The moment Samantha saw the forest; she stood in astonishment.
The trees ridiculously towered over her with their thin branches swaying with the wind. The sunbeams barely managed to light the forest floors as the shadows shone over the dried leaves. Her nose twitched at the scent of cedar wood filled her nose. Much to her surprise, she heard no small singing from the trees. Not a single chirp or a single sound from any woodland creature.
“How come I don’t hear anything?” Samantha glanced around. “Is there anybody even living here?”
Luke nodded. “They’re a shy race. They don’t bite.”
Samantha nodded as she strode along. Her eyes couldn’t tear themselves away from the glowing sunbeams that shone past the leaves. She could hear the dried leaves crack beneath her feet as she took another step forward into the forest. Her eyes widened when she saw exotic Arachne flower blooming on the trunks of the tree.
“I...I can’t believe it,” Samantha shook her head. “I’ve only seen Arachne flowers in the books of Xychosia.”
Brandon chuckled. “You really need to get out more, lass. Your little gown? The materials for that were probably from here.”
“Wow... Everything comes from here?”
“Yeah, wait until you meet the natives. They’re really nice people.”
Samantha nodded. She glanced around the forest while watching the butterflies flutter around. Much to her surprise, they only hovered low and didn’t even fly straight up past the lowest branches of the trees. Golden rain seemed to shine from the forest ceiling as the branches waved down at them with their leaves. She glanced towards the tree bark only to see an ornate carving of the trunk. It appeared to be some sort of web with feathers pointing towards it.
“Wow, they’re really into carving. Aren’t they?” Samantha whispered in amazement. However, that all stopped when she felt something sticky drop onto her shoulder. “Eugh,” the princess whined in disgust. “What is that?!”
More of it dripped on her other shoulder as she realized something loomed above her. A lump formed in her throat as she slowly tilted her head up to see what was looking down on her. She stared straight into its eight glowing red eyes and noticed its hairy fangs drooling onto her shoulder. She saw not just one pair of legs but four pairs of legs with its hairy body slowly emerging from the darkness. Its legs were sharp, similar to the Pincer Drake’s as it ripped through the bark when it made its way down. Samantha paled as it hissed in her face as she slowly stepped back. All the blood dropped from her face and into her feet when she stood completely frozen in the ground. Her voice trapped itself in her throat and her heart raced. She could feel and hear its thundering pound against her chest and her pendant when it finally registered in her mind as to what exactly she saw.
“S-S-SS-Spider!” She screamed at the top of her lungs.
The spider was by no means small. And that definitely didn’t help the situation either. Samantha tried to bolt from where she stood only to stagger and tumble back. She fell flat on her butt on the grass as the spider snarled at her. It was then she let out such an electrifying wail as she desperately tried to run away.
“SAM!” She heard some yell her name.
Much to the princess’s relief, Beatriz leapt in the air with her scythe and her armour fully donned on. The lady-in-waiting let out a screeching battle-cry as she swung her scythe down at its face. The spider hissed and shrank away from her as snapped its fangs at her.
“Come on, is that the best you got?!” Beatriz goaded. She whirled her scythe as the gears grinded and roared to life. “Hit me with your best shot!”
The spider hissed and fired out a web-shot straight at Beatriz as she cleaved right through it. She roared and lunged forward only to have Luke suddenly leap towards Beatriz and grab her scythe. The small girl yelped as she tumbled down and her scythe rattled away from her.
“What the fuck was that for?!” She snarled. Her eyes glowered with daggers.
Luke said nothing as he stood in front of the spider. “It’s okay,” he tried to soothe it. “We’re not going to hurt you.” He glared at Samantha and Beatriz. “You guys just scared him!”
“I. SCARED. HIM?!” Samantha shrieked. She jabbed her finger venomously and scampered towards Beatriz, clinging onto the small girl. “You tell me that when he started dripping saliva on my shoulder!”
Brandon snickered. “Welcome to Spinner’s Forest where the inhabitants of its forest are the original spinners.”
“You said they were spinners!”
“You didn’t say that they were spiders!”
“Spiders are spinners! They spin their webs, lass.”
