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Helena Walter broke into a smile as she felt her hair quietly roused by the velvety evening wind. Her eyes were fixated on the twilight sun as it bid farewell to Helsinborg-Plat, off to waken another thousand eyes in a town half a world away. Soon, she too would be bidding adieu as well, as long as her bus would arrive that is. It was a terrible mistake to leave early, she thought. However, she wouldn't be bored as she waited on her bench, because the stars have just made their way into the night, ready to begin their performance. Her eyes reflected their sparkle as she gazed at the dancers in the sky, shimmering, glistening, as she witnessed a marvelous display of a hundred million performers, dispatched right from the heavens beyond. Helena suddenly found herself immersed in nostalgia, remembering her childhood days where she would spend nights staring, and admiring the infinity, that is the sky. She spent countless hours writing stories in her diary about worlds from different galaxies. About planets, one of which was home to a humble group of little purple people with heads shaped like balloons and squinty little eyes. Their hands would have three fingers, all the size of our thumb, which they would use to scale the tallest of heights. She had written about twenty other planets too, but this one in particular, was her favourite as she pictured them to be the friendliest and was the first one surface from her imagination.
Soon enough, her bus arrived right on schedule, just as any other bus in Helsinborg-Plat and Helena was awoken from her reverie. Ready to leave, she rose from the bench, graced the town with a smile as a final goodbye and fell right on her knees, finding the thin sole of her shoe stuck in a small crevice in the walkway.
A blush reddened her cheeks while being helped up by a gentleman who also seemed to be travelling her way. Helena quickly made herself oriented and thanked the man, who replied with a friendly nod. Entering first, she grinned, having seen two empty seats right next to each other. The journey wouldn't be quite as dull as she'd imagined.
Unbeknownst to Helena however, she had already forayed into a world, albeit through accident. A world inhabited by the tiniest of creatures, living in the tiniest of homes and having the tiniest of lives. A world so tiny, that Helena had never known of it. And yet, they did form a big part of her world. Maybe one day, she could thank a certain spider for scaring the cockroach away from her room in Hallbrook Inn during a family trip while she was 7 years old. But now, it would be better apologizing to little Benny Arachsmith, twelfth son of Margaret Arachsmith.
'What did I tell you about going outside at this time of the hour? You know it's too dangerous out there. Besides, you only have eight legs you know.' Scolded Margaret.
'But I just wanted a peek, I wasn't goi--OWWW!’
'Now hold still while I fix this up.'
Hearing her nephew scream, Lorna Aranea made no hesitation in coming over.
'It's me Marge, open up. I heard a noise, is everything alright?’
'Oh it's fine,' Margeret said while opening the door. 'Benny was just a little too adventurous for his age, that's all.'
'Thank goodness! He's alright I hope'. Lorna was relieved.
'He'll be alright. Say, isn't Bertrand having his web ceremony tomorrow?’
'Yes, yes he is' said Lorna with a worn look on her face. 'It's just that he doesn't seem ready you know. I’ve seen him, the way he behaves and thinks, it’s just different.'
'You're just being silly, Lorna. He is one among the fabled Aranea clan, isn't he?’
'I guess you're right. I shouldn't be this nervous.' Lorna said, taking a deep breath.
'Now go on and get some sleep. I'll see you in the morning.'
'Alright, Marge. Goodnight.'
The Aranea clan, home to the greatest spiders ever to sling their webs across the spider county of Theraphosa. Famous names include William Clavatson Aranea, the Patron Saint of the Aranea Clan, Gary 'Bumblefoot' Aranea, the most, let's just say, distinctive, stage performer ever to grace the stage in Theraphosa. Of course, who could forget Bruce W. Aranea, the legendary caped crusader of the mid-30s who single handedly waged a war, and won, against the forces of evil in Theraphosa city. Though they weren’t all heroes, as there had been the infamous Jack D. Tripper, known for his extremely long 6th leg and even more so for notoriously tripping 122 victims, proving a rather irksome figure across the streets of Theraphosa.
And then, there is Bertrand Aranea. Bertrand wasn't like any of his forefathers. He was neither a hero, nor a performer. Not as frolicsome and definitely not a crime fighter. You see, Bertrand was different among his kin.
