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I wrote this as an exercise (prompted by a couple key words, including "arachnid"), and somehow landed in Mystara. I doubt it will ever go anywhere, and it was written for my own experimentation/entertainment. However, it seemed worth sharing, or at least the lore.
In principle, not communicated well in the story, part of the background is that sometimes aranaea end up with amnesia and lose themselves in the mask -- and Immortals may send guides to "rescue" such Lost Ones. In this case, my notes indicate I pegged Shaibuth for this role. I don't have my other material to hand, so I can't remember if I plucked the overall idea from the writeup in Dragon or not, but maybe there's an adventure seed (or background) buried here somewhere.
(I'm not looking for writing feedback (and if one feels compelled to deliver some, there's a private message function) -- I just wanted to share the realization of a snippet of an idea if anyone wanted to play with it.)
"Daroth"by Mike Phillips
A small village sat in a clearing in the Wildwoods. This great forest formed most of the north and west of the Kingdom of Herath. While the eastern areas of Herath were civilized, comprised of farmland surrounding towns and cities, the remaining areas of the kingdom, like this one, were still heavily forested. The nation was divided in two around the dark and mysterious Forest of the Magus, the forbidden place from which Herath was ruled. Everything south and east of there was cultivated, civilized, while everything north and west was still untamed and forested. Those areas were known far and wide as the Wildwoods.
The small village in the clearing had no real name. The locals simply called it "the village", and travelers rarely considered it a significant enough waypoint to bother with a name for reference. It was more like a small collection of houses than a proper settlement. The handful of inhabitants were all human, but there were known to be a few elves in the woods nearby.
Not too far from the village was a small, solitary dwelling. It was a modest place, a wooden hut with a thatched roof. A single door allowed entrance, and two windows looked back out on the woods. A small garden provided the single inhabitant with much of his food, and the occasional hunt provided the rest. This was where Daroth lived.
He was blond, a little unusual for a human in this part of the world where most were duskier. His features were finely traced, with a hint of sharpness to his nose and cheekbones. His skin was paler than most, and his eyes were a light blue. His ears had the barest hint of a point, but not enough to mark him as truly half-elven.
Daroth had been found as a young child, wandering in the forest with no memory and no name. A woodsman from the village had taken him in and raised him. However, he had died when Daroth was still in his early teens, and Daroth had lived off the woods ever since.
It was during this lonely time that an elf met Daroth in the woods one day. At first, the teen was skittish. Although he had heard tell of elves, he had never seen one. The elf was clad in green and silver, and his hair was so pale blond that it appeared white in the shade of the trees and under the brim of his hat.
The elf spoke in an almost musical voice. "Fear not," he said as he smiled. "I know that you are once again alone, and I was sent to guide you."
"I do not fear you, but I have already been taught how to live in these woods."
The elf laughed. "Yes, you have. However, there is more you still need to be shown.". He bowed, doffing his hat with a grand flourish and sending his light hair flying in the process. What sunlight reached the forest floor transformed the locks of hair into a bright halo surrounding the elf's face. "I am Llanowyl, and I hope you will accept what I have to teach you."
Although Daroth was slow to trust the elf, their rapport grew. Llanowyl showed him how nature was intertwined in the woods, and Daroth learned much more about how the fauna and flora were interconnected. Daroth came to see the forest as something to live with and within, no longer merely a resource to be harvested.
As Daroth learned these things, the elf began to leave him on his own more and more. It was during one of these absences that tragedy struck.
Daroth was tracking a doe and her fawns when he ran across the tracks of the strangers. He had learned enough woodcraft to be able to read the animals and plants, and he had done enough tracking to be familiar with the prints left by the village's inhabitants. The footsteps of these strangers, though, were new. Not only was the outline of the footwear different from any he had seen -- sharp corners rather than the barely-shaped outline of the rude boots worn by the folk of the village -- but the gait was also something new.
At first, Daroth thought that they were rakasta from Bellayne, far to the east. However, Llanowyl's explanation of how the cat-folk walked did not match the signs he saw on the ground. Furthermore, the rakasta ranged this far only on the hunt, and there were no indications that these strangers were hunting.
