“Kimi, can you transform now?” Andrew asked as they ran.
“I think so,” Kimi replied. “Concentrate and let’s see.” He did as she asked and she began to glow and grew into the horse-sized arctic gryphon sheâ€™d been when he met her.
“Itâ€™s a good thing this is a big cave,” he said.
She gave a low growling laugh. “Yes,” she agreed. “It is. Climb on â€“ four legs are faster than two.”
He scrambled onto her back and she bounded after the spiders. The chase led them to a smaller cavern where the spiders had their nest.
He looked around and saw Karen bound to the wall with icy webbing. A larger spiderÂ â€“ almost the size of a small pony â€“ stood in front of her. It seemed to be berating the other spiders. That must be the leader. He hefted one of his knives and tested it for weight before throwing it at the spider. It arced through the air, glowing with the same pale blue light which surrounded him and bounced off its icy carapace. It flew back to his hand as if it were the most natural thing in the world, instead of falling to the ground. The spider turned to look at him and Kimi with its glittering multifaceted eyes. The other spiders scuttled to attack, but it threw out a leg to indicate that they should stop.
“Do not,” she said. At least Andrew assumed the spider was female from her voice. “I told you they were humans not alfer. This is the one for whom we have guarded the Ice Heart bracelet for all these years – and, more recently, the ice knives.” It sank to the icy floor in some sort of arachnid apology. “Forgive us please, ice warrior. My soldiers were overzealous and mistook you for ljos-alfer attempting to steal what we guard for the Core knows what reason. They and their svart-alfer kin have tried several times recently.” It twitched a leg towards where the several slender humanoid creatures were attached to the wall. Each wore fine mail shirts and a filigreed jewelled circlet. Only one of them was still alive and most of the dead ones looked like theyâ€™d been eaten. Given theÂ nature of spiders, he rather suspected they had.
The spider must have noted his reaction, because she continued, “Any who attempted to steal your treasures were mandated as our lawful prey, but we believe there is something wrong with this current situtaion. Weâ€™ve been questioning the more recent captives until they succumb, but have no answers yet. But you arenâ€™t thieves of course.” The spider twitched her leg again and slashed through the bonds that were holding Karen to the wall. She slumped bonelessly to the cavern floor with a weak cry. He sighed with relief because she was conscious.
He slid from Kimi’s back and stalked towards the spiders, knives in hand. They backed away from him allowing to reach his sister unopposed. He could sense Kimi maintaining a defensive pose behind him. Sheâ€™d attack the spiders if they made any aggressive moves. He knelt down by Karen, brushed her dark brown hair from her face and winced. Her skin was turning a pale bluish white and frost was forming on it. He glared at the spider who still stood nearby. “Will she be okay?” he demanded.
“Of course. Our venom does not kill. We like our food alive.â€ She clicked her mandibles. â€œKeep her warm and sheâ€™ll recover quickly.”
“Youâ€™re sure?” he asked as he gathered Karen in his arms and backed towards Kimi. He didnâ€™t trust the spiders enough to turn his back on them before he had to.
“Iâ€™m sure,” The spider said. “Sheâ€™ll come to no permanent harm, I assure you.”
Andrew glared at her and then glanced at Kimi. “Can you carry the both of us?” he asked as he loaded Karen onto the gryphonâ€™s back.
“Of course! Now if you wanted me to carry Lydia, too, I might have a problem,” Kimi said.
“Well get us the hell out of here!” He gave the spiders one more suspicious look. “Before these things decide they want to eat us after all.”
“My pleasure.” Kimi turned gracefully on the icy cavern floor and bounded towards the entrance at high speed.
Andrew concentrated on keeping Karen on Kimi’s back, since she seemed incapable of holding on. He looked back to see that the spiders were not pursuing them, then leaned over and murmured in her ear.
“Hang in there, Kaz, weâ€™ll be out where itâ€™s warm soon,” he promised. Karen just groaned in response but he knew sheâ€™d understood him.
Sure enough, daylight came into sight moments later and the sound of a fierce fight reached his ears.
â€œBrace yourself, Andrew,â€ Kimi said. As they emerged into the sunlight, she threw him and Karen clear and shot up into the sky to join the battle.