Ambassador to the Spiderkind
Pari stood in line at the temple, the last, behind her fellow slingers and other lowborn goblins. The line moved slowly, snaking through the empty stone room, up towards the front where an oracle sat. The oracle was mostly obscured by layers of fabric in bright colors, with only her eyes, wrinkled forehead, and white hair visible. At her feet sat a bronze bowl. The oracle listened to the questions of the supplicants and then threw an object into the bowl -- providing them with their answer.
It was late, the stars already visible high above the endless forest, but this was the time that the lowborn were allowed into this temple. During the day it was reserved for the highest classes of the Rinji priesthood, with the mornings and evenings set aside for the merchants and noble families. If someone as lowly as Pari wanted a chance to see the oracle, she would have to sacrifice sleep. And the oracle might still decide to leave before seeing all the supplicants -- then Pari would have to try again some other night.
Pari shuffled forward a step, keeping her eyes on the oracle -- willing the tiny goblin woman to stay in place, to wait for Pari to get to the front of the temple. Clutched in Pari’s hand was a bouquet of flowers she’d picked in the jungle -- her offering to the oracle. It wasn’t gold or fancy or even food -- Pari couldn’t afford any of that. But she’d climbed up into the heights of the jungle to find orchids for the oracle, hoping that the woman would recognize the effort behind her simple bunch of flowers.
Another step forward.
Pari was looking for hope.
As a lowborn goblin, her options were always going to be limited. Normally, she could have become a servant or a slinger, a ditch digger or a brick hauler. But Pari was born under the spider moon. The most unlucky month. So… she could become a slinger -- no high born wanted a spider working in their house or on construction projects. Even within the slingers, the only goblins who wanted a spiderborn were… other spiders. Her whole squad was born in the lowest caste, under a spider moon. The least lucky of the already unlucky.
Pari was only three supplicants away from the oracle. The ancient goblin yawned, blinking her ancient eyes. She wouldn’t stay much longer.
At first it was nice to be around other spiderborn goblins, in the slingers. No one flinched, anyway, because they were as unlucky as Pari was. All unlucky together. Then the first skirmishes with the sunburst humans began -- and it was always their squad that got picked to go first. They were, afterall, the unlucky ones.
One battle against the sunburst humans took out half their number.
The next, they left two thirds of their squad dead in jungle.
Pari knew she was brave. She’d proven it in those fights. But there was a difference between brave and stupid. No one could survive in the spider slinger squad the way they were being used.
When there was one supplicant left between Pari and the oracle, the oracle creakily stood up, leaning on her cane. She was done for the night.
The goblin in front of Pari hung his head, but stepped obediently away. Pari stood rooted to the spot for a moment and then flung herself forward, collapsing on the steps and holding out her flowers, above her head.
“Please please!” she called. “A sign, great oracle! Please please!”
She kept her head down, eyes on the empty bronze bowl.
She heard a sniff and a mutter above her head. Then, to Pari’s surprise, something clattered into the bronze bowl. It was a stone, with a spider painted on it.
Pari felt like crying seeing that. Born under the moon of the spider. Unlucky. Doomed to weave webs and then watch them disappear. She left the flowers at the oracle’s feet and walked out of the temple.
Pari thought this was the end.
A few weeks had passed since the oracle gave Pari her sign, that she was still unlucky. Now, the little slinger was in the midst of battle -- with no armor and only her sling against the chainmailed humans. She couldn’t see any of her squad any more -- just the big, stamping, hulking humans. They trampled through the jungle like elephants -- but worse than elephants, because elephants knew how to respect the forest. Pari sent a stone into one of their eyes, and then another. She caught them again and again on exposed bits of their faces and on their hands, trying to get the soldiers to drop their big swords and axes and spears.
“Little demon!” grunted one of the humans, making a grab for Pari’s hair. She ducked, spinning out of his grip and tried to see which way she should go in the chaos. She could not spot any other goblins. Just humans and more humans -- with their yellow sunburst flashing by -- running between the trees in different directions.
She’d gotten turned around. Pari had no idea which way to run to get back to safety. Or if there was any safety to get to.
