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 The Many Morbid Tales of Spookinite Valley

The Spidress Order
Written by Benjamin Fouché

"Teraphobia" by Morbus Tenebris

I.

Curiously strewed among the sylvan hillocks and mountainsides of the lush New England region, one may find the various ruins of walls and subterranean chambers.  The root-bare and leaf-blanketed floors of the forested landscape will mostly conceal the ancient, limestone masonry of these deliberately constructed cavities and barriers.  Many of the tunnels have been relentlessly claimed by the inevitable erosion of time.  However, many are still accessible, if meticulously excavated by those who dare to conjecture their forsaken mysteries.  Sadly, no one can truly discern—nor conceive of—the inexplicable civilization and morose secrets that these crumbling structures stand testament to.  But perhaps it is best that such knowledge regarding the past of these underground chambers’ and lurching walls is never entirely ascertained by the ignorant temporal mind of humankind.  The truth of the matter is foreboding, grisly, and stained in blood.

Indeed, the astronomical alignments of the moss-blemished stonework demonstrate precisely how superior the intellects of the constructors were for the period of their existence—a time in which very little scientific understanding was available.  This extinct race would have ultimately been the conqueror of the mortal realm, had the Night of Deceit not befallen them.  These archaic ruins should remind any ponderous soul that the material world should never make contact with the dominion of the preternatural; both realities are incompatible, and the consequences will leave an indelible horror upon the invoker.  A shadow of doubt and dread still lingers over the corroded structures.  Intermittingly, a draft of deathly air will whisper of the woeful and agonizing cries which once pierced the stillness of the woodlands—these imploring shrieks were the result of a forbidden desire.

But this desire could not possibly dwell within the psyche of mankind; not even those with the most morbid temperament.  No, this yearning could only develop within the mind of a creature not even remotely correlated to the nature of humankind—both physically and spiritually.  This enigmatic race came from beyond the stars—their cratered boulder struck the earth, and from it, they were borne.  Their transfiguration over the countless eons daunted humankind, and thus, the living developed a fear of night and darkness; and a fear of the unfathomably dismaying beings that may conceivably reside within.  The most accurate way in which one may attempt to visualize this race is by observing a mere arachnid; explicitly, the spider.  For this race relished impenetrable blackness; for they were without clemency.  This race of spiders’ ultimate longing was to dominate the meager empires and civilizations that man had erected.

However, their struggle to establish their supreme order over the inferior race of humankind would prove to be strenuous, and at times, seemingly impossible, for their stood a critical hindrance in their path; the syndrome of were (wâr).  When the sun ruled over the lands, they were nothing more than miniscule, eight-legged animals.  When the moon reigned and the shadows danced, they were fearless hunters whose domain stood soundlessly, underneath the shades of the forest.  And all who entered their demesne became lost and were inexorably stalked—unto a gruesome feasting.  The spider race reveled in the misery of others, but it was simply of their unworldly nature.  Nevertheless, it must be remembered that although they held animalistic behavior, this spider race was exceedingly intelligent. For they built their Empire so that their presence was seemingly invisible to the other sentient beings that inhabited the earth.

This outlandish race of spiders would have to summon and harness a force far beyond their control if they were to dominate and subjugate their human opponents.  This would take millenniums to fulfil, but fortunately, patience was a merit which they possessed—and with this required virtue, they would carry forth their grave rites throughout the ages.  The spider race so yearningly dreamed of the evening from which The Spidress’ Order would descend upon the earth.  And indeed, it was she, The Spidress, who ordered the advancement of their race.  The Spidress was Queen; an Empress.  She reigned over all, and commanded those beneath her to undertake their responsibilities.  Below her position were the four commandants; Meinrad, Volker, Wolfrick, and Nikolaus.  Meinrad was The Spidress’ leading adviser—Volker raised the younglings and transmuted them into hunters—Wolfrick organized the various packs of hunters—and Nikolaus gave orders to the most elite of the hunters.

On the Night of Judgement, the younglings would be tried in a pit of remarkable depth, from which they would be rendered no escape.  Volker would lead them to the precipitous crater, and throw them in one by one.  Each youngling unwillingly stood in position against the steep, imposing walls that encircled them.  Two would be called forth by Volker and viciously ordered to attack each other in a condemning tournament—both were to show no mercy (considered a weakness), only a perpetual violence, or else Volker would enter the pit and mercilessly inject a lethal venom into the youngling declared futile.  The youngling that reigned victoriously would be tried again on two other occasions.  If the youngling survived both additional ordeals, he would be enlisted into The Spidress’ army of hunters.  Thus, Volker was a critical figure among The Spidress’ Empire.

Once several younglings became hunters, Wolfrick would establish a pack.  Wolfrick’s responsibility was exceedingly crucial, for not every hunter could fuse in accord—on the contrary, hunters would from time to time drain the bodily fluids of one another.  If one hunter perceived his comrade to possess a more dominant trait, he would commence a conflict, until it would progress into a physical quarrel.  In other instances, several hunters would develop insecurities for their Alpha, and plot an attempt to rid their pack of him by any means necessary.  Undoubtedly, these actions became a familiarity to Wolfrick—and therefore, it was his sworn obligation to arrange the hunters in a wise and delicate manner—thus assuring The Spidress that her army was dependable.  Wolfrick would not tolerate resentment among the hunters—he would ruthlessly devour those that refused to cooperate.

Hunters that exhibited extraordinary capabilities were assigned by Nikolaus, who was the commandant of the elites.  The elite hunters would firstly participate in the ethereal rituals that were held upon Ghastwood Hummock—and only those considered commendable by The Spidress were permitted to engage in the ancient traditions of the Spider Race—for if any other spider attempted to carry forth a ceremonial action, it was an unspeakable sacrilege that would, at length, lead to immediate death—and indeed, Nikolaus found splendor in pronouncing the insubordinate to be “insufferable blasphemers”.  Secondly, the elite hunters would be sent outward to search for the cherished and sacred mineral known as Amethyst.  Its dark-violet crystals were known to retain an energy that attracted The Dark Sickness—an entity that would lastly grant the Spider Race the key to forever rid themselves of their were disorder.

Meinrad was second in command of the entire Empire.  He would aid The Spidress in implementing essential strategies, when invading villages near and afar.  Meinrad would also give direct orders to Volker, Wolfrick, and Nikolaus—he expected all three of them to obey punctually.  When the hunters ruthlessly raided and plundered the villages, they would amass the humans—for they were indeed considered an honorable delicacy to the Spider Race.  Besides nourishment, the foremost motivation for conquering the villages was to find the seeds of a particular plant that was desired by The Spidress; this plant would, in the end, allow The Dark Sickness to manifest in the material dimension.  And for this, they dreamed always.   Meinrad swore an oath to The Spidress—he would personally make certain that her plot flourished beyond expectations.

It was by the wanes and waxes of the moon that the great Spider Race became nearer and nearer to their vast longing.  And yet, it still felt as if time would only prolong over the course of their immortal journey.  What happened to them you ask?  My, my, it is rather unwise for you to query of such knowledge that you cannot yet comprehend.  While this forbidden narrative progresses, hopefully the chance to observe how true darkness seeped into the world will be bestowed upon you.  And perhaps afterwards, you will recognize the purpose which the lonesome ruins once had.  Our tale begins with an ebon portal opening in the universe.  Comparable to a maelstrom, everything is consumed by this gaping hole in time and space.  However, before the uncanny vortex collapses, an interstellar object is expelled—its surface is cratered—with a hue blacker than death—lusterless—and unblessed.  It now approaches the earth, quickening its graceless descent.  And without further notice—impact.

II.

Within this wraithlike meteorite dwells bacteria quite unique to all microorganisms of the universe—its nature is destructive, and poses aggression towards the other geographically occurring microbes.  Each bacterium leaches from the crater, and spreads forth.  Over the uncountable ages, the unearthly bacteria advance into creatures representing the existence of something far more perilous—a force that continues to frighten mankind; araneae.  While some only reach the state of sapient intelligence, a particular branch evolves to possess a full sentient awareness.  As humankind begins to establish the first civilizations, so does this singular division of araneae.  However, their disposition is unlike that of humankind; they are unfeeling, vicious, and formidable.  These creatures—the Spider Race—are utter aliens, even amidst a fairly primitive world.

