Dusk was falling when he entered the sprawling town of Arachnia. The cobbled streets were dark, lit only by street lamps placed at every thirty feet. The gable roofed buildings, the outermost ones being residences and the innermost ones places of business, were all painted a dark gray and blood red flowers bloomed in the few window boxes he could see. The flag of Arachnia, a red hourglass on a black field, hung above every door.
The streets were empty as he wound his way to the heart of the town, his way lit by the dim street lamps and the pale light spilling from lit windows. There was a light mist in the air, blurring the edges of the lights. He pulled his worn dark brown cloak tightly around his long, lithe body and made sure his matching hat was pulled low to shadow his blue-gray eyes. He didn’t fear recognition, but should the queen of Arachnia see his eyes, she would recognize who he was.
He paused before the door of one of the buildings near the heart of the town. There was some loud noise coming from beyond the door that caught his attention. He glanced up at the sign hanging over the door. The name The Drunken Spider was written in a red spidery scrawl across the pristine white board and a spider hung from the tip of the board.
The traveler looked around the quiet town, noting now how the streets curved away from the town’s heart in eight different directions, much like a spider’s legs. He smiled to himself and pushed open the door of The Drunken Spider.
He was immediately barraged with lively music, laughing, yelling, and drinking of strong spirits. He gently closed the door, wondering at how quiet it could be outside and so loud inside. He silently made his way through the crowd, ignoring the patrons’ calls and women’s eyes, and sat on an empty bar stool between a dark haired girl with a hat pulled down to her brow and a very drunk old man.
A black garbed bartender, a young woman with red hair and black eyes, approached him.
“What’ll it be?” she asked in a loud, almost harsh voice, her eyes bored and impatient, one hand leaning against the bar and the other on her hip.
“Give him the malt liquor,” the girl beside him answered in an odd affected accent before he could open his mouth.
He turned to her and saw her smile. “You look like you could use it, traveler.”
He tipped his head to her in thanks as the bartender pushed a glass into his hand. He fumbled for his money pouch, but the girl was quicker once more.
“You don’t have to,” he said in a quiet voice.
“I insist,” she replied, turning to him. She jerked her head to an empty table in the corner behind her. “Let’s go talk, traveler…If you’re so inclined.”
In a split second, she had left her stool and was already winding through the crowd to the table, her silver cloak pulled tight around her slender body. He grabbed his glass and hurried after her. They sat across from each other and sipped their drinks in silence for a moment, waiting for the crowd to become particularly boisterous.
They didn’t have to wait long. One man loudly challenged another to a game of darts for the pleasure of spending the night with the woman hanging onto the challenged man’s arm. The challenge was loudly accepted and most of the bar patrons turned to the wall opposite the bar to watch the game unfold.
“Kali, what are you doing here?” the traveler questioned.
“Looking for you,” she replied, dropping her affected accent.
“How did you know I would come here?”
“I didn’t. I happened to be out walking and saw you pause outside. I recognized your gait, knew it was you, and slid in through the back door to meet you here. You never saw me.”
“Obviously,” the traveler snorted just as a low horn call echoed through the empty streets.
The bar went quiet and stayed that way as the game of darts was dropped and everyone, including the bartenders, filed out of The Drunken Spider. Kali froze and whirled away before the traveler could begin to rise. She was gone by the time he joined the crowd filtering out the door.
The traveler pushed his way to the front once he was out of the bar, which wasn’t difficult as everyone tried to not be in the front. Kali hadn’t mentioned anything about something like this, but then she had left before he could ask. He peered up and down the still empty street, now lined on both sides by the solemn and sober occupants of Arachnia. He could hear footsteps echoing in the distance, but couldn’t tell from which direction they came.
For a while, the traveler contented himself with observing the silent residents of Arachnia. But he grew increasingly curious about what the horn call meant and why everyone now stood along the street.
The footsteps grew louder and a large group of people rounded the corner. In the front was a solid wall of black. A handful of men and women dressed completely in black walked shoulder to shoulder. Behind them was a group of people draped in rich dark colors, each bearing a golden rod topped with a golden spider. Behind them was a woman with long black hair, a pale face, blood red lips, and dressed in flowing black robes edged in red. She was flanked by two men dressed as black knights, both bearing unsheathed swords. Behind the woman was file after file of soldiers in silver and black.
He was staring intently at the black haired woman just as she turned her eyes on him. When she neared him, she tapped the knight to her left and nodded in the traveler’s direction. The knight nodded and detoured over to the traveler, halting the procession, and the woman came to stand right in front of him as the crowd withdrew as far as they could.
“Who are you?” she asked softly.
He stared into her dark violet eyes, careful to shield his own. “I am a traveler,” he replied, just as softly.
Her red lips curled into a small smile. “And what may I call you?”
“I am Ebony. The Black Widow, queen of Arachnia.”
“It is an honor, my lady,” the traveler replied, deeply bowing his head to her.
“You are a necromancer, Traveler.” She didn’t ask so much as state. “I can tell by the twisted ring of black and white you wear.”
He held out his right hand, where the ring in question circles his middle finger. “I am a sorcerer, madam, but I am best at necromancy.”
“And you are able to bring spirits to our realm of the living.”
“I am,” he confirmed
“I want to employ you, Traveler. I have many enemies and, unfortunately, I married my torture-master and killed him two days later. It is the way of black widows, I’m sure you know. That unfortunate man’s death now leaves me in a quandary. My prison guards have no skill at torture. But a necromancer…Ah, the evils a necromancer could bring back to life. It will be enough to torture a prisoner’s mind. Will you accept this position, Traveler?”
He paused for only a split second. He lifted his shadowed eyes to meet her violet irises and stared hard and intently into them, recognizing the soul of a true black widow, and knowing this was his one chance at revenge.