Three more spider legs emerged and pulled a face clustered with glowing purple eyes into our world. Its chelicerae and fangs were as tall as my legs. The rest of the legs and abdomen tore through the portal. Three giant, rolling eyes bulged from its back, and above them segmented tentacles tipped with blade-like claws were poised to strike. The creature stayed on the verge of the Rift, crouched and coiled, all of its eyes busy.
I found my voice: “The Rift has giant spiders?”
“I assume so,” the Corrupted Disciple said. “But this monstrosity used to be one of Arachna’s spiderlings.”
“All grown up now, with spiderlings of its own. I’d hate to see what kind of carnage their bites cause.”
The Riftspawn took a step forward, its claws scarring the volcanic rock.
I said, “Can you kill it?”
“By myself? Unlikely.”
The Rift Arachna seemed to focus on us. Its fangs began to drip with some horrendous toxin as the legs thudded forward.
My voice rose. “So we run?”
Jaru laughed. “You can run. I’ll use this.” He produced another Homecoming Stone. “I’m afraid you won’t be coming with me this time. This Colloquy is over. A shame. Your Legion may not know about this until it’s much too late.”
The Rift Arachna was ten paces away. Shards of rock from its steps peppered my tunic. I prayed it would kill me on this side of the portal, for Sol certainly has no dominion over souls within the Great Rift. As I closed my eyes, I thought the net appearing above the monster was its web, spun and shot to envelop me for the spider’s consumption. But the net fell upon the Riftspawn, entangled it, grew taught and yanked it backward.
The man and beast at the other end of the net roared through the portal into Newerth and dragged the Rift Arachna away from me, across the jagged stones, its eight legs struggling within the trap. The warrior holding the net seemed to be a human man, adorned in armor bristling with spikes, fashioned after those sprouting from the strange creature he rode. This four-legged ferocity had to have been made within the Great Rift—leathery skin with bright blue stripes, a tail tipped with whipping tendrils, tusks protruding from legs and shoulders and its massive plated head, which was wrapped in cords like a primitive halter. The man pulled these left and right, steering the beast across the slope with the Rift Arachna slewing behind.
He cut in a tight arc and stampeded toward us. I say us, because Jaru the Corrupted Disciple had not activated his Homecoming Stone. He stood next to me, the Stone forgotten in his palm, his mouth hanging as wide as mine. The rider’s profile was reminiscent of my Legion’s courageous Rampage and the mighty Horatio—could this be another of the soldiers Jaru spoke of, snatched from Newerth into the Great Rift and forever altered?
The rider carried a spiked mace large enough to smash the pair of us with one blow. He pulled the reins with one hand and brought the beast to a skidding halt a few paces away. He stared down at us from within his horned helm while the Rift Arachna fought to free itself from the net. Both he and the creature he rode seemed irritated by the sunlight, weak as it was, filtered through the volcanic smoke and stalagnight shroud.
“Is this the only one?” he said. His voice was guttural, touched with a strange accent. He pointed the mace at me. “Well?”
“It is,” I managed.
“More are coming,” the warrior said. “Many more.”
Jaru gathered himself. “More like these spider creatures?”
“Of all kinds. Those who have been corrupted by the Rift, like this foul thing, and those like me, members of the Hunter’s Guild, who stalk and kill them. The battlefield is shifting here, to Newerth, and it dwarfs your petty squabbles. Are you prepared?”
The Riftspawn tore free from the net and crouched upon the shredded remains, its chelicerae quivering. The bulging eyes on its back rolled and fixed upon the Hunter, who turned his mount to confront the grotesque Rift Arachna.
As they charged each other, Jaru the Corrupted Disciple and I both knew the answer to the Hunter’s question.
We were not prepared.