“None can be allowed to escape!” cried a human, in shinier armor than the others. “They’ll give away our position! Don’t let that one run!”
Alarmingly, he pointed at Pari and three humans began to run towards her. She reached for a stone to set in her sling. The basket on her back was empty. Unlucky. Pari’s blood ran cold -- and she sprinted away through the trees with the humans shouting and crashing behind her.
Lost. Pursued. Out of ammunition.
Pari didn’t know what to do -- she looked around the forest, praying that the gods of the jungle would provide some help. She grabbed a fallen stick and glanced back over her shoulder. They were still there! How were these humans keeping up with her? Pari ran on, putting on a desperate burst of speed. Pari wove between the trunks and then ducked under a broad leafed fern, hoping it would hide her. She fell still, turning just a little so she could see the humans. Maybe they would keep going. Then she could find her way back to the others. If there were any others left to find.
Unfortunately, the humans slowed down a mere few feet from Pari.
“She’s got to be right here,” said one. The others agreed. Pari hadn’t fooled them at all. They spread out and started to walk through the ferns with their swords swinging the fronds aside. If Pari moved, they’d see her immediately. And they’d find her in only a few seconds anyway.
Pari waited until the last second, holding still. Then, when the nearest soldier brushed aside the greenery, Pari smashed the stick she’d grabbed into the human’s shin. Next, she jumped up and managed to smack him across the face before running back the other way. The other humans made grabs for her, one of them catching her arm. Pari bit his wrist, drawing blood. The human yelled and flung Pari down, stunning her.
“Light curse it!” said the soldiers, shaking his hand. “Are we taking prisoners?”
“Might look better at the triumph,” replied another.
“No. Too much trouble right now,” said the third.
Dazed, Pari heard a footstep near her head and got ready to try to roll away. Then one of the human’s yelled -- and shot suddenly up into the trees, their feet leaving the forest floor. The other humans looked up, confused about what had happened to their companion -- who dangled twenty feet above them, yelling. Pari realized that the shouting soldier in the tree had dropped his sword.
Pari snatched it up in both hands, and stabbed the nearest human.
He screamed -- adding to the confusion -- and Pari yanked the blade out, ready for another thrust. Then she stopped.
The unharmed human turned to her.
“What’s that trick?!” yelled one, pointing up to his dangling companion. “What did you do?”
But Pari was distracted, staring beyond him.
“Tell me how to get him down!” yelled the human. Then he heard the shuffle of something moving. He turned around and saw the giant spider behind him.
The humans shrieked too and ran -- leaving behind their wounded and trapped companions.
Pari was still holding onto the human sword, shaking. The spider towered over her -- furry legs moving in hypnotic coordination, eyes glittering.
“Th-thank you,” said Pari.
In her peripheral vision, Pari saw that there were a number of other spiders in the woods around her. She could hear them behind her too.
They clicked and chattered, talking to each other. Pari waited, motionless and trying to keep calm. She’d never heard of spiders this big outside of legends, let alone seen them.
Out of the forest came a littler spider -- about the size of a small dog. It trotted forward on eight legs, pausing just out of Pari’s reach. Hesitantly, Pari put down the sword, and put her hand out to the small purplish creature. It crossed the space between them and put a fluffy leg into Pari’s hand -- shaking it.
“Hi hi,” said Pari.
The spiders seemed to come to some decision. There was a rustle around Pari and the spiders started to head off into the forest, leaving the humans and the goblin behind. The little spider skittered away. Pari watched them go until the tiny spider who had shook her hand stopped and turned around, waving with one short hairy leg. Telling her to come along.
“Well,” said Pari aloud. “Maybe there’s some luck being born in a spider moon, afterall.” She followed the spiders into the woods, and did not look back.
Pari packed her things carefully: the spider silk clothing she’d made, her new sling, and her web bombs.
She’d spent two years with the spiders. It felt like a lifetime -- or like only yesterday -- since she’d escaped the sunburst humans and come to live with the kind arachnids. She’d learned so much -- secret ways around the forest, the arts of silence and keeping to the shadows, patience and careful craftsmanship. Pari sighed. She would miss them -- but she wasn’t the only goblin born unluckily. She could help them now and she was going to do that.