Their social order is insensible; the weak younglings are devoured by their mother, or in other instances, the younglings devour their weak mother.  They are of enormous and muscular proportion.  A dark-gray coating of fur, with a bluish tinge, shrouds their heavily armored exoskeletons.  Their five eyes are radiant with an orange hue—impaling disconcertment into even the fiercest of predatory creatures.  The Spider Race’s means of communication are by a series of vibrations.  Their movements are swift and calculating—always preying on the susceptible.  Nonetheless, when the sun begins to ascend from the distant horizon, these spider beings devolve into a species closely related to their evolutionary cousins.  Their mental capacity is reduced, and they are only rendered their animalistic instincts.  But once more, when the cloaking shadows fall upon the lands, they are altered back to their true forms, also regaining their memories.

Discovered among the thousands of hatchlings is a rare female.  Her traits are vastly superior to the other few females that were borne from the egg-sack-filled cavern—she is diligent, courageous, and exceptionally pugnacious—she will consequently become The Spidress.  This particular female feasts upon her brethren, while a hunger within intensifies.  However, this hunger is not of the physical body, but of the soul and heart.  She knows not yet what she truly hungers for, but sluggishly, the realization of her actual desire dawns in the back of her malevolent intellect.  As the veil of time is lifted, she deliberately establishes her reign over the entirety of the Spider Race.  Their cultivation becomes more methodic and prearranged—a system similar to collectivism is set forth; all spiders must toil if they wish to retain their rights to live.  Selected by The Spidress to assist her are Meinrad, Volker, Wolfrick, and Nikolaus.

While their odious race expands, their knowledge and understanding of the preternatural world increases.  They become aware of the different forces of the universe that cause peculiar phenomenon to transpire.  The Spidress longs that through their meticulous exploration of the unnatural, they will discover a way in which they may everlastingly end their unbearable condition of were.  In order to resist their undesired transformation, chambers and tunnels are constructed within the earth.  During the day, the spiders withdraw to their dark and dank havens—for without darkness to shelter them, the brightening rays of the unendurable sun will provoke their dreaded disorder.  Thus, the Spider Race must remain hidden until the cloak of night draws over the heavens.  After twilight, they are active once again, continuing to build their vast Empire.

Altars, as well as other ritualistic monoliths, are assembled throughout the whole of the soundless foothills and mountainsides.  Fortresses, with tall, sharpened rooves, align with the sacred events in the skies.  Stones are meticulously designated, so that they are able to sturdily hold the Empire’s infrastructure together without mortar—the geometry used is incomprehensibly sophisticated.  Guardian spiders stealthily hang within the numerous towers, warily sentineling the entrance to their secretive domain.  Scuttling outward are several packs of hunters, who have been sternly instructed by Wolfrick to invade a human village—this village is in possession of the plant that is needed to fulfil the Autumnal Equinox Rites.  Their many legs throb upon the earth—their deathlike eyes aglow—they are ready to carry forth their remorseless actions; the inferior humans will feel their undying wrath.

Like shadows, they undetectably pass through their nocturnal environment—a world of their own has once again masked the lands, and yonder.  In a harrowing abundance, each Alpha gradually shifts their pack into one, enveloping formation.  Over the rhythm of the crickets’ ceaseless chirping, their many legs crush the immense coating of desiccated leaves—scattered atop the black, rich soil which nurtures the century old hickories, the mangled maples, the lofty oaks, and the prickly black spruces strewed upon the steep hills and vertiginous ravines.  The smooth, silky rays of the moon scatter through the gnarled, overhanging branches—the soft radiance bequeaths an ethereal energy, invoking a grim vivaciousness within the hearts and souls of each dauntless hunter.  They are indeed in communion with dusk—legionnaires of midnight, carrying forth The Spidress’ Order.

Across the silver, gleaming waters of a narrow and winding brook, the hunters proceed onward, into the impenetrable, gloomy murk of the timberlands.  Blackening streaks leisurely move across the smoky sky—some translucent, and others exceedingly dense.  Irregularly, they will insidiously submerge the moon, ominously ceasing every solitary beam of moonlight.  When absolute darkness becomes dominant, the only luminosity rendered to the unending stretch of wilderness is the glow from the wretched eyes of each spider—appearing, disappearing, and again, reappearing from behind the infinite union of trees.  The hunters once more dissolve into individual packs, spreading farther abroad this time; they will ruthlessly invade the human village from all directions, overwhelming the unwary and sleeping inhabitants.

In the distance, the cry of wolves imbues a singular sense of unrest across the whole of the thickly wooded landscape.  The howls supernaturally linger, echoing incessantly, hither and thither.  A moment of unimaginable horror is forthcoming—and lamentably, nothing can snuff out what is about to transpire—it is merely Providence.  Like a heart in distress, there starts a deliberate beating sound throughout the pine-scented air; the looming fate of the unsuspecting village is preordained—tonight the spiders will dine rather messily, and indubitably, The Spidress will be pleased.  The hunters are approaching now—near—nearer—and nearest.  The vague lights of the village flicker forlornly—the spiders will relish this moment of devastation and dismay.

Their unguarded prey is within a suffocating clutch.  The flame of life is wavering swiftly now, in the Reaper’s cold, irredeemable draft.  The hunters watchfully crawl forth, encompassing the village amidst the unpleasant quietude.  Each Alpha momentarily halts their pack, and with great precaution, enter, waiting for the moment from which they will signal in the rest, and begin their pitiless disruption of peace.  The Alphas must firstly find and seize the seeds of the plant that is desperately needed for The Spidress’ rituals, then, they will subsequently capture their sleeping meals, and drag them back to their Empire, where they will all promptly feast.  The Alphas search thoroughly, until at length, the seeds are discovered within a meager threadbare sack.  “We shall bestow immeasurable contentment upon our hallowed Spidress,” says one of the Alphas, in their way of otherworldly communication.  In an instant, another one of the Alphas raises his two front legs, gesturing the others to enter the village.

One by one, the hunters savagely enter, destroying the frail wigwams as they do.  All structures of the village are utterly demolished—the people scream and shriek blaringly, aghast by the abrupt pandemonium.  Indeed, the true menaces that abide within the malign darkness have lunged forth, capturing all of the hapless souls, and spinning them in their condensed webbing.  A fire spreads, igniting the huts, until they collapse to bleak ashes.  The inferior humans are lugged through the wilderness as the hunters scuttle away, into the strangulating shadows.  Throughout the haunting treetops, countless bats flutter, whickering scornfully at the imminent meals being dragged to their inescapable demise.  Shortly, the flame of life will have perished within the unremitting grasp of the Reaper; and an immortal glee will befall The Spidress, as well as her entire Empire.  The half-inaudible pleas for clemency are delightful melodies to the spider beings—soon, their hunger will be gratified.

When the spiders begin to near the entrance of their obscured domain, the Alphas violently motion their front legs, permitting the hunters to advance ahead, towards the Empire’s commodious, arched entryway.  The Guardian spiders skulk downwards from their towers to allow the packs inside.  Large tree branches are pulled aside, so that the Alphas and their hunters can proceed inward.  Expeditiously moving to them is Meinrad, eager to hear of their accomplishments.  Immediately seeing the sack of seeds being held by one of the Alphas, Meinrad swiftly snatches the sack and scuttles away to deliver them to The Spidress himself.  Through the shaded grounds of the Empire, he continues toward the sanctum of The Spidress, extraordinarily keen to present her with the precious seeds.

Meanwhile, the Alphas take the enwrapped humans to the Ingesting Circle, where they are each injected with a potent venom.  Thereafter, the swathed humans are divided equally for the spiders to consume.  The muscles in each human begin to stiffen as the venom courses rapidly through their veins—they all lie in revulsion—inert—with only their minds being able to function.  Even so, progressively, their brains too become inactive.  The spiders begin feasting, draining the bodily fluids of each human with their pernicious fangs.  Our scenes now shift back to Meinrad, who enters The Spidress’ sanctuary, conveying the seeds carefully.  Meditating within the center of a delicately weaved orb-web is The Spidress.  She gazes deadly upon Meinrad, and bitterly enquires about the seeds.  When Meinrad presents her with them, her disposition becomes less hostile.

“It appears my hunters have done well,” says she, “therefore, the Autumnal Equinox Ceremonies can be held.  These seeds are an indispensable part of the rites that will take place—do you know what they represent?”

“No,” answers Meinrad firmly.

“They are a symbol of harvesting, which is indeed what I intend to do.”

“If I may ask, my dear Spidress, what will you be harvesting?” queries Meinrad with such curiousness.
The Spidress grins, in the manner which spiders do, before replying, “Our condition should be the Empire’s greatest concern.  I ponder about it with an unfathomable earnestness.  Sunlight has retained our latent abilities—it has kept us from accomplishing our mightiest endeavors.  The world has coldly stared down upon us for too long—but it is my dream for us to stare down upon the world, and become its overlord—and The Dark Sickness will grant us the ability to endure the scorching light of day.  We must bring The Dark Sickness physically into this world, by the reaping of darkness.  From thence, when our desired power is given to us, we shall all become one master.”

