genitals stepped on. As they moved further down, the light relented as the darkness took hold. Yet through the umbra, she could hear the tapping of his bow against every tile. A precaution that undoubtedly slowed down their pace.

 

"I will go out on a limb here and theorize you've never actually explored one of these ruins before. And if you had, it was infrequent and in passing. No, you likely heard one too many tales woven by charlatans who whispered of the traps and their frequency that protected these sacred catacombs. I promise you; no one engineered such contraptions at the front door. And where they are often hidden is around the dead of notable figures or areas housing treasures and or knowledge. And even then, it isn't a typical sight. I hate to tell you this; those cheap adventure stories are mostly beetleshit."

 

There was an adorable factor to Eldar. He was like a lad about to have his virginity offered on the tabernacle of femininity. His head was filled with wacky ideas, yet it would presumably end as unceremoniously as it had started—a surge and then nothing but disappointment for the lady. Unless, of course, this stranger harbored a penchant for buggery? In which case, he might just get pegged.

 

"It's alright, sometimes it is good to let a woman lead so you might absorb something from her experience."

 

It ended as it often did, with a wisecrack.

It was a silent thing to fall, but an even more muted matter within the cosmos not to arise. Eldar may have been mortified, yet under that drubbing might have twinkled a flame of potential. A single sol cast adrift amidst a blackened backdrop. Who knows, maybe the hunter might expand to new horizons and reach crests he never envisioned were possible. There was beauty in this lesson, one she wouldn't articulate verbally. The advantage of being a newborn is that you can only transition from a crawl to a walk. And much like the stars darted across the twilight sky, the possibilities were innumerable.

 

The curtain of darkness had deprived the marksman of his sight. Yet the giant's arachnoid mutations vested her the sort of oculus adept at perforating through that obscuring film. And, while he might have regarded himself sheeted by it, the araneae spectated his reactions with supreme lucidity. The chieftain knew of his ilk. A people displaced by the iniquities of their forefathers who have just recently reaffirmed their standing on the stage. Long ago, when this ruin stood as a bastion of society, Valerna waged a campaign against them. Blood for blood, the ravenous indignation of a fool.

 

It was so long ago, yet the echoes of the battleground and its clashing of metal still tinged as if she were reliving that wink. Back in those days, she was just a soldier, another drone who had yet to merit anything. And now, thousands of years later, she sported a crown and helmed the jungle to a prosperous future. Had the Spindler been short-sighted? Perhaps she should bring civility to this patch of dirt? In due time such a thing might be possible. But as things stood now, the only thing her banners could lease to the inhabitants of the desert was an untimely demise.

 

Such ruminations desisted just as the knife ear ceased his banging on the floor. The auditory vacuum left in its wake was eerie, ionizing the former atmosphere into something foreboding. Valerna seized the chance to move to the front, only to peek back at the man from behind her shoulder while Eldar schmoozed freely. Could it be she was too harsh in her admonishment? While the necessity to chide was incontrovertible, the flogging of that tongue could have been conducted with more prudence. Secretly Valerna loathed the need for subterfuge.

 

Abhorred by the mask she donned to repel away her identity. A minor crack allowed her true self to radiate through the newly formed crevice. And this peek took on the form of empathy.

 

"How silly, arms can only go so far El. You're not useless. Well, by yourself maybe, but together we can forge quite the team. Of this, I have no doubt."

 

The shade might have blinded Eldar, but the ardor of that smile coupled with her melodic voice divulged the simper. The spider had almost forgotten how flawed most eyes were when dealing with low-light environments. And in one fell stroke, she'd perk up his spirit while providing the necessary actions to oblige the archer while protecting her duplicity.

 

"Good thinking. Go ahead, do what you need to fend off this pesky dimness."

 

The redhead chortled, only to gently stop the swaggering of her broad hips and stride. Playfully, the araneae elbowed the mer's stomach as she felt the camaraderie and physical connection could only additionally heighten this still nascent bond. She'd wait, taking an exhaustive look about the hallway. The chieftain observed a few rats, harmless but oversized all the same. Once he supplied the light, she'd feign panic so that he might slay the varmint. A mode of showing this man that she was still a lady while injecting levity and offering the archer a bone to appease his despondent disposition.

The voluptuous maiden remained inert, those eyes of brown scouting their surroundings as the elf squabbled internally. And while the giant was anything but telepathic, the hush alone was enough of an indicator. Whatever thoughts revolved within Eldar's skull wouldn't be pressed. He was entitled to his privacy, and prodding the matter could only sow potential discomfort or enmity. The unpretentious apex predator kept mum. She stood close while her comrade fiddled about with the gravel he had stowed away. Valerna, having sensed his activity through sound, the alabaster beauty peered his way from the corner of those inviting eyes.

 

What was this knife ear up to? Was he going to bang the rocks together in the absurd hopes that sparks alone would push back the darkness? A dubious assumption, given even she surmised he couldn't have been that obtuse-minded. The elf's lack of forewarning meant that if she reacted to the dawning light, Eldar might grow suspicious. And so, while onerous, the redhead had no alternative but to be bedazzled by that abrupt illumination. That effulgence shone lustrously, besting the enveloping umbra. However, given her proximity, Valerna had to weather quite the humbling experience if she desired to sustain the ruse.

 

The sphere of light erupted into view, robbing the spider of eyesight as she grunted. After a brief exposure, the giant squinted while concealing her face into that forearm. A few muffled profanities exited her lips while the mer chucked the stones so that they would serve as light posts. The sound of their collision, along with the light and the chieftain's obscenities, drove the vermin away. Irritated, she'd steadily lower her hand so that Eldar was blessed with a view of her ravishing attributes. The milky damsel was undoubtedly flustered, plunging those pearly teeth onto her bottom lip as she glowered profusely at him. Those eyebrows formed an angered expression, only for the giantess to reply with a middle finger.

 

"Fuck you too, asshole. Please, next time, give a lady a warning."

 

She hadn't spoken from disdain. Ironically, her speech was layered with a boorish yet japing undertone. Regrettably, her scheme concerning the rats had been thwarted. The pests scampered off, squeaking as they retreated out of sight. Frittering little time, Valerna resumed playing her role lest she risked abandoning this performance. Like a diva, she'd use Eldar's magic to unwrinkle her tight garb only to comb those nails through her mane in a bid to tidy up. Feeling captivating and content, the titillating energy she often emitted returned in force.

 

"Don't worry about all that nonsense. If it's of any consolation, I find a man capable of taking orders to be intoxicating. It reflects positively on your character El. I may be quite the taxing mistress; however, even I know when to take advantage of others' strengths. Lead the way. But be a dear and keep the rats away. They are foul creatures that are often associated with filth. Imagine if one of them rubbed their rancid body across my skin? I shudder to think of it. Without a bath in sight, I'd be condemned to bear their stink."

 

She'd step to the side; her hand gestured for the elf to take the lead.

 

"Don't worry. If something should cross our path, we can exchange positions quickly enough."

 

Valerna was manipulating this man. Nonetheless, her intentions were hardly so scandalous. The giant would flirt a bit, play her part and use this elf to lighten the load. Maybe reward him here and there. In the end, she had no interest in using her persuasion and body to harm the stranger. Perish the thought. He was so much more engrossing alive than dead. Sometimes the spider likes to play with the food entangled within her webbing instead of gorging them dry.

"The Index Part 2 (Wip)"

 

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