Leaves shifted, and the little spider scuttled into Pari’s hut.
“Hi hi, Didi,” said Pari, petting the spider and smiling sadly. Didi she would miss most of all.
Didi hummed -- almost like a cat purring -- and then darted back to the doorway. The little spider gestured for Pari to follow it.
Pari shouldered her pack and walked out into the endless forest. Waiting for her were a circle of arachnids.
One ancient spider -- furry legs grey with age and six of its eight eyes milky blind -- gestured for Pari to come further forward.
Pari obeyed, looking up at the sharp fangs. Two years, and they were still frightening to her -- even though she loved them too.
The spiders started to hum -- almost like they were singing. The forest shivered with it, the bushes and plants vibrating with the spider’s music.
Above Pari’s head a faint light began to coalesce, green like sunlight through leaves. The summery light formed a great spider over her.
Pari stared up at it in wonder. She’d never seen them do anything quite like this.
Then the spider’s song ceased, and the glowing green spider collapsed towards Pari -- falling into her.
Pari smiled. Now, she really was born under the sign of the spider.
She curtsied to the spiders -- and then ran forward to hug the grey leg of the elder that led the ritual.
“Thank you, thank you,” she said.
Then she let go and sniffed, trying not to cry. “I’ll come back,” she promised. “Soon, soon.”
She turned to look for Didi to say goodbye -- and then felt the little spider land on her pack and snuggle down on top of it.
“You coming with me?” asked Pari, happy.
Didi hummed in agreement.
Her heart lighter than she thought it would be, Pari set out -- returning to the great pyramid of the Rinji.
On the muddy Rinji training grounds, the air was warm and humid -- making both goblin slingers and spearmen sweat more than usual. A moment before they’d all been working -- the slingers practicing their aim and the spearmen sparring. Now, they were mostly watching Captain Mugru beat Yim, a young spiderborn slinger.
Yim wanted to get up and defend herself, but she didn’t dare. She’d just picked up an extra spear and given it a twirl. That was all. But the captain saw her and took offense. He’d challenged her to fight, if she thought she was worthy to wield a Rinji spear. She’d tried to give up the weapon and walk away, but the captain had struck it from her hands before hitting her and knocking Yim down in the mud.
The butt of the spear thudded into Yim’s curled up legs.
The captain hit Yim again, while one of his peers tried to talk to him. A crowd gathered around them -- but their eyes were drawn to the jungle, as often as they looked at Yim and the captain.
“Maybe that’s enough?”
Captain Mugru snorted. “Got to make an example of spiderborns. Slingers are bad enough. A spiderborn’s got to know her place!”
“Yeah, but… uh-oh,” said the other officer, trailing off and backing away from the whole mess expeditiously.
“Hihi!” said a new voice.
Mugru looked up sharply.
Standing at the edge of the jungle was Pari Spiderkin. She wore a mask over the lower half of her face and carried a strange and oversized style of sling: the cord wrapped tightly in bright colors. In her other hand, she held a ball of spider silk and on her shoulder was a purple spider.
Slingers and spearmen alike got out of her way as she strolled onto the training ground. Whispers ran through the crowd.
Mugru -- smirking with satisfaction a moment before -- looked horrified.
“She shouldn’t pick up a spear,” whined Mugru to Pari, stepping back from Yim and the wild looking goblin.
Pari ignored him for the moment and stepped to Yim. She helped the other goblin get up, patting her shoulder.
“Good, good?” she asked.
Yim nodded, trying to wipe the mud off herself. A few other slingers came forward too -- offering headbands and other bits of cloth to help her clean up.
Pari turned to glare at Captain Mugru. Didi hummed angrily from her shoulder.
“She’s spiderborn!” said the captain, looking to left and right for support. The spearmen and slingers were still watching -- but they weren’t sympathetic. “She’s unlucky! She shouldn’t be near anyone!”
Mugru looked pleadingly towards the captain who’d tried to talk him down. The other captain stayed clear. Pari loaded her sling and started to swing it in a slow circle.
“Hmmm…” said Pari. “I was born under a spider moon too. But I’m not as unlucky as you.”