“I concur, my dear Spidress,” speaks Meinrad with inseparable agreement. “We march onward.”

The Spidress moves her front legs, in a gesture of approval.  “The Rites will commence tomorrow—the skies’ expressions confirm that our time is very, very close.  You will know when my Order befalls the world.”

“I look quite forward to that moment,” Meinrad says.

Leaving the sanctum, feeling worthy, Meinrad scuttles off to undertake his other assignments.  The Spidress resumes her deep meditation, envisioning her Empire stretching across the world, and beyond.

III.

As the black, starry shroud of night once more falls upon The Spidress’ demesne, all of the spiders become active toilers.  Slowly crawling out of their conservation chambers, they restlessly stretch out their eight legs, in a motion comparable to the emaciated fingers of a resurrected corpse.  On this evening, they will prepare for the summoning of The Dark Sickness.  The Spidress will forge the key that will allow Him—The Dark Sickness—to materialize within the physical universe.  Ghastwood Hummock is where the rituals will be held.  But before they can, the sacred seeds must be buried within the smooth soil of a meadow, near the border of the Empire.  And now, very keenly, Meinrad delightedly inserts each unhallowed seed below the tainted grounds, understanding that tonight will mark the beginning of a new chapter.

The trees and surrounding brush sway in a mild draft which whispers of the tempest that is imminent.  Meinrad observantly crawls back to the Empire, as a sensation of wickedness and apprehension befalls him.  It is an unfamiliar sentiment that is all too bewildering for him to comprehend.  Similarly, Volker is enwrapped with the same indescribable impression of darkness.  But ignoring this unidentifiable perception, he continues towards the pit, where he will judge several younglings.  Even so, the disconcertment does not entirely dissolve.  As Volker nears the chasm, the younglings stand in position, rather hesitant, acknowledging that they could indeed perish on this very night.  The dooming pit is now encircled by the denizens of The Spidress’ Empire—they watch readily—eyeing the uneasy subjects that crawl forward.

And atop her thrown, adorned with the bones of all who have confronted her, The Spidress herself gazes coldly upon the inescapable pit.  As the formidable bells sound their unworldly tolls, Volker proceeds to throw the selected younglings into the pit of judgement.  In an instant, the violent skirmish between the two spiders erupts; the first youngling viciously impales his arms into his opponent’s abdomen.  They both release hostile vibrations, attempting to intimidate one another.  The second youngling begins to die from his grave wounds while his rival continues to hardheartedly slash at him with his sharpened front legs; his opponent has been proven futile.  And without warning, The Spidress descends from a thread of webbing, and into the pit.  She begins to cocoon the weak one within her paralyzing silk—his blood is drained instantaneously.  Volker gestures the next youth to come forth.  The proceeding youngling is rather fearful—filled with disbelief and anguish.

 For a few moments, he remains hesitant and does not assault—this is an unredeemable action.  It is decided that this timid youth does not deserve to live beyond the pit.  Thus, Volker engages belligerently.  The youngling, now threatened, begins to vulnerably defend himself against Volker.  Penetrating his fangs into Volker, he thus tears his abdomen open with several furious lashes.  Straightaway, Volker delivers a swift strike with passionate anger, causing a fatal gash within the meek youngling—he consequently dies in a state of utter agony and humiliation.  The next youngling to enter the pit is more self-possessed and carries himself diligently.  He engages in combat with the surviving youngling.  This time, both opponents are equally endowed with warlike strategies.  The quarrel persists onward, as both pugnaciously struggle to demonstrate their dominance.  By this time, thunderclouds begin to consume the midnight sky.

Volker observes their every movement, rather impressed.  However, within only a matter of seconds, one of the younglings reluctantly gives in, and is callously torn by his opponent.  Indeed, the young spider who was the first to enter the pit on this night has continued to triumph over his contemporaries—he will be tried one final time.  The subsequent challenger advances into the pit, ready to engage his weary rival.  They both lock their arms—trying to subdue the strength of one another.  Over the distance, a blaze of lightning declares the impending arrival of the gale.  The spiders hasten their battle of ascendancy, becoming gradually more heartless.  The wind begins whipping the timberlands, now as the youth, who has thus far retained his worthiness, overcomes his final opponent—cruelly tearing several limbs out from the sockets.

The Spidress, greatly impressed, nods in approval towards the victorious youngling.  Volker, enters the pit and bows—the youth will accordingly be enlisted into the army of hunters.

“Your tactics were remarkable in every respect—we cordially invite you to come with us to Ghastwood Hummock,” proclaims Volker.

The youngling accordingly accepts, and the thunder prolongs its formidable echoes over the gloom-blanketed landscape—the storm is near.

The Spidress crawls stealthily from her bone-decorated thrown and proceeds toward the precipitous road, winding up to Ghastwood Hummock.  Steadily following her are Meinrad, Volker, Wolfrick, Nikolaus, several Alpha hunters, and the youngling.  They prowl forth, onward to their sanctified grounds.  The brisk gusts of rain-scented air shudder the innumerable tree branches that hang from the dark forest ceiling.  It is near.  Whirlwinds carry dead, shriveled leaves through the murky hollows and ravines, while the low bellows continue to resound hither and thither.  It is nearer.  Within the dusky, billowing clouds, flares of lightning spread afar and yonder, like a persisting vein of luminosity in the heavens.  It is nearest.  And lastly, they arrive on the very summit of Ghastwood Hummock.

Surrounding the summit is a circle of lofty, grayed, stone pillars, with great, violet crystals of Amethyst atop each one.  Below the hillock of which the spiders stand upon is the meadow where the seeds were concealed below the earth’s surface.  The Spidress watches intensely as a clearing in the misty sky opens—rays of moonlight descend upon each Amethyst crystal, causing them to gleam radiantly.  And as the blackening hazes begin to consume the moon, a surge of energy pervades each precious stone.  The spiders observe their environments in a moment of nervousness and uncertainty.  However, The Spidress is at ease, awaiting The Dark Sickness to pierce through the earthly veil and grant her the fulfillment of her vast dreams.

By this time, all of the tempest’s mercy has ceased—the cracking of uncountable trees reverberates over the hills and the wind’s howling becomes disproportionately unnatural.  The thunder’s grumbling persists as the seeds below begin to sprout wildly; they are pumpkins.  It feels as if time itself has elapsed in this moment of pure darkness.  The sprouts begin transmuting into vines, which spread profusely over the meadow.  Their flowers bloom as hurriedly as they wither into dust.  The round, orange fruits begin to form, but only the hardiest one will outlast the others.  They all begin to rot within seconds, as one of the pumpkins absorbs the richness of the soil.  The hue in each Amethyst begins to lessen, as well as their luminescence.

A solitary fruit remains within the meadow—thus, The Spidress leads her followers down from Ghastwood Hummock, and they enter the fields.  Two Alphas bring forth a burning ember upon a stone slab, which flickers continually.  A chanting and humming only understood by the spiders’ tongue commences.  This persists until The Spidress orders utter silence.  No creature—living or dead—is stirring during this sacred time.  The cinder, now dying, is removed by The Spidress.  It scalds her hands, but she does not care the slightest, for her desire is all that truly matters.  Without warning, she expeditiously impales the orange fruit with the ember.  After this action, a pitched and horrid sound whelms the entire earth, blacking out every cognitive being.  And when the thickened murk subsides, there before the entire Spider Race drifts an entity whose violet shroud ripples menacingly—an entity whose ragged pumpkin face grins grimacingly—an entity whose deep mirth emanates fiery sparks and wafting smoke—The Dark Sickness lives.

IV.

The Spidress and her servants gaze upon the hovering entity with a singular wariness and uninhibited curiosity.  He returns the stare—the faint, golden gleams reposing within his glaring sockets peer back—intensely.  He thereafter observes his surroundings with such thorough measures—it is a new reality to him—different sensations everywhere.  He glides over to a tree, and ever so gently presses his hands against the bark.  Turning back towards The Spidress, the dark wraith tightly clinches his fists, as if angry and confused.  As he does this, several whirlwinds begin stirring about the surrounding woodlands and thickets.  The Alphas begin to move backwards, fearing him.  The Spidress herself—slightly dazed—slowly makes retreating movements.  The leaves begin scattering throughout the hollows, whispering of The Dark Sickness’ arrival.

“What is this?” he questions deeply.  “I can respire the air—I can feel the earth—and all of its weaknesses.  I have a voice from which proceeds my very own thoughts.  I exist in this material universe—I can interact with everything around me.  This is truly remarkable.”