Samantha paled. Her body shuddered with sweat pouring down her face. Her fingers twitched as she staggered back. Her voice trapped itself in her throat. The saliva dripping from its hairy fangs and its beady red eyes shook her to the very core as her fibres screamed at her to run. But her legs refused to move.
“B-Brandon, h-h-help,” Samantha whimpered.
Brandon shrugged. “Sorry, I don’t speak spider.”
“Don’t ask me! Ask the guy who speaks spider!”
Samantha yelped and turned to Luke. “Luke, tell them I mean no harm!”
“Well, your screams prove otherwise,” Luke shook his head. He shrugged nonchalantly. “Besides, Cap always told me not to tell lies.”
“I’m kidding, I’m kidding,” Luke chuckled. He then turned to the spider, speaking in their native tongue. “She is the princess of Sofiene. She means no harm.”
The spider hissed. “It is because of Sofiene that we were driven into these forests! And you, you have betrayed your people by siding with her!”
“She is different from her father,” Luke protested. He shook her head. “She was never the reason why The Ravage occurred.”
Samantha blinked and turned to Brandon. “The Ravage?”
“I thought you’d know your own history, lass. The Ravage is the day that King Robert decided to attack all the Dryad settlements in order to procure a supposed cure for his daughter’s sickness. ”
Samantha blinked. “What kind of sickness?”
“How could you not know? It was called the Black Argus, borne from another kingdom.”
“You really don’t know do you?”
“How could I know? I never had it!”
Brandon blinked in disbelief. How could the princess never have it? It was known through in history that her father burned forests for her. He shook his head - maybe she was too delirious to remember? It was one possible note. Also, she must’ve been really young back then, Brandon thought to himself.
“But it doesn’t mean she’s here to hurt you,” he heard Luke say. “She’s different!”
"Her blood is what demanded the sacrifices of your people!” The spider roared. ”How dare you betray them!"
And without warning, the spider lunged at them with its fangs. Brandon quickly drew out his gunblade and fired a round in its face. The spider roared and crashed down, letting out a weakened yet venomous hiss.
“Stay put of this, pirate,” it croaked. “This matter is between me and the dryad.”
Brandon scoffed. “Unfortunately, anything that involves the dryad happens to be my problem, dick-stain.” The pirate captain narrowed his eyes and pointed the mouth of the gun barrel to the spider’s face. “Now get the bloody feth out before I put one of my bullets into your skull.”
The spider hissed and prepared to lunge at Brandon before someone hollered. “STOP!”
Brandon, Luke, Samantha, and Beatriz looked up only to find a human standing before them. His beady red eyes shone past his silver blue bangs as he strode towards them. The man wore nothing but a cloth at his waist and tribal leg warmers. Yet his pale skin was covered with purple inked tattoos of the spiders.
“These people mean no harm, Sandor.” The human scolded. “We have not harmed humans for years and we shall not start now.”
Hearing the power in the man’s words, the spider hissed and slinked away into the shadows. The man stood before Samantha and the others before bowing.
“Forgive him. He has lived long among those who have been maltreated by humans,” the man bowed. “He also has an abhorrence of magic which is why he was perhaps terrified of your friend,” - referring to Beatriz. “Over there.”
Brandon and Samantha turned to Beatriz. “What?” She protested. “He tried to eat her first!”
“Ah yes. He normally does that with humans. Eat now, ask questions later,” the man chuckled and bowed. “Ah, how rude of me not to introduce myself. My name is Arkamedon. I am the chieftain of the Arachnos tribe.”
Brandon bowed. “Brandon Hawthorne. The two ladies over there are Princess Samantha and Lady Beatriz. The dryad’s my right hand, Luke Henshel.”
“Ah, how wonderful it is to be graced by the presence of the princess!” The chieftain bowed. “Please, come in.”
Brandon nodded before turning to Samantha. “Yo, princess - you coming?”
Samantha was still paralyzed by fear with her complexion paler than usual as her arms hung limply on her side. She stuttered and trembled as Beatriz poked her. “Sam?”
And with that one poke, the princess swooned over and dropped down. Completely lights out.
“Oh, was it something I said?” Arkamedon, clearly distressed, gasped. “Do you need help?”
