Yulen followed Renken. The ex-mercenary ran ahead toward another one of the enormous egg sacs. Webs stretched overhead like lacy curtains swathing the rafters. Holding up his torch, Yulen set the webs on fire, then stood back as the flames danced across the delicate lines. Licking the individual strands and racing along the ceiling, setting the cavern aglow with their yellowish-white light. It made for bizarre yet beautiful patterns.

            Rather than stay and watch the conflagration, Yulen pressed farther into the cavern. He rounded several natural limestone structures as he searched for more of those sacs. Footsteps behind him alerted him to the fact that someone was watching his back. A quick check confirmed it was Paxton.

            “Yulen! To your right!”

            The battle lord whirled around in time to see the spider scuttling toward him. He plunged the tip of his sword into the thing’s back, pinning it to the floor, then deftly flung the body off to the side.

            “Do you see any more nests?” the second called to him.

            “I think there’s a few ahead of us. Torch every one of them.”

            They emerged into another large room, and immediately saw it was filled with egg sacs, hanging like huge whitish drops of milk. Yulen swung his sword, decapitating one spider that tried to launch itself at him before he reached the closest nest. Like the others, the sac made a loud whooshing sound as the fire engulfed it. But it also began emitting a thick gray cloud of smoke.

            Yulen coughed. The smoke was acrid with the stench of those burning creatures. Stepping back, he met up with Paxton. The man’s face was red from the heat, and his eyes were watering, same as Yulen’s.

            “I didn’t take into account the smoke,” the battle lord admitted. “We need to get back outside, and hopefully these things will continue to combust.”

            Above them, lines of fire ran across the webbings interconnecting the sacs. Several spiders fell to the ground like live, burning lumps.

            Yulen gave the man a shove back in the direction they’d come. “Go on! Move!”

            Paxton turned to obey, then noticed the battle lord wasn’t behind him. “Come on, Yulen!”

            “Let me get those over there going, and I will!” He pointed to three more suspended in what appeared to be a corner of the room.

            Giving a nod, the second hurried away.

            Yulen rushed over and jabbed each nest until they were thoroughly consumed. Swiveling around, he started to follow, but found his way blocked. The initial sac, upon hitting the floor, exploded, flooding the ground with thousands of burning spider babies like tiny pinpoints of light. Worse, the smoke was becoming thicker as the fires ate up the available air in the confined space.

            Yulen eyed the narrow path he and Paxton had taken, but that way was no longer passable.

            There had to be another way out.

            There had to be.

            He eyed a couple of spiders as they raced overhead to avoid the flames and smoke. Blinking furiously, he kept an eye on them. Hoping. Praying.

            A third spider joined them. All of them heading directly toward another corner of the cavern. Yulen chased after them, wiping his eyes with his shirt sleeve to keep his vision clear enough to where he could keep them in view.

            He squeezed through a narrow passageway and found himself inside another vast cavern. The fires had made their way here, as well. Thick, roiling clouds almost filled the area, making breathing almost impossible. Yulen coughed again, when he thought he heard his name being called.

            “Paxton? Renken? I’m here!” he yelled.

            This time he definitely heard someone calling out his name. Unable to see more than a few feet in front of him, he honed in on the sound.

            “I’m coming! Keep calling!”


            The voices were gradually becoming louder and clearer. A white shadow appeared in front of him, and Yulen realized it was an opening to the outside. He ran for it, almost stumbling in his haste to escape the interior inferno.

            He burst out into the bright sunshine that nearly blinded him. Several pairs of hands grabbed him before he fell to his knees.

            “Thank heavens you’re okay,” a voice remarked.

            Yulen choked on his next words. A water bottle was shoved into his hand, and he drank thirstily, throwing a handful of water onto his scalded face.

            “Did everyone else make it back out?” he asked, and opened his eyes.

            It took nearly a full minute for him to digest what he was looking at. To accept what he was seeing. What couldn’t be, but was.

            His soul shrank into a tiny knot in the middle of his heart.

            “What’s the matter, D’Jacques,” Karv questioned him, eyebrows knotted. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”