The Spidress and her followers continue to watch and listen to the shadowy spirit.

“How did this happen?  It is as uncanny as it is glorious.”

“We have brought you forth,” answers The Spidress, “out of a lightless void.”

There is a moment of quietness before the entity responds.  “Why have you beckoned my existence?”

“I plead with you, we are in dire need of your aid—you are the one that will help us further our great yearning,” speaks The Spidress boldly.

“What may I possibly assist you with?” queries the entity.

 The Spidress cannot even believe what is transpiring—the key to her eternal dominion stands before her.  “Since my earliest recollections, I recall seeing my race—the Spider Race—becoming the superior creature of the earth—I envisioned our Empire crushing all of that which humankind has established—my Order would extend over every corner of the world.”

“It sounds rather fascinating,” speaks the entity with such deepness.

The Spidress continues, “But there remains one burden that has restricted us from accomplishing this critical goal.  The burning light of day causes us to become miniscule beings with no intellectual capacity—we are essentially equal to our weak-minded, diminutive cousins.  Our progress has become extraordinarily sluggish.  We have summoned you in a spiritual form, so that you can share your exceptional wisdom with my kind.”

“And what is my reward?” enquires the entity demandingly—with a more malevolent rhythm in his voice.

“You are a sentient being—I have bidden you into this realm—that is your reward.  And now, you shall serve me in return.” declares The Spidress threateningly.

“Fair enough, my dear—I will assist you with spreading your Empire,” says the entity in a reserved manner.

“Now please, rid us of our disorder, so that we may become immortal beings that can persist through each day,” commands The Spidress sternly.

The shadowy spirit looks upon her, Meinrad, Volker, Wolfrick, Nikolaus, the Alphas, and the youngling.  “Your endeavor cannot be completed in one single evening—I fear the undertaking is not a simplistic one,” he says deliberately to The Spidress.

 She stands motionless for a few moments before becoming enraged.  “Leave my sight this very instant—and do not come back until you are requested.”

“Very well—it is your wish.”

 The entity subsequently floats afar, vanishing into the blackness.

“The rising sun is imminent—you must leave now, and make haste to your chamber,” suddenly speaks Meinrad.

The Spidress begins to move away solemnly—furious and bewildered, for this was supposed to be the night from which her Order descended upon the earth.

She now enters her chamber with Meinrad and Volker, who remain uncertain about her current temperament—they sense the powerful frustration that lingers within her soul.  She crawls onto her orb-web, and begins to speak to her two faithful servants.

“This is not what I had initially foreseen—why can he not cure us of our inescapable condition?  Must we live this way forever?”

“I am certain he will help us—remember, he said that our wishes are not simplistic—if anything, it will take time,” speaks Volker.

Time?  I have had plenty of time to orchestrate this vast objective—I have waited long enough—but my patience is beginning to diminish.  If he becomes useless, we shall cast him back into wherever he came from—and I will watch it without an inch of mercy.”

Meinrad then interjects, “My dear Spidress, you are letting your emotions consume you—you must be patient—we are very close—the time is drawing near—but you cannot become overwhelmed by your impatience.  Please, rest, and the world will very shortly belong to you.”

“Meinrad is correct—we have already finished the Equinox Rituals—this was a leap forward—you must not worry yourself,” Volker concludes.

The Spidress hisses, “You both are thinking foolishly.  Leave me at once!”

Meinrad and Volker leave together, obeying their Empress’ wishes.  Before she falls asleep, her mind continues to become clouded with doubt and resentment.

The following evening, The Spidress and her four main servants travel to the meadows to meet with the entity once again.  But as they enter, he is nowhere to be seen.  They examine their surroundings, but the phantom still appears to be absent.  The waning moon beams down upon them as they watchfully search—yet they can only see empty duskiness.  However, after a few more moments among the quietude, The Spidress is approached by the shadowy spirit.

“Have you returned to gain the knowledge you seek?” asks the entity.

“You amuse me, wraith of the night.  Yes, I have come to learn—much.”

“You all must heed every word that I am about to express.”  As he speaks, the wind begins to disturb the lofty treetops all around—and the golden radiance within his carved eyes becomes dim.  “I cannot banish the condition of were within all of you—nevertheless, there is a way to forever rid this earth of the sun’s blazing rays.  There are pure crystals within the surrounding foothills—when they are fused together, they can garner all of the sunlight, thus riding the world of day, and all its entirety.  When night is everlasting, you will be free to conquer every empire, and humanity.  But until then, you all must extract the pure crystals from the ground, and erect a tower.  When completed, I will transmute the crystals into a sphere that will rest upon the tower.  From thence, all sunlight will be absorbed, and the night will reign unendingly.  In return, I would like a few of the seeds that you cherish so dearly—the very seeds that you used to bring me into this world.”

“Only a few of those meager seeds?  You have my word,” says The Spidress in reply.

“Our pact must not be broken—is that understood?” questions the entity.

The Spidress replies, “Yes, of course.”

The dark wraith nods accordingly, and disappears into the shades of the forest.

The Spidress thus commands her servants, “Meinrad, please oversee the construction of the tower—it must begin promptly.  As for the crystals, Volker, Wolfrick, and Nikolaus, lead the hunters into the hills, and commence a mining operation.”

They disperse, and The Spidress crawls back to her sanctuary, becoming increasingly impatient.  Volker, Wolfrick, and Nikolaus all lead nine packs of hunters in different directions, away from the Empire.  Once they reach their destinations, they begin to extract limestone boulders, lodged within the vertiginous hills and mountains.  One by one, they steadily carry them back.  Meanwhile, on the grounds of the Empire, Meinrad watches as the foundation is laid for the tower.  Wide flagstones are methodically placed within a prearranged area—forming a distinct triangle over fifty yards in diameter.  When the hunters arrive, the boulders are stacked methodically upon the foundation, in such a way that structural instability would be impossible.  Eventually, others arrive, and the tower thus begins to rise.

Before dawn breaks, the spiders all scuttle back to their chambers.  When dusk descends, they skulk out from the darkness of their homes and into the pallid light of the moon.  The tower’s construction resumes, and other packs are led back into the hill country, where the pure crystals are mined from the earth.  Tunnels are excavated by the rapid movement of the spiders’ arms, penetrating the earth.  They exhume the consecrated mineral from pockets and veins extending in many directions below the surface.  This pure quartz is thereafter taken to the field where The Dark Sickness awaits.  And each time the crystals are laid before him, he deliberately shapes and forms them into a glistening sphere—creating what is to become The Spidress’ only hope.  At the site of the tower, the stones are continually stacked up towards the night-shaded heavens.

While this process continues, several packs of hunters venomously march to the western gate of the Empire, prepared to raid faraway human villages, and bring back nourishment for the spiders working on the great tower.  In a deathly formation, they stand inert before The Spidress, who rises boldly upon the arched entryway.

“This is only our genesis, my children.  Our eve will begin once this tower is completed.  And from thence, the world becomes ours; no, the Universe, and all its entirety.  But we must ensure that our advent is sealed—we must ensure that nothing interferes with our vision; a vision that has stirred our blood for quite too long.  A vision that has disrupted the accumulating dust within our shadows.  A vision that keeps our hearts beating.  This was our destiny from our entrance into this realm.  Our workers must be strengthened, for they toil now, erecting the tower of yearn.  You must all go your ways and find the meals that we need to sustain our energy.  Bring back the nourishment our workers deserve—bring back the nourishment that will propel us forward!”

After The Spidress declares this, all hunters extend their front legs, raising them toward her.

“Now go your way into the wilderness, and make haste to the wretched villages!”

Into the forest they march, holding pride and courage—wishing to fulfil their Queen’s deepest wishes.  Onward, they lunge; fearless, relentless, animalistic, warlike, and hungry.  Soon, all will yield—all will obey—all will acknowledge The Spidress’ Order—for the time is looming.

V.

Once the final hunter exits the Empire’s gateway, the large tree trunks and branches are sluggishly lowered from the arch’s top, cloaking the entrance within the forest’s duskiness.  And forward the hunters march—with their Alphas leading each pack in many different directions, over the hillsides—and yonder.  Meanwhile, the stones and boulders continue to feed the tower—allowing it to extend towards the vast heavens.  As The Spidress descends the arched entryway, she is approached by The Dark Sickness.  He glares with a look that causes momentary unease upon her.  For a minute, neither of them utter a single word.  But lastly, The Spidress decides to disrupt the unpleasant silence.

“Why have you come to me?”

He remains silent, and then speaks deliberately.  “Do not fear, for your dreams will come true soon enough.  However, I do come into your majestic presence with an enquiry.”

