The Woods

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A very short story about a man hired as a guide through the woods. And some spiders.

Submitted: March 19, 2015

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Submitted: March 19, 2015

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"How many of them could come," he asked, knowing the response he always received. Three to five, a max of ten, nothing out of the ordinary and nothing he couldn't handle. There were rumors circulating that there was some other creature roaming the forest, but spiders were the realistic concern. A man without soldiers' aid would have no chance against more than one of them, but a skilled warrior could easily dispatch ten or more. A man unskilled with a sword or a squire who had taken up his first short sword could dispatch the same amount, depending on their numbers. Joff had calculated this out while watching his brethren fall in battle as the spiders overwhelmed them, before he would pick up his sword and finish off the small horde.  
Joff was an unmatched soldier in his own eyes, but this was due to his skill at cutting down three or four injured spiders at a time after they had been wounded, or they had been slowed by a quick bite of their last meal. He was not a true warrior, but  coward that hid behind the number of opponents he could slay, no matter the circumstances under which they had been slain.  
And so he lived his life, without ever succumbing to the venom or having so much as a scratch on him after battle. OF course this was because he his under the corpses of those he swore to protect, studying the habits of the eight legged beasts. When he felt that he could safely run or cut a few down, he would roll out from under the body being devoured on top of him and make his move quickly. Fight or flight was an easy decision for a coward, though it would be unfair to say he could not hold his own in a short fight.  
Upon his return to the town he would boast about his victory, how many spiders he had slain, and the safe passage of those who had hired him. Joff used to have a strict policy regarding his fee being paid up front, but he found as he became slightly more skilled he could loot the money off the bodies left, and in some cases cut open the spiders gut to find the gems he was promised. No man would venture through the forest alone, and it was understood that no men came back to the valley after they had left. The journey through the forest was a perilous one, and the valley was simply a portal from Al Kahhass to Fianli. 
Joff would take jobs with merchants now, after he had escorted a high profile man and his two young children he had to fight off too many questions about their sudden disappearance. Ten years ago Joff should have been beheaded, but lies caved the grounds on which the suspicions were held. From there on out he only asked to accompany poor merchants or young men who desperately held on to their heirlooms, hoping to make a name for themselves in Fianli. It was easy for Joff to boast his strength, as his false reputation had the valley dwellers constantly vouch for his skills. To most of them, Joff was the only man who could go through the forest and return safely time and again, which no battle scars or venom in his veins. In truth Joff had never been more than a quarter through the forest.  
And so Joff asked a strange woman and her male companion if they needed an escort, and after hearing the tales of his strength, they agreed to hire The Great Hunter Joff. He asked for no money, only keeping his eyes on the necklace around her neck, lined with rubies and sapphire. What he did with his treasures were a mystery, as no merchant in town would buy the things they knew he had stolen. Of course Joff mostly accepted coin, but there were a few times he wanted something more, perhaps a trinket to keep as a memento of his "noble deeds". Joff had never killed a man, he was too weak, but he had cost more lives than any other in the valley. 
The trio set off at noon, as his tradition was. This way Joff could make it back to the tavern by nightfall, eat a meal and speak of his deeds, and use the remaining coin in his pocket to buy a whore for the night. His process would repeat in the morning, and so this was how he lived his life. The trail was empty, save for a few stragglers coming the opposite direction. A one way trip was not an impossible task, but to go there and back again was unheard of, and revered if it happened more than once. In most groups without a keeper such as Joff to ensure each person was dead, it was common for one or two of the members to escape and arrive broken and bruised, often with venom in their veins, but they would ultimately survive at the cost of their friends, family, and more often than not their children. No child had ever made it through the forest as the spiders could sense their sweet meat and find it insatiable, targeting them first. It was strictly taboo in the valley to take children along the path, unless of course they were being escorted by Joff. 
The path opened and they came to a clearing, the calm of the trees around them was a welcome sight for the woman, and she sat down to begin feeling the energy of the earth. Joff had seen some like her before, a shaman couldn't describe what they did, but to call her a sorceress would be far too respectful. They simply felt the pull of the world, and communicated with its creatures, though their kind words fell to deaf ears when it came to the spiders. Joff looked for his marks, and from the familiarity of the trees surrounding him he knew the next clearing would be about a mile up. The spiders would come out, and he could observe them. The man was about the same size as him, so when he fell Joff planned to use his body as a cover while the woman would fend for herself. He would keep his eyes on the necklace. 