'Wake up, Bertrand. Today's your big day' said Lorna as she woke up her son.
'Yeah, can you like, reschedule that?' Spoke a drowsy voice.
'Not funny Bert, now get up and I need to see you fresh and ready in ten minutes'
'Alright, alright! I'll be downstairs'
'And the time has finally come'. Bertrand had a habit of talking to his reflection in the mirror. 'Bertrand Aranea's webbing ceremony' he said with a sigh. The whims of being a spider, he mused. 'Should have just been born as a plant, wouldn't have to worry about any ceremonies and just float on with the wind' he said as he brushed his fangs. 'Besides, I wouldn't even have to risk embarrassing myself in front of a hundred people.
‘NO!! Listen to yourself Bert, you've practiced for this day and you're not going to let a bunch of weirdos--'
'I heard that.' interrupted his mother from downstairs.
'As I was saying, scare you from achieving your goal. This is will be your moment to cement your legacy in the Aranea clan.'
'Stop talking to yourself and come down for breakfast will you? Or else we might be late'
'Alright, I'm coming' he yelled as he descended the stairs and into the kitchen.
The Aranea kitchen was quite modest in comparison to the rest of the households. In fact, it is the only part of the house that has never been renovated since the illustrious family had settled down there ages past. The dining table was placed towards the right side from the entrance. Cris-crossed shadows had fallen across its surface from the window it faced right in front, giving it a certain touch of architectural panache.
'So what's for breakfast?'
'And it'll be the same thing for lunch and dinner as well. I wonder why they even had to bother giving it three different names when all we ever have is the same thing.' Bert said with a look of denunciation.
'Well isn't someone on their way to becoming a stand-up. Now eat your food, it keeps you healthy doesn't it?'
'All I ask for is a little variety, might even spruce up the place. I think I'll skip breakfast.'
Lorna shrugged aside his comment and gaped at the clock.
'You're in luck, young man because you won't be eating anything. We're getting horribly late,' she grabbed Bert's arm and dashed towards the door, 'let's go'. And they headed straight to Theraphosa city.
Like a pearl gently caressed and protected within the body of an oyster, Theraphosa city sits right under the concrete pavements of Helsinborg-Plat. Similar to the worlds Helena had imagined, Theraphosa has its own identity, its own culture and its own people - With eight legs and fangs and compound eyes, they go about their lives. Some as weavers and others as potters, but among the many professions, the most renowned are the artists who traverse the unknown, facing the many dangers that come their way and leaving their mark with finesse - An intricate design of webbing unique to every clan, left to be seen as a mark of their cultural identity to whoever passes by its path till it withers into senility and dies, gracefully. The town isn't short of their festivities either, with a purported list comprising of as many as 130 fiestas taking place throughout the Arachnid calendar. The most common of which is the webbing ceremony which takes place once every week near the town hall. It marks the ascension of a young spider into the adult world and today, we see one hopeful, timid, young spider among a hundred others, waiting for his turn on the podium.
'Now remember what you practiced?' Lorna shouted through the crowd.
'Just remember the zig-zag, okay.'
He nodded again. A hint of anxiety forming on his face.
'Good! Now don't be nervous and just do you best. Alright, dear?'
And before he even had a moment to steady himself, spoke the Compere through the microphone.
'Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Theraphosa city's 8803rd webbing ceremony'. A loud cheer amplified through the crowd. 'Today we shall witness young Bertrand Aranea, son of Lorna Aranea of the Aranea clan step on this podium as a boy and return a man!
‘Step right this way, son'. He stepped forward, his heart pounding harder with every passing second, his face gave out smile, shielding his nervousness. 'Alright, son now you're going to have to climb up this ledge and start shoot some web to glory.' He looked up at the ledge.
'Can't it be a little shorter?'
'You're funny kid, but don't worry, we've rigged this baby up so you won't even have to bother about a thing', whispered the Compere.
'Phew, I guess I'll get it over with then', he said, relieved.
'Alright ladies and gentlemen, give a round of applause for Bertrand'. The crowd cheered again. 'Ready when you are kid', the Compere whispered again and walked down the podium.