“And what may your concern be?” impatiently questions The Spidress.

He replies with a voice, deeper than before.  “I would like for you to bestow upon me a few of the seeds that were once so sacred to you all—this is all that I ask for, in return for my humble assistance.”

“I do not know where I would find more; it took ages to discover them.  My hunters were fortunate enough to stumble upon a village that stored the seeds.  I am afraid that I will have to wait until they return.  When they do, I shall send them back out to search for more—but until then, you must be patient,” answers The Spidress.

The shadowy wraith does not respond to her, and simply glides away, into the ambient darkness.  The Spidress skulks away to her sanctuary, envisioning the extraordinary power that she will very shortly possess.  As The Dark Sickness floats over the grounds of the Empire, he abruptly pauses, focusing on a pile of human remains—grayed bones lying in one stack.  A grin of pure wickedness ignites upon his face.  He seizes a few of the bones from the pile, and hovers into the neighboring woodlands.  Within the hollow of a decaying tree is the cadaver of a bat.  Peeling it delicately from the rough bark, he clutches the corpse within the palm of his menacing hand.  He then eyes a pillar standing upon the Empire’s wall.  On the uppermost part of the limestone column is a cauldron-shaped rock.  Within it, a fire dies.  Shoveling a small portion of the ashes with his hands, he soars downward, back into the solitude of the wilderness.

In a desolate area, far from the Empire—as well as The Spidress’ sight—he places his items on the top of a lone knoll.  First, the human bones—afterward, the bat skeleton—and finally, the ashes.  The golden embers within his slanted eye-sockets become dim as his left arm extends outward.  The shredded cloak hanging from his arm ripples in the autumnal breeze, while a streak of violet-hued energy is released from his sharp fingers, becoming absorbed into his curious assembly of objects.  Gazing in all directions surreptitiously, he continues to amass something truly horrifying.  From the pile, a creature of gruesome nature begins to form—clawing at the veil of reality.  The Dark Sickness whickers quietly, as his sick creation rises from the ashes.  Its talon-like wings stretch broadly, while his skeletal feet inch into the soil below.

“Patience, my friend,” speaks the dark spirit. “When comes our hour, the disturbing amusement will begin.”
The creature extends its gaunt fingers—wriggling them—then clinching them into hardened fists.  As it respires with profound exhales and inhales, an orange glow emanates from the black holes within its skulled face.  Its fangs grind, while a low voice grumbles like an imminent thundercloud.  The shadowy wraith faces in the direction of the Empire, and leers with such malicious confidence.

Once again, The Spidress meditates within her sanctum, dreaming of the unimaginable glories that will be granted to her when her Order descends upon the earth—and all of its pitiful entirety.  However, her vivacious bliss is quite abruptly disrupted by The Dark Sickness, as he sluggishly enters her inner sanctuary, uninvited.

“Hello, my dear Empress.  May I have a word with you?  It is of utmost importance.”

She looks upon him, extraordinarily annoyed—frustrated—and vexed by his very existence. Bitterly, she replies “I have already told you that I will resend my hunters to find the seeds that you are so madly obsessing over.  We have made our pact, now leave me at peace this instant—do not intrude again, or I shall make you feel great remorse.”

“You do not possess the ability to decipher my mind, creature.”

“Do not call me ‘creature’, disrespectful wretch!  I am the Queen of this dominion—and soon, the Empress of this world, and yonder.  And when I am, I will not forget your mocking words—perhaps I should send you back to the lightless place from which you came?”

He balefully glares at her, and says, “Nay, Empress—I would go nowhere—I have always been a law of reality.  But with your help, I can now physically pierce the veil—and tear it open—with the delicious screams of those who dwell in between, imploring desperately—from their inescapable purgatory.  This is the truth, whether you accept or refuse to believe it—and my presence shall remain, forever uplifted by the world’s darkest shadows.  Perhaps you should discern your own intentions, before so vainly attempting to discern others’.”

“If you are threatening me, I still fear nothing—I have never feared anything since the moment I hatched from my egg, and crawled forth,” replies The Spidress firmly.

“My, my, you are certainly an excellent deceiver—it is no surprise your subjects follow you so loyally.  All of their dedication to erecting this tower, so that you may declare your Order—it would indeed be such a tragedy to have them finish the tower—all for merely nothing.”

The Spidress looks upon the shadowy spirit, while she truly begins to comprehend the words which he speaks.
“I am not your enemy, Spidress—only the voice of reason.”

“Why have you come to me?”

“There are other villages that your hunters can travel to.  With all of the delightful inhabitants, you can supply your entire Empire with the nourishment it deserves.  I can guide your hunters in the correct directions, but before this can happen, I need the sacred seeds.”

“Very well, wraith of the night.”

The Dark Sickness nods, and delicately floats out of the sanctum, leaving behind a thin, violet mist that gradually subsides.  She is left alone—and her unease continues to strengthen—as well as her regret.  What has she summoned?  This question troubles her immensely.  Suddenly, Meinrad enters, seeming very content.

“My dear Queen, the hunters have returned—and indeed, tonight we shall feast hoggishly.  In addition, your tower’s construction is progressing very well.”  He pauses a moment, realizing the bothered look in The Spidress’ eyes.  “Is something wrong?”

“Meinrad, whatever I have brought into this world—it is mysterious—and I know not its true desires.  Although my Order will most certainly befall, the dark wraith’s presence is extremely unpleasant—I do not like him lingering around the Empire grounds.  When the tower is finished, and the sphere draws out the sun’s life, we must find a way to annihilate him, and never bring him back.  However, we shall remain cordial with him for now—so as not to anger him.  Do you understand the earnestness of this predicament?”

 Meinrad looks into her eyes deeply, “Yes, my Spidress—I understand, unerringly.”

“Good.  Please inform Volker, Wolfrick, and Nikolaus—for they must know my plans.  But do not tell anyone else, for the wraith of the night must not perceive anything.”

The following nightfall, many of the rancorous hunters and their Alphas are harshly commanded to return to the forests and hunt for more of the sacred seeds at the human villages—they are also told that their future depends on them.  Although many of the hunters do not quite understand their Empress’ reasoning, they nevertheless wish to fulfil her earnest desires; there is no questioning, and onward they go.  The Alphas lumber through the darkness, breaking twigs and fallen tree branches whilst their packs follow from behind, ravaging everything in their way.  Indeed, they are to display only the cruelest of remorselessness on this night, for the seeds must be found and delivered to The Dark Sickness.

They pass countless tree, moving underneath the skeletal branches like persistent shadows—ever so watchful and focused.  The moon’s mild radiance is filtered through the treetops and onto the cold, forest floor—and upon it, the spiders prowl.  As they continue forward, the lead Alphas are quite abruptly halted by The Dark Sickness.  They become gradually unnerved by his haunting presence.  The shadowy wraith’s sharp fingers clinch into hardened fists, as he stares upon them in utter silence.  A leer of malevolence forms upon his pumpkin head, while both glowing cinders within his eye sockets ignite with deceitful fire.  For a few more moments, the grim uncertainty endures, until at last, the dark spirit speaks.

“You are moving in the wrong direction—the village that you truly seek is this way,” he whispers alluringly.

He gestures his emaciated index finger, and the Alphas begin to follow him.  The dark wraith glides into the nocturnal shadows, turning his head occasionally, to make certain that the Alphas and their packs have not strayed.  The woodlands become denser as they hurry along, reverently following The Dark Sickness.  His tattered, violet shroud ripples in the midnight breeze, while his deep exhaling emits a smoky haze into the air.  Further through the black thickets, the spider beings advance behind the dark wraith.  In the distance, the howling of wolves resounds over the lulled wilderness—and owls hidden within their roosts disperse their lonely hoots.  As their trek progresses, a low-soaring mist begins to creep down the foothills and precipitous mountainsides.  By this time, the Alphas and their loyal hunters begin to sluggishly lose their bearings—an unpleasant sensation that has never before penetrated them.

Finally, one of the Alphas confronts the shadowy wraith, “Where is the village that you claim to know?”

He motions his hand delicately towards a knoll and says, “We are very near—it is beyond that hill.”

Feeling somewhat satisfied by what The Dark Sickness says, the Alphas motion their arms, commanding their hunters to follow them towards the hill.  The wraith of the night lingers behind, watching them fearlessly crawl onward.  At last, when the Alphas and their vigilant hunters reach the other side, they realize that the village of which the dark spirit spoke of does not exist.  As they gaze back over the hill, the spiders begin to hear the rustling of the surrounding brush—as if a horde of animals is imminent.  Eventually, this daunting sound is proceeded by bizarre snarls and bellows.  Frantically, the Alphas and their hunters form an orderly circle, prepared to attack the looming threat.  Over the peak of the hillock, numerous glows begin to lurk downward.