The winds blew gently against them, creating a quite rattling from the leaves, and providing a simple song for their journey as the trees solemnly moved their arms in unison. The scamper of paws could be heard in the distance. Other beasts lived in the wilds of the forest, and they had no qualms the spiders. As it had worked out, and as Joff had observed, the beasts of the forest had no taste for human blood or that of the spiders, so they ignored the passing parties. The spiders had no taste for the beasts and no fear of their strength, but almost exclusively ate human flesh. How the entire species survived on this was a mystery, but Joff had observed the spiders eating each other from time to time. It was not a sure answer however, as they have been asserting dominance, or trying to get a taste of the flesh still inside another spider.  
The second clearing approached, and Joff tried to hide his fatigue, he was incredibly slow, which he attributed to his great sword. Had he been escorting anyone but peasants, they would have recognized he could barely lift his sword and wasn't in any physical condition to make such a trek. There was a faint rumble in the distance. 
The first spider revealed its leg, and it wrapped itself around the tree to pull forward and place the rest of its appendages on the ground around the group. A spider was nearly the size of two humans in height, and three in width. Such a large opponent would have been especially menacing, but a circular cut with a double edged sword would lob off their legs, rendering them useless. It was only stepping out from under them in time that remained, and most people, including Joff, could do this with ease. Spiders were silent though, and the element of surprise was a very real threat. 
The spider moved closer to the woman and began to inspect her, each of its eyes seemed to lay on her and it moved near. The man shouted for Joff to help but he stepped back to observe the spider taking his last meal. The spider reared and turned as quick as it could, at a speed Joff had never seen one move. It turned again, completing its 360 degree turn and slammed down its legs, before it started pounding them down. it leapt forward and landed close to Joff each leg hitting the ground. Joff counted each thud, six, seven, but was pushed back with the eighth, falling to the ground. The eigth leg never touched the ground, but instead bluntly pushed itself into Joff's stomach, crudely ripping a hole through him the size only three claymores could produce, had they all been pushed into him at once. He was not so lucky as to have wounds with the clean cuts of a blade.  
The spider pulled up its leg as though it had inconvenienced itself, Joff looked into its small eyes and prepared himself for what he had seen countless times. The spider had no interest in this meal, and had disappeared into the forest before he could blink, leaving Joff bleeding and screaming with the last of his strength. He didn't understand. He was scared. The rumble began to become louder, and the woman looked over at him. Her face was white.  
Three more spiders suddenly approached, inspected the scene, and quickly disappeared into the forest in the direction of the valley. The rumbling was unbearable now, branches fell from the sky, the dust of the earth was slowly moving ever higher and the leaves began to form a thick layer over the ground. Joff, with one of his final thoughts, remembered the woman had some sense of what was happening. He spit the blood out of his mouth as best he could, and before his throat filled again he managed to spew the words: "how many spiders?" The woman looked at him, her face still white, her eyes had begun to shake, but in no comparison to the way her hands were convulsing. The man behind her fell to his knees. 
"There are no more spiders." The words came out of her mouth but Joff could not comprehend them. What could she have meant, he thought, of course there were more spiders, there were always more spiders. They were the only menace he had ever known. "There are no more spiders." She said it again as if she had seen the confusion on is face, and she was trying to come to terms with the strange fact herself. "There are no more spiders." 
The ground shook more and more violently and her convulsions began to match as she tried to read what was coming. Something large, perhaps the beast that they had been warned of before setting out. The man set out in the direction of Fianli after gathering his strength and courage to stand again. The woman looked walked over to Joff and began speaking, "the spiders are all dead, and there are no more beasts in the forest," her voice was shaking, "there was a great beast here once, larger and more terrifying than any other, but it too has now died. In less than an hour. The entire forest has been cleared of living things." The trees now looked as though they had all died, and the ground was littered with leaves and branches. The sky was filled with the twisted, naked arms of the trees as if they had cried out in agony one last time before they were frozen in place in a cruel ultimatum. 
Joff felt his leg grow warm as the fear settled in and he wet himself. This was the end for him too. He hadn't thought it would go like this, there was nothing left of the world he had known. In less than an hour everything he had ever known had collapsed and died. His sins were nothing now. The fear went away as reality set in. This was it. He was going to die. There was nothing he, or anyone else could do about it. He was going to die. The money had meant nothing. His life had meant nothing. Everything he had done meant nothing. The people he met didn't imagine that their good friend Joff was laying blood-soaked with a hole in his stomach in the now dead forest, laying in a pool of his own piss and filth. Yet here he was. Everything in his life had led up to this point, as if he was only meant to see what the world would turn in to.  
The woman looked down again and whispered that there was life in the forest again, moving closer, Joff couldn't hardly focus, the light was closing in, there were rushes of blood to his head, the life was moving through the forest, the night was drawing near, "how many approach?" he whispered.  
"Hundreds." He felt confused as the last bit of life was about to leave his body, until her voice broke and cracked as she tried to speak again. "Hundreds of thousands." 


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