Daroth read the tracks of four strangers, and he followed their course through the woods. The signs meandered, nearly invisible over rocks here but broken vegetation that way. After some time, Daroth realized that the nearly undirected tracks were actually headed on the general direction of the village.
The woods grew silent as he approached the village. Something was wrong, the woods were never silent. Countless insects and birds should have been filling the background with their calls, but now there was nothing. The tracks grew more purposeful, and Daroth began to notice conical divots around the footprints. The prints became less distinct, and the divots became more pronounced until there were only the divots to follow.
One last bend in the path, and he stood at the edge of the clearing. The village was still there, and smoke rose from the chimneys of some of the houses, but there was no other movement. Daroth was filled with a sense of foreboding, instinctually guessing at what he would find.
The air was still, and nothing stirred. The strange tracks which had replaced the man-sized boots ranged everywhere, and had multiplied. Either the things he now tracked had increased their number, or they had many more limbs with which to move.
Daroth approached the nearest house. As he drew near, he noticed additional signs. There were rusty spots on the wall and on the ground near the house. Just then, a slight breeze shifted the air, and he caught a familiar smell, the smell of decay barely begun.
Instinctively, Daroth knew what he would find before he found it, but he was compelled to look regardless. As he rounded the corner of the dwelling and saw the front entrance, he saw a reddish pile carelessly heaped against the door. The door itself was slightly ajar, and prevented from closing by whatever lay at its base.
Daroth saw those strange tracks again, etched in red as they led though the heap. He nearly retched when he realized that it was the man who had once lived in this house, or at least what remained of him after something had feasted upon him. The remains were piled like so much meat. Daroth turned away, sickened by the sight and the pain which had been inflicted.
A sudden gust of wind flung the door open, and the smell which blew forth told Daroth that the death on the doorstep was representative of what lay within. He turned away in disgust, and attempted to avert his eyes from the horror around him. However, even that brief motion gave a quick survey of the devastation wreaked on the village and its inhabitants.
Daroth's training in tracking picked up a few signs from the grotesque sights around him, and the back of his mind registered that whatever attacked the village had done so swiftly and without remorse. Even his brief cataloguing of the events which had transpired showed that whatever was done. Here was both death and feasting.
And then he noticed the slight scratching and crunching sound in the distance. Knowing full well that he should run, he was nevertheless drawn to the sound.
Daroth pulled his bow off of his back and nocked an arrow. Now armed, he crouched slightly as he moved forward. Breaking the outline of the shadows a few houses ahead was a monstrous outline, multi-legged and squat. With a start, Daroth realized that it was a spider -- but a spider larger than anything he had ever seen before. It was easily the height of a man, and it was feasting on the remains of one of the villagers.
The young man let out a cry and let loose with his arrow. The hasty shot flew wide of the mark, and the spider paused in the middle of its actions. It chattered, and Daroth caught sight of similar movement from other nearby houses. Realizing he was outnumbered, he fled.
As he ran into the forest, Daroth could hear skittering and chittering behind him. Unused to racing with this speed, he was not able to dodge the branches as well as he usually could. The leaves and branches grasped at him as he ran by. He could feel the monsters closing in from behind him.
Daroth tapped something deep within and put on a burst of speed. The branches of the trees continued to whip at him as he raced past. In his panic, he lost track of his exact location, and a clearing came upon him unexpectedly. The bushes just at the edge slowed him down and caused him to stumble for a moment. Recovering his balance, he tripped over the roots of the last tree before the opening in the forest cover.
It took mere seconds for the chittering sounds to overtake him, and he finally saw the creatures in full. They were spiders, giant spiders larger than anything Daroth had ever seen before, spiders fully the size of men!
In the moment that he spotted the gigantic spiders, a haziness ate at the edges of his vision. The woods began blurring and multiplying, and pain coursed through his skull, a blinding headache unlike anything he had ever previously experienced. The woods at the edge of the clearing blurred in front of him as they multiplied. One copy, two copies, four copies...