These furious creatures are pumpkin-like.  Their arms and legs are rugged, spiny and vine-strangled—their eyes and mouths ominously aglow, as if burning embers are resting in the center of their insides.  They lash out, viciously.  Then, from behind, more of the fearsome beings emerge.  Atop the hill, The Dark Sickness rises, glaring down upon the group of spiders.

“Let the feasting commence,” says he, deeply.

They lunge hungrily, howling wildly. The Alphas and their hunters then hastily disperse, attacking the unknown creatures.  Swinging their arms at the pumpkin-beings, the hunters cause gory, orange pulp to spill over the land, yet the number of the savages becomes quite overwhelming.  One hunter is overcome by several of the merciless hobgoblins, and is thus devoured alive.  Several other hunters are soon vanquished and feasted upon ruthlessly.  The Alphas efforts seem to be in vain, as most of their hunters have already perished by the unyielding horde of pumpkins.  Eventually, they too find themselves helpless, only at the mercy of the shadowy wraith.  But The Dark Sickness only whickers and encourages his own kind to consume the final Alphas that stand.

VI.

While the weak light of the approaching dawn begins to dominate the nightly sky, The Spidress and Meinrad stand upon the Empire grounds, still awaiting the return of the Alphas and their hunters.  It has been hours since they have left the Empire in search for the sacred seeds—and their prolonged absence only bestows a worrisome feeling upon The Spidress—an emotion that is very unfamiliar to her.  She watches intently, as if expecting their return very soon.  Yet the large branches covering the entrance are not raised.  Meinrad turns to her, yet she remains motionless and fixed upon the gateway.  After a few more moments of troubling silence, her faithful servant decides to speak.

“My dear Spidress, I do not think they will return tonight—the precious seeds were a challenge to obtain the first time.  Perhaps it will take them longer than originally anticipated to find the seeds a second time.  You must retreat to your sanctum, for the sun’s rise is impending—you must not linger out here for too long.”

She continues to gaze listlessly, until at last, she harshly replies, “Meinrad, my time is running short—I promised the dark wraith the seeds.  I must give them to him, so he is no longer in our debt.  Once he receives his desired items, we shall no longer owe him anything.  And when my order is forever set, he will be nothing more than an afterthought—for this is my future, and my future is within my grasp.  The shadowy spirit is only a means to an end; that is what he always has been—and that is what he will always be.”

After declaring this to Meinrad, she quickly crawls back to her sanctuary, underneath the Empire.  When evening falls upon the land, the spiders rise from their daily slumber, and continue the tower’s construction.  One by one, more stones are carried through the Empire’s gates, and are delivered to the tower site.  The monolithic edifice soon surpasses the structures that stand above the treetops of the timberlands.  The interior of the immense tower has been formed so that the spiders can easily climb to the top.  Below the tower’s shadow and through the entryway of the Empire, The Dark Sickness continues to fuse the pure quartz into an iridescent sphere.  The Spidress soon crawls out from her sanctum, to wait anxiously at the gateway—expecting the arrival of her trusted soldiers.

The night carries on, and her Alphas and hunters remain missing.  Knowing that The Dark Sickness has become impatient, she hurries to the field to assure him that he will most certainly obtain the hallowed seeds.  Meinrad and Volker accompany her, as she exits the Empire grounds.  Upon nearing the field, they observe the shadowy wraith shape the sphere with his dark powers—and The Spidress can only ponder how she summoned this unearthly force.  As the trio of spiders watchfully approaches the horrid entity, they are met by an unhallowed stare.  Smoky gusts of wind whirl about, bending the desiccated grasses that shroud the meadow.

His voice becomes even deeper than before—his tone, wicked and heartless, “Have you brought me the seeds?”

“Wraith of the night, I fear that my Alphas and their hunters have not returned—as I have stated before, these seeds are extraordinarily difficult to acquire.  But they will find them—this I swear.”

The dark spirit peers into their eyes for a moment and then replies, “Very well.  Your sphere is almost completed, and I will grant you this in return.  I appreciate your sincere honesty.”

There is almost a mocking rhythm in The Dark Sickness’ voice.  Meinrad and Volker attempt to remain fearless, but even they are stricken with an irredeemable dread.  The Spidress is suddenly overcome by the reality that someone beneath her has infused uneasiness within her soul.  Without warning, she becomes bold, as if transfiguring into the unforgiving Queen she once was.  Standing over the dark wraith, she says calmly, “We shall see where your utterly pathetic arrogance leads you.”

Turning and nodding to her servants, she marches away, with an increasing self-possession.

The Spidress and her servants crawl back to the Empire, where they clandestinely advance towards the sanctum.  Once inside, they seal the entrance shut.  Through the dank and gloomy passageways, they arrive inside the main sanctuary, where The Spidress’ orb-web hangs firmly.  Climbing onto it, The Spidress faces Meinrad and Volker with a look of impenetrable confidence—indeed, the cruel and unrelenting Empress that was once her former self has been resurrected with a fury beyond mortal comprehension.  Looking into the eyes of her two trustworthy followers, she speaks with an unsurpassable superiority.

“The life of the dark wraith is becoming rather short—he does not know it, but he is a mere flame wavering in the wind—and it will only take one powerful gust to extinguish his essence everlastingly.  This I know, for my knowledge of this entity is greater than his own meager understanding of himself.”

“I concur, my dear Spidress,” says Meinrad enthusiastically.

The Spidress then explains in further detail, “Plenty of seeds are in my possession—you see, I have kept many of them hidden since my hunters first brought them to me.  But I did not want to give them to the dark spirit—I had to keep them, in case I was rendered no other choice but to reverse the ritual.  And as it appears, we must send the wraith of the night back—he is a detestable hindrance—and I cannot continue my plans with him floating around my dominion.  His time is over, and I almost have what I have yearned for since the moment I came into this world.”

“How shall we perform the reverse rites?” queries Volker.

The Spidress replies, “We shall begin the ritual to obliterate the dark wraith once he has finished shaping the sphere that will absorb every ray of daylight.  Of course, he wishes that we give him the seeds in return first.  Therefore, I will hand him the seeds which the hunters bring back, while you, Meinrad, Wolfrick, and Nikolaus engage in the reverse ritual at a secluded location.”

“But what if he suspects your true intentions?  The shadowy spirit is no fool,” questions Meinrad.

“I will have absolute control of the situation—I can assure you.  And when you have concluded the rites, he will simply cease to exist.  And thenceforth, the world and all of its entirety will know my wrath.”

“When will the dark wraith finish shaping the sphere?” asks Volker.

The Spidress answers, “Once our miners have provided enough quartz, the sphere of deliverance will be complete—that is when I will take what is mine.  For now, we must wait until he is finished crafting it.  Meinrad, in the meantime, please go to the gates to see if the Alphas and their hunters have returned.  My patience is waning thin with them.  Volker, please oversee the tower’s development.  And if any worker has become idle, deliver a swift death to them.”

 Volker and Meinrad nod, thereafter leaving.  The Spidress, still positioned on her web, begins to envision the expansion of her Empire.  How great the reward will be, once she has purged the very last obstacle standing in her way.

Meinrad hurries out of the sanctum, through the grounds of the Empire, and to the guardian spiders at the western gate.  Asking if the hunters have returned, he listens as they explain to him that they have not.  Moving along the outer wall, he promptly scuttles to the southern entryway; the guardian spiders’ responses are the same.  Thus, he advances towards the eastern gate—and still, the guards give the same answer.  Lastly, when Meinrad reaches the northern entrance to the Empire, he queries of the hunters’ arrival—but the responses of the domain sentinels continue to remain the same.  Slowly crawling away with leaden despondency, Meinrad begins to doubt and fear—the Alphas and their hunters should have surely sent a messenger to bring news to The Spidress—where could they be?  And are they still alive?  These are the questions that trouble Meinrad greatly.

Volker watches carefully as the Tower continues to reach for the midnight heavens above.  Stones are handed from worker to worker, until each one finds their place on the unfinished structure—furthering the progress of the massive, gray column.  While he continues to observe the construction, Meinrad approaches him.

“The Alphas and hunters have not made it back from their journey—do you suppose that they have perished while scavenging the sacred seeds?”

“Humans pose no threat to us, Meinrad—you are already very aware of this, are you not?” replies Volker.

“No, of course I do not think humans are what caused their demise—it is something else—something much more.”

Once Volker understands the deeper meaning to what Meinrad is explaining, he too is pierced by the same throbbing fear.