As her son climbed up towards the high ledge, Lorna walked over to the Compere. Nervous as a banana in a monkey cave.
'You think he'll be alright ?'. He saw her eyes brimming with concern.
'He'll be fine, I loaded him with up the old rigged podium trick. It's fool proof'
'What do you mean? You told him the place is rigged? What if he falls? Oh my goodness Ber--'
But before she could finish, he had already jumped off the ledge and his light body hovered in the air.
This is unreal, he thought as his heart was beginning to explode. Okay, relax, this place is protected, I won't fall, I won't fall.....
I'M GOING TO FALL!
He clenched his body, making himself ready to hit the hard floor below and said his final prayers before closing his eyes. Just before he shut his eyes, however, Bertrand decided to see his mother just one last time - there she was, staring at him with her jaws wide open.
He wasn't falling anymore, something held him in the air. Astonished, he looked back and to his amazement, saw his first webbing firmly grappling the ledge above. It happened so instinctively that he barely felt anything. And of course, the fear that catalyzed it too. But there was no time for complacency. He fed on the excitement and pushed himself forward towards a tiny ridge from which he shimmied along the edge and onto the extreme corner of a ravine. Taking the three points as his base, he flung himself across to the other side, onto the ledge and back again continuously till it formed a zig-zag. He continued the same procedure again, this time, in an inverted manner till it started to take shape.
And there it was - Bertrand Aranea's first web.
'See what I mean?' Said the Compere with a smile across his face.
Lorna, on the other hand, fainted.
'Son, you've outdone yourself. Haven't seen a good rookie web such as this in a long, long while.' said the Compere.
'You liar! This thing wasn't rigged, I almost died out there!'
'Relax, kid. You should be thanking me instead, for uhh…unleashing your instincts, yeah that’s right. Besides, this baby of yours could catch I-don't-know how many bugs.'
'I guess you’re right. Also, I’ve always been meaning to ask, what do you do with those bugs once they're caught anyway?'
The Compere could not help himself but break into a fit of laughter. 'You for real, son ?'
'It seems, that Bertie here doesn't know what his own web is for.', the Compere mused to the crowd.
I didn't tell him. Worry lines ran across Lorna's face.
'Son, we catch bugs with these webse right here, process those mean grubs and eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Seems like you might need a little more of those.'
Bertrand was shocked, so much so that his stomach started contracting itself with disgust. 'But don't those bugs have their own family to feed?', he asked, rather painfully and to his horrific surprise, the entire gathering convulsed into laughter.
'This boy, right here just keeps getting better and better.' Said the Compere as he tried to control his laughter. 'That's just the way it is, son. The strongest survive by consuming the weaker. The rule of nature and all that jazz.'
Bertrand was left dumbfounded. A feeling of guilt ran across to his spine and stabbed him, as it wasn't art that he had created, but a trap. A death trap. He felt himself eddying into a whirlpool of darkness. His body sullen and weak. To top it all, a piercing cacophony of laughter drilled through his ears.
As the merriment slowly dissipated away, the Compere relieved Bertrand from his miseries. 'Let's have another round of applause for Bertrand Aranea!'
He saw the look in his mother's eyes. 'I'm sorry Bert', they said.
Five days had passed since the horrid ceremony near the town hall. And five nights were spent trying to repress that rotten memory. But alas, they were to no avail and the outside world didn't make his cause easier as well. Having heard enough of taunts and jeers, Theraphosa seemed like a detestable city, fueled by the hunger for the blood of the innocent young bugs caught in their trap.
'It's been five days, Bert. You'll be ill if you don't eat.'
'Better than eating the innocent.'
'You know, at first, I was worried about you. Now you're just being stupid. We need to survive one way or the other now don't we?'
Bertrand had just about had enough. Was there anyone who thought of the world like him?
'I'm going out.' And he slammed the door shut.
He walked along the edge of a ravine, about a block away from his house where he used to be the first to come every winter to feel the snowflakes that dripped underground, and climbed atop a terracette that followed its path. Eventually, he reached a cliff overseeing Theraphosa. Tears already drenched his eyes as he overlooked the city he grew up in so discreetly turn into a city that betrayed him. Staying here any longer would be a mistake and convincing his mother to leave would be impossible. The focus of his perplexed eyes then shifted it’s focus towards the right, Abingdon Hill.