Brandon shook his head. “No, we’re good.” He sauntered over and hauled Samantha onto his shoulders, carrying her on his back. “She’s,” he winced. “She’s liftable.”
Arkamedon saw the purple suitcases behind them. “Shall I take your luggage?”
Brandon and Beatriz exchanged looks with one another as they shook their head.
“Just leave it.”
Sandor hissed. How dare Arkamedon bring those outsiders in! He scurried along before turning into his humanoid form, revealing now an upper human torso while his lower half remained arachnid in appearance. He then crawled into the cavern and brushed away the cobwebs that formed above him.
He didn’t intend to kill the princess. To scare her, yes. But kill her - no, he had sworn off that. He had promised her. She would not like that.
Not all humans are the same, Sandor. Some are kind.
Yes, they are kind like you, Sandor sighed. He then made his way to the darkness as he saw a large female arachnoid woman buried in the wall. He could see large egg-shaped masses of tissue glowing as her servant stepped aside. Her skin was pale with long flowing white hair. Her skin was smooth and the only flaw to her beauty was the corroded lesion across her eyes.
“Sandor,” she whispered. Her voice as light as a feather. “Brother, is that you?”
“Yes, yes it is,” Sandor reassured. “Don’t worry. You are safe here.”
“I heard voices outside. There are humans!”
“Detestable creatures. How dare they cross our grounds.”
“Brother, they mean us no harm.”
“One of their companions attacked me. A blonde brat. A dryad however spoke on their behalf.”
His sister’s expression brightened. “A dryad? Here? Alive?”
Sandor sighed. His sister was so innocent. “Yes. He was rather small for his race.”
“Oh a sapling!” She beamed. But she was suddenly confused. “But why is he travelling with humans? It is dangerous for him.”
“I asked myself that same question, sister.”
She nodded and sighed. “I wish he would let me out to see the sun.”
“You know the reason why he keeps you here. Humans will detest us for our appearance. And your current form is the only way to slow your decay,” Sandor shook his hesd. He scowled. “If only mother and she had not dabbled in that magic.”
“Curiosity is often irresistible.”
“True. It is also curiosity that killed the cat, as humans say.”
She smiled before asking. “I heard screaming awhile ago. Did you scare them?”
Sandor proudly declared. “Most certainly did. I was hoping for her to wet her dress though.” He scoffed with a mocking laughter. “Though I did feel pity for the poor thing.”
His sister frowned. “Humans are not things, brother.”
"She always said they were.”
“That is why she is banished. If she does not know peace, she is better not being here.”
Sandor sighed. His sister - ever so sweet - could barely lay a finger on anything. She could walk around vipers and none would harm her. But the moment they meddled with humans, things took a turn for the worse. The magic had backfired. The lust for power consumed them. And left them with nothing but bodies that had been mutated beyond repair.
“Oh sister,” Sandor heard a croon. “Forever so sweet, you deserve to be in the light instead of this shade.”
Sandor felt his body shiver from the sound of the voice. He growled. “Keep away! You are not to harm sister!”
“We were once human and proud. Twelve beautiful princesses with golden crowns and golden shrouds only to be scorned and burned and to be thrown into the cavern!”
Sandor hissed. “You were the one who made that error! It is not our sister’s fault!”
“It should not have been an error if not for him!”
“It was the choice of two lesser evils and clearly, he knew which evil to kill first!”
“Oh Sandor,” the voice crooned. “If I could get my hands on her, I can save our beloved sister. You don’t want her to be forever condemned in that form, do you?”
Sandor growled before looking at his sister’s pitiful form. She was once so beautiful. Men all over the world desired her. She was so innocent, so beautiful. Her eyes would sparkle with purity like that of an angel. Her slim figure would gracefully move past the crowds and the winds seemed to sing with her whenever she would walk past. Sandor clenched his fists tight. There had to be another way!
Samantha woke up in a daze. The surroundings swirled around her as she sat up. She found herself lying on clean white sheets and a simple room with wooden furniture. It wasn’t like her room in Xychosia but it did offer some calm and solace after her previous encounter.
The princess slowly staggered out of the bed with her body slowly dragging itself with her. She glanced around her room only to see that there was only one purple luggage among the ten that she had insisted to drag along. She bolted towards it and grabbed the note that was tied to it.