“I am almost certain that the dark wraith is responsible for their disappearance.  We must warn The Spidress immediately—for the rites to banish the shadowy spirit must be carried out before he does something far worse.”

“Then let us proceed,” concludes Volker.

Hurriedly moving to the sanctum, the sensations of Meinrad and Volker change very abruptly—indeed, they are no longer atop the world’s hierarchy—being afraid is undoubtedly the most painful emotion that they have experienced during their lifetimes.  Upon reaching The Spidress’ inner sanctuary, they reveal to her their grave speculation.

“My dear Spidress, the Alphas and their hunters still have not returned—I have thoroughly spoken with every guard at all four gateways.  The hunters’ whereabouts continue to remain unknown.  I fear for the worst,” explains Meinrad.

Fear.  Such a pathetic word.  You are lost, Meinrad.  Volker, please end this miserable fool’s life.”

“My dear Empress, why?  Are you not aware that the dark wraith has probably slain your most elite soldiers?  You must prepare the rituals soon, before it is too late!” pleads Volker.

“You are equally as weak as Meinrad.  You both must die.”

After declaring this, The Spidress leaps onto Meinrad and brutally pulls his legs from his sockets, subsequently leeching onto him and deeply drinking his blood.  Making haste, Volker rapidly crawls out of the sanctum and through the Empire grounds.  Yet, behind him, The Spidress pursues.

And then, without warning, Volker too is coldly devoured by his leader, thereafter lying mangled and mutilated.  The denizens of the Empire all pause to gaze upon their unpitying Queen.

“There is no mercy for the weak—no clemency for the fearful—and regrettably, it appears two of my most essential servants have shown these vices which disgust me immensely.  I shall not allow this in my Empire.  Carry on with your work.”

VII.

Far from The Spidress’ Empire, The Dark Sickness lurks through a hidden valley, conjuring forth creatures borne from his own wickedness and unworldly anger.  Gliding beyond the endless oaks, hemlocks, and maples, he causes the wind to eerily stir the dried leaves that rest upon the forest floor.  The gusts of wind overhead cause loose twigs, acorns, and pinecones to plummet from the sylvan canopies.  The various layers of clouds in the nocturnal sky shift and alter, billowing sinisterly.  The daring owls perched on branches hoot while The Dark Sickness grimly floats beneath them.  The cry of wolves reverberates perpetually—and then, a perturbing calm descends upon the wilderness.  The dark wraith smiles menacingly while he ascends above the treetops—his ghostly, amethyst cloak undulating.

Below him, the vale of darkness lies—the place of which he will soon reside permanently.  Facing in another direction, The Dark Sickness raises both of his closed hands—and soon thereafter, releases hundreds of the sacred seeds.  They drop to the ground below, quickly sinking into the soft soil.  Extending his left hand, he releases a charge of dark energy—the fluctuating current of power reaching each seed below.  They begin to sprout—their roots burrowing deep beneath the surface.  Vines inch insidiously over the ground below, strangling every sapling, tree, and boulder.  And very quickly, the pumpkin plants begin to flower, with each one blooming wildly.  However, the attractive, yellow flowers soon begin to wither away, until they are merely dust.

The earth below exhales and inhales, as if living, while the scratchy vines continue to envelop everything in their way.  Wholesome, orange fruits form underneath the dying flowers—some large and smooth—others irregular and lumpy.  The foreboding leer of carved, sharp teeth only grows wider upon the dark wraith’s face, for his magnificent children are strengthening—their hearts are beating—they are ready to breathe.  The Dark Sickness thus prays an unhallowed prayer.

Entirely conjured from thy grim pumpkins and thy darkest burnings; I have summoned thee from my very own grisly desires and horrid yearnings, Churning violently, and shaping fearsomely, I willingly share my enduring gloom, So thus thy terror cast from thy shadows can malevolently loom. And thenceforth, I now declare this realm, thine.”

In an instant, the innumerable vines develop clawed hands, and begin to gruesomely rip out the innards of the pumpkins.  They transmute into monstrous fiends with a fiery aggression.  As they liberate themselves from the black soil, some begin to consume each other.  Their stringy, seed-strewed gore falls onto the earth, only sprouting more plants, which, at length, too become forbidding creatures.  They growl with rage, and grimace disturbingly—prepared to remorselessly dine upon any mortal being.  Onward, into the night, they rush—moving like the uninhibited animals that they are.  The otherworldly sounds that they emanate echo unceasingly over the autumnal landscape.  The Dark Sickness watches them, laughing venomously.

Raising his right arm upwards, his fingers discharge a streak of alternating lighting into the sky, summoning the bat-winged ghoul that he had previously brought into the world.  A thunderous roar proceeds, as the large, skeletal gargoyle soars towards the shadowy spirit.  His thorny wings flap furiously, as the imposing nightstalker smiles with utter malice.

“I shall give you this precise signal when I am ready.  You will do fine—I am very confident in you.”

Meanwhile, at The Spidress’ Empire, the cadavers of Meinrad and Volker are seized and thrown into the forest at the mercy of the elements.  The tower’s construction resumes hurriedly, with the workers carrying on their crucial task of completing the formidable structure.  And at last, the final part of the lofty monolith is added to the top; a stone, hand-like object that the crystal sphere will rest within.  The worker spiders gleefully crawl to the ground to gaze upon their vast accomplishment—the tower stretches far to the heavens, nearly scraping the blanketing clouds that slowly move eastward.  Indeed, the moment that the majestic quartz sphere is placed within the clawed goblet is the moment that The Spidress’ Order will initiate.

Within her sanctum, The Spidress deliberates upon her actions.  At first, her spirit is torn—she wonders if brining death to the two of her chief servants was a sensible decision.  She also reflects upon their earnest warning; will The Dark Sickness come for her?  Is he responsible for the hunters’ prolonging absence?  Only time will tell, but she assures herself that Meinrad and Volker’s fear was inexcusable, for how could she possibly face the dark wraith if her loyal servants were afraid?  It was merely for the greater good—this is at least what she desperately tries to tell herself.  Recognizing how serious the reverse rites are, she skulks to one of the far corners of her sanctuary.  Within a wall hangs a loose, shortened brick, disguising as a part of the masonry of her lair.

Behind this brick are the precious seeds that have been hidden.  Pulling the moveable stone from the wall—and to her horror—she discovers that they are missing—not a single trace remains, and thus the true apprehension begins to constrict her heart.  Crawling back, The Spidress moves out of her sanctum and scuttles to the western gate of her citadel.  Passing the guardian spiders, she advances to the field, where she discovers her miners carrying the sphere.

“Where is the dark wraith?” urgently questions The Spidress.

 “He is gone—he told us that he has already received the seeds that he desired,” answers one of the miners.

“Quickly, then—bring the crystal sphere to the tower, for our time has commenced—the world shall genuflect before me.” She pauses a moment, as if thinking deeply and finishes,  “Oh, and in addition, please tell Nikolaus that we are preparing for war.”

Without further questions, the spiders march toward the Empire, with an increasing lust for conquest—their blood stirs madly at this time.  The Spidress peers over the meadows, and says to herself, “The dark wraith shall pay greatly for his betrayal—his suffering will be beyond the boundaries of reality.”

Facing the direction of her Empire, she stares upon the tower in the distance—impressed by its enormous proportion.  When The Spidress returns to watch the placing of the crystal sphere, her heart leaps.  Crawling up the extensive edifice, she feels the imminent power pulsating through her soul and mind.  And upon reaching the top, she clutches the large, white, glistening orb—and when it is placed into the stone goblet, the quartz sphere ignites with a blinding radiance, as the world around darkens further—but this darkness is far greater than even moonless nights—it coils around the earth, declaring The Spidress’ Order.  Laughing balefully, in the manner which spiders do, she looks down upon her denizens, and speaks thus,

“Our time is now—the world is ours, and we shall cause all of humankind to quiver before our very presence.  But a war is brewing, and we must prepare to destroy the dark wraith, who has not only betrayed me, but each and every one of you.  Shall I permit this?  No, of course I shall not!  Therefore, we must brace ourselves for a clash with a force that our race has never faced before.  Our future depends on this, and I believe in you.  We march onward!”

After concluding her speech, The Spidress’ followers cry with a piercing screech.

VIII.

Thunder rumbles threateningly in the distance, proceeded by bright flares of lightning illuminating the whirling clouds.  The scent of impending rain penetrates the air, amidst the tempest’s calm.  An intense premonition hangs over The Spidress’ Empire, yet the spiders are prepared for the approaching conflict.  Nikolaus orders all hunters, soldiers, and elites to rigorously guard every inch of the outer wall.  And outside the Empire, spiders cling tightly to elevated tree branches, keeping watch over the surrounding forest.  Upon the inner grounds march nearly thousands of soldiers, prepared to relentlessly defend their beloved Empress’ domain.  And from the tower, several guardian spiders overlook the encircling region.