Rumours have always surrounded Abingdon Hill. Not a month would pass when a new story would develop about it. Some say it's haunted, that spirits of great evil dwell within in it's caves. While there the others who believe the stories to be utter nonsense, but have never dared to climb on top of it. And those who have ventured, never returned.
Then again, these stories didn't really matter to Bert. For him, one thing had to be done - He must leave Theraphosa.
On Tuesday, six days after his webbing ceremony, Bertrand Aranea left his home, his traditions, his clan, and his mother and ventured into the night. He left a note to her, explaining his actions, at her bedside. His decision might not have been the wisest, but there were things that he wanted to learn on his own and he hoped that she would understand.
As he walked towards the border of Theraphosa city, Bertrand passed by his old webbing. Realizing that tomorrow, it would be brushed aside to make way for another ceremony, he decided to take one last look at his work.
Walking closer, he could have sworn of hearing noises, getting louder and louder as he trudged. His curiosity slowly turned into fear.
'Help! Help me! Anybody there? Oh law--Wh--WHOA! Listen buddy, I ain't doin' no trespassin'. Was just walkin' around y'know. Just get me outta here and I'll be on my way. Will ya ?' said strange looking beetle in a thick New Grublian accent.
'Sure. Just grab onto my hand.' Bertrand pulled him out of the sticky web and asked 'What are you doing around these parts anyway ? You might get eaten alive here.'
'Thanks a lot, kid. Was worried for my life back there. Just thought I might take a quick little pit-stop for the night and before I knew it, got caught in this crazy web. For a moment, I thought you were going to eat me.' said the stranger, relieved yet with a trace of surprise. 'So what's your name, kid ?'
'Well, you better be careful next time, won't find much people like me to bail you out. I'm Bertrand, Bertrand Aranea. And you ?'
'The name's Maurizio Ladybuggoni, you can call me Maurice. Wouldn't your momma be worried seeing you out at this hour of the night. Better get back home, kid.'
'I'm not going back home,' replied Bertrand with a startling conviction, a rather half baked one at that 'and if you'd like to survive, it's better you leave this place right now as well.'
'Well isn't this a little strange for a spider, a want-away. Any idea where you're headed ?'
'I don't know yet. What if I could follow you ? Where are you going anyway ?'
'You wouldn't wanna do that, kid. Besides, it ain't any of your business.'
'Please! What if I could be of any assistance, I already saved you here didn't I ?' he pleaded.
There was a pause. Bertrand saw the puzzled look in Maurizio's eyes. He registered an air of fear emanating from his acquaintance, but before he could fully analyze the situation, Maurice started.
'Okay, kid. You can come along.'
Bertrand was overjoyed. 'So where are we off to then ?'
'Hemiptarala,' said Maurice and pointed west 'it’s right past that hill over there.'
'Guess that's where I'll be needing ya, kid.'
The two embarked on their journey towards Hemiptarala from the town hall. They walked for miles along the rocky gullies of Theraphosa and into a gulch, formed long ago by the great Arachnidian flood. From there, it was only a matter of a climb atop Abingdon Hill.
'So where'd you live before you decided to travel to...uhh...this place ?'
'The name's Hemiptarala, kid. Don't forget it. It's the only free country you'll ever find on this planet, a place where us bugs don't have to live in fear. I used to live down in Colepteropolis, south of New Grublyn. Heard of that, kid ? Anyway, I decided to leave 'cause of those all the loonies who used to make fun of me, being a male ladybug and all. Fruitcake Maurice, they used to call me. Now I ain’t one to give up all that easily, but I couldn't take it no more. But mark my words, if I could get my hands on that lunatic who named us Ladybugs, I'll kill him with my own elyptra.'
'I left along similar grounds myself,' said Bertrand 'my refusal to eat bugs made me the laughing stock of the entire city.' He added.
'In case you decide to change your mind, I assure you, I taste as bad as a juju nut.'
'Don't worry about that, Maurice.' Bert replied with a grin.