No longer fully in control of his actions, Daroth fell to his knees. He spread his arms to catch his fall, but stretched forth four bristly, sharp-ended limbs instead.
"Impossible! I'm one of them!" he screamed in the vaults of his mind. He realized the ground was damp beneath him, and a fortuitous puddle lay between his splayed limbs, cushioning his bulbous abdomen as he fell. Through increasingly blurred and distorted vision, he could see his reflection and the horror he was becoming.
The advancing spiders halted as they saw the change come upon him, and they began chittering among themselves. To his amazement, Daroth realized that he could understand them.
"This one is an aranaea, like us?"
"His presence was not known!"
"And yet, here he is!"
"There were no signs that this is his hunting ground."
"And he fled, as if he knew us not! Another Lost One?"
"Perhaps. We must inform the Council..."
Daroth continued to feel himself change as their discussion concluded, and they retreated into the woods. He sensed that they were gone, and yet there was still another presence. Through his pain and disorientation, he tried to scan the woods, but the affect on his vision was simply too great. Disjointed images were coming to him, with everything he tried to see appearing many times -- blurred, repeated, and overlapping. And yet, he knew he was not alone.
He stood still, waiting, holding himself in readiness for whatever horror would come next, knowing that without full control of this unfamiliar body, there was little he could do to defend himself. The presence, subtle though it was, perhaps detected by senses he had never consciously used before, stayed at a distance.
As the minutes dragged on, Daroth's panic began to recede, and the full horror hit him. The village he knew best, where almost everyone he knew lived -- no, had lived -- had been destroyed. His life was in tatters, and he was more alone than he had ever been before. The horror of all those he knew, gutted, slaughter, was heavy enough of a memory, but to find out he was like those who perpetrated this atrocity...
Daroth felt a vibration in the air around him. He looked around, still adjusting to the changes in his senses. Eventually, the many images resolved enough for him to pick a shadow out from the woods behind it.
He had been correct, he was not alone.
The buzzing continued, slowly resolving itself into tantalizing hints of other sounds. Daroth focused his many eyes on the shadow, and the sounds slowly began to make sense.
Words. Familiar words, but the sensation was still quite different.
Not just words, but a name. His name.
"Daroth!" His name was repeated, slowly, over and over. Not sure how to respond, he tried to speak, and the air around him was filled with chittering sounds. He backed away a little while he pondered the situation.
The figure continued to repeat his name, slowly but insistently. As Daroth focused, he was able to hear more and more clearly. The word carried a familiar cadence...
Daroth strained to extract meaning form the many duplicates swimming in front of his eyes. The effort cost him a headache, but finally he resolved the shadowy outlines. It was indeed his mentor, though both his look and the sound of his voice were distorted by the changes which had warped Daroth's body.
It reminded Daroth of an earlier event, a few years before, when he had chanced upon the bodies of several slain men. The scene of carnage was along the northern edge of the woods in which Daroth dwelt.
"What a horrible sight!" the young man had exclaimed.
"It is," Llanowyl had replied, "but not that unusual in disputed territory, like this place."
"What evil would do this?"
"Perhaps other men, protecting their own; perhaps bandits seeking treasures; perhaps the inhabitants of the nearby grasslands, fearful of an incursion."
"Is it not an evil act?"
"Not necessarily -- and even if the act itself is, the being which committed it may not be." Llanowyl had given Daroth a piercing look as he spoke, a look which meant little at the time but bore more meaning now. "Even if the being had such tendencies, they can be fought, but only if such a being has the strength to resist the urges."
Daroth had not fully understood then, but now he realized that the elf had known what darkness lurked within him. Daroth settled to the ground as he contemplated the lesson of so long ago, idly munching on a nearby stick as he reminisced.
Daroth pushed it from his mandibles, and he drew back in horror as he realized it was a leg... a leg clad in green... an elven leg...
The leg of the very elf who, years before, had tried to teach him to overcome these urges...