The Spidress surveys her guards and soldiers, becoming more satisfied as she eyes the precision of her brethren.  Climbing up to the tower’s main battlement, she commands the guards to leave, explaining that her superior eyes will oversee the enfolding landscape.  And without question, they leave.  Studying the brightening sphere, which imprisons all sunlight, The Spidress becomes rather content—the only agony that lingers is the dreadful reality that The Dark Sickness is still well and alive—somewhere—conspiring against his maker and Queen.

Suddenly, in a moment of abruptness, a strange animal crawls towards the Empress.  Distracted, she looks upon him with curiosity.  He is similar to the other predatory felines encountered in the wilderness, but is considerably smaller.  His fur is black as pitch, lustering in the glow of the sphere.  He carries about with him a sense of domestication.  And his eyes, a deep gold.  The ebon cat speaks thus with a kingly voice, “He is forthcoming—The Dark Sickness draws near.”

“Who are you?” demandingly questions The Spidress.

“I am Tobias—an ill omen.”

“When will the dark wraith draw near?”

“Briefly.”

“Can you foresee the victor of the looming confrontation?”

Tobias only looks upon The Spidress and yowls hauntingly.  Without further notice, he vanishes into the shadows.

Turning around, The Spidress is unexpectedly greeted with a familiar and unpleasant sight; The Dark Sickness.  He hovers above the Empire’s Queen, gazing down upon her condescendingly.

“It appears that you have succeeded; what a marvelous sphere this is—holding within every ray of daylight.  When shall you declare your supreme order?” questions the dark wraith scornfully.

“My Order will be established once my final hindrance is completely overthrown.”

“And what hindrance could that possibly be?”

“I am certain you know, wraith of the night.”

The Dark Sickness remains silent for a few moments before speaking, “Indeed, Spidress.  I think we both knew from the very beginning.”

“I will admit that my vast endeavor could not have been accomplished without your gracious help—but you do understand that I cannot advance onward within the confines of your shadow?”

“Neither can I, my dear Spidress, as I possess my own will—but of course, to you, I have always been a means to an end.”

“I cannot lie—this has been my view of you since I brought you into this world.”

The dark wraith disperses a low mirth before continuing.

“Yes—you did summon forth my physical spirit—but I have dwelled always.  Your understanding of who I am is extraordinarily limited.  I am a law that cannot be rewritten—I am the incoherent thoughts that cause individuals to commit horrendous acts against one another—as well as the instability of a mind plagued by psychological morbidity.”

“You are utter madness.”

“Yes, and my desires are contrary to yours.  There shall not be order, but only chaos.  And amidst the pandemonium, my kind’s hunger shall be satisfied.  You see, one day, human settlers will come to inhabit this land.  Their minds are far more complex than your spiders’—and they will nourish me greatly.”

In a moment of heated fury, The Spidress belligerently swipes her arms through the dark wraith.

“I am a spirit, and you cannot harm me—but I can very effortlessly harm you.”

Instantaneously, The Spidress calls for her guardians, as well as Nikolaus and Wolfrick.  Climbing up the tower, Wolfrick and Nikolaus come to her aid.  Fearlessly charging towards The Dark Sickness, Nikolaus extends his arms in an act of hostility.  Alas, they are expeditiously caught by the dark wraith’s claw-like hands.  He clutches them tightly, bending them backwards as he does—and a rancorous grin forms upon his pumpkin head.  Distraughtly beseeching The Dark Sickness, Nikolaus’ arms are then twisted violently, until they are broken off—his blood pouring in a cascade of sapphire.  The shadowy spirit then proceeds to throw the severely injured Nikolaus over the tower’s edge.  Staring cruelly at The Spidress and Wolfrick, he raises his hand upwards—his sharp fingers stretching apart—and releases several veins of energy into the blackened heavens.

A deafening roar grumbles over the land.  And not so far away, a winged creature soars towards the Empire.

The ashen beast’s empty sockets burn with an orange luminescence as he glares down upon his incoming prey.  The creature’s jaws become agape, exposing his thorn-like teeth.  And his leathery wings expand broadly, flapping forcefully as he now approaches the tower.  A blaze of lightning reveals the fiend’s full skeletal body in all of its ghastly entirety.  Thus, the consequential thunder proclaims the battle’s commencement.  As the beast lunges towards Wolfrick, a clash of such vehemence erupts.  Hanging onto the creature’s thick ribcage, Wolfrick pitilessly slashes and tears.  The fiend cries out, thereafter sinking his claws far into Wolfrick’s abdomen—caerulean blood spewing through the air.  And with one vigorous pull, he is torn in half.  The fiend quenches his thirst as his fangs pierce deeply into the horribly marred remains of Wolfrick.

The Dark Sickness releases a morbid laugh as The Spidress orders her guards to attack the Vampyre Beast.  All leaping onto the winged creature, several guardian spiders begin to ceaselessly lacerate him.  Struggling, the gargoyle throws himself from the tower, falling to the ground below with the spiders still clutching onto him.  And without warning, the Empire bells begin to toll, with many of the hunters outside the walls urgently imploring for assistance.  Indeed, the very same pumpkin creatures that the dark wraith wrought in the forest are beginning to invade the Empire.  They whip their bristly vines into the soldiers, badly gashing their exoskeletons.  Some are even strangulated by the malignant beings’ vine-like arms.  But many of the orange hobgoblins are impaled by the jagged arms of the elite hunters, and are thereafter crushed against the ground—with stringy gore spilling out of their broken shells.

The Dark Sickness soars over the spiders—his golden embers within his eyes radiating—and with one profound inhale and exhale, he breathes a scorching burst of flames, instantly igniting the soldiers.  Their tortured cries resound over the Empire grounds while the Vampyre Beast rises and feeds upon the numerous spiders beneath him.  And from the innards strewed over the sight of the battle, more living pumpkins begin to sprout from the thousands of seeds.  The vines wriggle and writhe, pugnaciously grasping the hunters and soldiers nearby.  The fruits mature rapidly, until they transfigure into the violent creatures that they truly are—toppling and messily dining upon the spiders.  The dark wraith hovers over more soldiers, and once again breathes flames, causing them to become charred corpses.

The winged fiend glides over to the wall, and with inordinate strength, thrusts the stonework with his hands, until at last, a portion of the structure falls over the side.  And inward, more of the wild pumpkin creatures crawl into the Empire, uninvited.  Sacred monoliths and other structures are devastated by the fiendish gargoyle, who extends his arms—breaking the stones and flinging them towards the spiders below.  Within the depths of the sanctum, The Spidress listens to the dismaying noises emanating from the surface.  The walls around her tremble while objects collide with the earth above.  With the leaden sense of responsibility, The Spidress chooses to brave the unfolding war above the sanctuary.

Upon crawling out of her haven, she is confounded by the utter destruction that has ravaged her once-glorious Empire.  Edifices lie in ruin—their stones scattered over the grounds.  And worst of all, her own kind is on the verge of extinction.  Fresh cadavers lie hither and thither—their legs gnarled and curled—a grim sign of death.  The walls have mostly given in, and the only notable structure that refuses to fall is the tower.  Hastening over the debris, The Spidress advances towards the very last thing that she cares about.  Her fallen brethren plead with her to help as she passes them.  And when the troubled Empress reaches the tower, she turns to witness her own kind being consumed by the remorseless race of pumpkins.

After climbing to the battlement, she is once more met by The Dark Sickness.  He floats before the glowing sphere that retains all daylight.  Peering deep into The Spidress’ eyes, a leer of malice opens upon his ragged pumpkin head.  His nostrils emit fiery sparks and wafting smoke, while the cinders within his carved eyes become dim, “My dear Spidress, behold what you have brought upon your Empire—gaze down at the vast obliteration of your citadel.  Nothing will remain, once I have coldly seized the final possession that you cherish greatly.”

Realizing what the dark wraith is insinuating, The Spidress begs, “No—please.  Do not take this away from me!”

The Dark Sickness only looks upon her with amusement, “It matters little, for your entire species has perished miserably—you are the very last one of your race.”

In an instant, The Spidress flees the tower, tormented unto insanity by her immeasurable guilt.  Whickering in a low voice, the dark wraith drifts away as the Vampyre Beast circles the tower—comparable to a vulture closing in on its cadaverous meal.  The structure is knocked against with immense force, until lastly, it collapses in a heap of gray dust.  Henceforth, The Spidress’ Order was no more.

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