His grin soon vanished. A week without food could leave a man weak and frail. But in case of our spider friend, his mind slowly went berserk. The hunger played with his head, torturing him over and over again as if a famished, carnivorous devil had suddenly ceased control of his body. Maurice would make a fine meal, it spoke to him. He retorted, violently shaking his head.
'You okay, kid ?' asked Maurice.
'I'm fine, there was just something in my eye.'
'Oh come on, Bert. He's just one little bug. Just a bite.'
'What ? No!'
‘For survival, anything must be done.’
‘Get out of my head! I’m not listening to you!’
'As you please, Bert. But remember, it is your survival that is at stake. Is that little insect more important ?'
He shook his head again and the voice was gone. Strange things were happening. And an even stranger aura lurked in the vicinity, as they were on top of Abingdon Hill.
A deathly atmosphere pervaded the hilltop. There was no vegetation, only dead land that seemed to have been devoid of moisture of years. Huge cracks were a common sight as they tred along the rugged terrain. Howls and echoes of the dead resonated in both their ears, screaming for help, struggling to breathe. And then nothing. The duo encountered a thick, shrubby region ahead of them. They looked at each other and without the need for words, knew that the only way was forward.
Bertrand saw a look of discomfort in his associate's eyes and the same puzzlement when he had asked if he could join him. But just then, he noticed a pair of red light flashing at them from a distance and instantly looked away. His mind registered a distress, but he had to be sure, maybe it could've been just a firefly. He looked again, and they were gone.
'I'm just seeing things.' he tried to comfort himself.
Within a flash, they returned, much closer to where they were. Bertrand, in shock, stood there for a moment and just as his eyes blinked, the light disappeared again.
'I think we might not be the only ones here, kid.'
Maurice had already sensed the danger creeping ahead of them. This wasn't a good sign. But the red light was nowhere in sight.
'It could be the fear making us see things we don't want to. People say a lot of crazy things about this place.' acknowledged Bertrand.
And as he said the last few words, he felt something breathing against his back. A thick, suffocating steam, hot enough to boil a hundred dust mites. He reluctantly turned his head back and stood there, petrified.
A great Redback spider, twice his size and it would only take a peek at her fangs to drain the life out of an ordinary insect.
'Why, hello there.' She said with an evil grin.
She moved closer to them. Bertrand was already drenched in cold sweat.
'Now don't you two be frisky, I'm only going to give you a little kiss goodnight.' She prepared herself, ready to pounce any moment. 'This ladybug you got here would make a wonderful meal don't you think ?'
Bertrand was astounded, she was only interested in Maurice and at that, she was right as well. He would make a fine meal. But no matter how tempting her offer might have been, he had made himself a promise.
'You're not touching him.' he retorted.
She was dazed, something was strange here. 'Oh, a greedy little spider aren't you ?'
'No. He deserves to live just as much as we do.'
Maurice's eyes shone brightly
'You fool!' She screamed. 'Have you ever thought about your survival? '
'His life is just as important as ours too. No bug deserves to die.'
'Your incompetence amazes me!' She yelled again and threw him onto her web - A magnificent structure that only the finest of hunters were able to create. One could stand in front of it for hours, enchanted by it's beauty. But just as it was beautiful, the web was equally deadly. 'You just don't get it do you ?' She lashed at him with her leg. ‘I guess I might have to kill you too!’
'What's there to understand? You just trap the life out of the innocent.' His sharp words were enough to sting her.
'To survive, anything must be done.' She struck him again. But as he fell, his legs gripped tightly against her webbing, using his momentum to break it and left his giant of an adversary dangling above a gorge, along with him.
'You'll kill us both!' She screamed.
'You're wrong,' and he motioned towards to Maurice.
'Maurice! Just grab hold of that strand and pull us back up.'
He did as he was told, but only stood there, holding the strand of web, looking at his friend in the eyes.
'Now just pull us up, Maurice.'
He didn't move.
'Pull us up, Maurice! '
'I am sorry, my friend.'
He let go of the strand.
Maurice's body refused to move. He had led his friend into a trap. However grateful he might have been to Bertrand, Maurice knew that his life was endangered. His instincts had sensed it from the very beginning.
Maurice knew that for his survival, anything must be done.