You’re gonna need better clothes. Half those clothes give you a target on your back. We kept the ones you need but the rest we just ditched. Most of the stuff in there are just your toiletries.
- Brandon, Luke, and Beatriz
P.S. Meet us outside as soon as you wake up. And don’t faint next time.
Samantha’s eyes widened. She ripped open the locks in a fit of a panic. As she flipped the case open, her heart sank at the sight of the clothes that she still managed to keep. Some of them were blouses, a pair of breeches and leggings, one of her gowns had been folded neatly. But the rest of her clothes were gone.
“At least they kept my toiletries,” Samantha muttered dryly. She saw all her small pouches filled with her toiletries. “Contrary to popular belief, these pirates are actually pretty clean.”
She then stood up before looking around the room. A small sigh escaped her lips as she began to undress and change her muddy and sweaty clothes. The clothes slipped off her body when she stared at herself at the mirror. It had been years since she had left Sofiene but only almost a day that she had left Sofiene. But the changes were visible. Eye bags formed under her eyes but her skin was pristine and smooth as ever. She however did notice a small faded marking on her shoulder.
“Hm?” Samantha brushed her fingers against it. “What is this?”
It was only now that she spotted the marking on her shoulder. Although faint, it was still somewhat visible to her. She could barely make anything out of it. Probably an old wound, she shrugged. She brushed against the skin where the marking was. It was smooth, no sign of laceration or whatsoever.
“Hm, I wonder where this came from then,” Samantha pondered aloud. She shook her head. “Never mind, I have to go meet up with Brandon and the others.”
She glanced at the clothes that lay on the bed and gasped. Did she have to wear those? A sigh escaped from her throat as she picked up what appeared to be some sort of brazier. Its only saving grace was that it was purple. It appeared to be a two piece with the next piece of cloth appearing to be some sort of tie-skirt. It was a long shawl with a tribal design. She gasped at the sight of the design. Her face paled at the sight of it. There was a tiny embroidery of a trail of spiders that ran across the hem of the shawl.
“I... I...,” Her mouth ran dry. She could feel her arms trembling again. But this time, she shook her head. “I... I just gotta pretend it’s not there is all.”
Samantha whimpered as she shut her eyes and plucked the shawl to wrap around her waist. Her arms trembled and her hands shook. She could also feel the sweat pouring from her palms until she heard the door swing open. Samantha yelped when she saw Luke standing at the door.
“Oh Luke, what brings you here?” She smiled cheerfully. It was only then that she realized that he was stunned by the sight of her naked body. “Hey! Quit looking!”
Luke yelped and waved his hands in the air, slapping them over his eyes. “Ah! Sorry! I j-just w-wanted to check i-if were awake.”
Samantha’s embarrassment cooled. “Oh. Well, I’m awake now.”
“Yes, I can clearly see that.”
“Luke, do you happen to have any cloth that’s not,” she winced at the sight of the cloth. “Not spider themed?”
The dryad searched around and shook his head. “Not on my person, no.”
Samantha smiled weakly. Her face becoming paler by the second. “Can you please get me one? I am not very fond of spiders.”
Luke bowed. “Will try my best, milady. However it might be impossible. Considering that the Arachnos tribe are very fond of spiders and are spider humanoids in true form.”
The princess shuddered. “Ugh, I’d rather wear a bear pelt than clothes made by spider webs.”
“You’ll just have to make do with what we have, milady.”
“I suppose. If it were Brandon, he would have told me to just stick with it.”
“More like suck it up. He’s not into fussy people.”
Luke bowed. “I’ll go on ahead now. We’ll wait for you in the town hall.”
Samantha nodded. But she still couldn’t believe what the Arachnos told Luke. He betrayed his people by siding with her. She had only heard stories of dryads running away and being more elusive from people. But her father couldn’t have been that bloodthirsty! She remembered his kind smile and often times his humorous demeanour. She let out a nostalgic laugh as she wrapped the shawl around her waist.
“By the way, Luke?”
Luke stopped at the door.
“I’m sorry. About your people.”
The dryad stood for a moment before simply shaking his head. “Don’t be sorry. It wasn’t in your control to be taken by the Black Argus.”