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Lifeweaver Chapter One

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I smiled as my arrow lodged in the goblin’s skull.
    It dropped to the arena’s sandy floor with a grunt, a lifeless heap of metallic armor. I notched a second arrow and drew, searching for more enemies. 
    Fortunately, I didn’t have to look hard. Hundreds of the ugly green creatures swarmed into the coliseum from all sides, completely surrounding me. Their snarls drowned out the cheers of the crowd, both of which were united in wishing for my gruesome death. The goblin horde paused about ten feet away, their disfigured faces sizing me up like a double bacon cheeseburger. But I wasn’t afraid. I had an ugly, hungry companion of my own.
My best friend, Henry Lee. 
    He surveyed our opponent’s rusty weapons - a smattering of knives, swords, and something that looked eerily like a human skull on a stick - and gave me a devilish grin.
    “Don’t say it,” I said. I could see his favorite Star Wars quote coming from a mile away.
    “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” 
    I groaned. “Do you have to say that every time? It’s getting old.” Henry had this thing for impressions. I tried to like them, but most times he sounded like a cross between a chimpanzee and a Muppet.
    “How about this?” He balled his hand and stuck it to his mouth like a microphone in Mission Control. “Houston, we have a problem.”
    “A little better,” I said. “But you’ve still got a hint of Kermit.” He glared at me and hefted his trident, a six-foot shaft of glowing bronze. Its reflection scattered through the stadium’s sandy floor, lighting a circle around him. “I hope you’re better at using that pointy stick than you are at impersonations.”
    “Oh you wait,” he said. “I’m about to open a can of buttwhooping all over these boogers.” He twirled the three-pronged weapon around like a ballerina with a baton. 
    I wasn’t so sure. ‘Those boogers’ outnumbered us about a hundred to one. We were surrounded. Trapped at the center of the arena, a football field sized circle surrounded by crusty stone walls. The seats above were filled with spectators. Although they hosted all sorts of tournaments here, the stadium was most commonly used for fights to the death - which happened to be one of my favorite pastimes. Henry and I had gotten out of some pretty tight squeezes in here, but this one might take the cake.
“What’s the battle plan?” I said. “The usual?”
     Henry winked. “You know it.”
    We stood back-to-back, Henry with his trident and me with my bow. As I raised it to a firing position, goosebumps prickled across my arms. This was the moment in every action movie where, despite overwhelming odds, the two devilishly handsome heroes make their final stand. That thrill was the sort of thing we lived for.
    I wasn’t disappointed.
    The goblins seemed to be waiting for our cue, so I got the ball rolling by taking three shots in rapid succession. All three found their mark. As their lifeless bodies fell to the sand, the remaining hundreds charged.
Once the floodgates were open, it was party time. I loosed arrow after arrow from the endless supply in my quiver, getting into a groove. Behind me, I heard the clang of Henry’s trident as he parried and lunged in a whirlwind of attacks. Every once in a while, I saw the bronze weapon’s reflection as it flicked overhead in a 360 spin. But with each fallen foe, five more took its place. 
Eventually, the swarm became too much. The goblins were reaching so close I could practically smell their breath before I shot them. “We’re in trouble over here,” I said. 
    “Speak for yourself,” Henry said. “I’m just getting started.” He pivoted in front of me, smooth as butter, and swept his trident outward, decapitating three goblins in one go. I side-stepped so we were once again back-to-back.
    The fancy move only stemmed the tide of goblins for a moment. Soon the enemies were closed in on all sides, bearing down on us with their tetanus-inducing weapons. My bow became useless, so I pulled the shield from beneath my quiver and crouched behind it. With Henry battling on the other side, I was relatively safe from being carved to pieces, but I was still in danger of being crushed to death from the hundred or so bodies pushing in on me. And my knife wasn’t going to be much help from the fetal position. 
Henry swirled his trident overhead like some sort of mythical hero. He did his best to protect the two of us, but he was barely staying alive himself. “You got any ideas?” He called as one of the skeleton-head wielding goblins thunked him on the helm.
    “Plan B?” I said.
    “I hate plan B.”
    “Do you have a choice?” 
    “Fair enough.”
I carefully drew another arrow from my quiver. I couldn’t afford to drop this one. The shaft was thicker than usual, packed with a powdery substance similar to gunpowder that, upon impact, would feed into the arrow’s spherical tip and explode. Anything within fifty feet of the detonation would be absolute toast. Or so I hoped - I’d been too scared to use one before.
I fitted the arrow to the bowstring as Henry opened up a space for me to take the shot. It cost him more than a couple scratches. I sighted straight at the sky, a cloudless blur of blue. From my vantage point, surrounded by a hundred bloodthirsty goblins, the beauty seemed to mock me. With a breath, I released the arrow.
Every single one of the goblins froze, shifting their gaze to the shaft rocketing skyward. Thankfully, their little pea-sized brains were too mesmerized to realize what was happening.
We took advantage of their momentary confusion. Henry let out a bellow of barbarian rage and charged through the unsuspecting goblin ranks. I followed close behind, taking advantage of the path he cut. We pushed as fast as we could, trying to put as much distance between us and ground zero. By my estimate we had about fifteen seconds before we really did turn into double bacon cheeseburgers. 
As Henry broke through the final goblin and into the open arena, the rest of our enemies began to flee as well. But it was too late. The arrow thudded into one of the unlucky schmucks and ignited, blowing the place to smithereens. Henry and I were picked up by the force of the blast and careened into the arena’s stone wall. We fell helplessly to the sand.
I half expected one of the remaining goblins to find us lying there and slit our throats, but none did. When I summoned the energy to reach my feet, there was a crater in the middle of the arena, littered with all sorts of goblin items - armor, swords, you name it. It seemed like we’d got ‘em all.
I helped Henry to his feet and we shared our super legit warrior celebration (fist bump). His skin now resembled a used tic-tac-toe board more than anything. At the first sign of life, the crowd began to boo again, throwing all sorts of rotten tomatoes and potato chip wrappers down at us. 
Henry spread his arms out wide like Maximus the gladiator and glared up at them. “Are you not entertained? If you want a piece of this, come and get it!”
    Almost on cue, a deep grating sound filled the arena. What sand was left in the newly created crater slipped downward as a trapdoor opened. By the sound of it, something big was being lifted onto the stage.
Now I had a bad feeling about this.
The first sight I got of the monster was its back - two red diamonds emblazoned like an hourglass on its black leathery skin. It took the shape of a ball, like it was trying to pass for the world’s largest ball of twine. I wasn’t sure what it was until it uncurled its eight long, hairy legs and lifted itself into the air. Its network of beady eyes locked right on us.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” Henry said. Without a glance sideways, he charged the monster, shouted his fierce Viking battle cry – ‘For Narnia!’ – and aimed the bronze trident forward like a lance.
    I didn’t follow him. In the time it took him to cross the patch of dirt to the creature’s hairy underside only one thought penetrated my brain. Spider.
    Henry slammed his trident into the black widow right where its heart should have been. But instead of the usual sound of flesh ripping, it sounded like he’d hit a brick wall. Henry was knocked back as his trident shattered like a broken window, littering the area around him with metal fragments.
    He was only dazed for a moment. In one motion, he unsheathed his two knives and twirled them in hand. He swung both arms back, slashing at the creature’s legs in a pair of sweeping swings. I’ll give him credit – the move would have looked really cool if he’d pulled it off. Unfortunately, both his knives also shattered on impact, showering the air with even more metal shards. Their remains mixed with the fragments of his trident, broken and useless on the ground. Whatever that thing’s skin was made of, we weren’t breaking it.
    The giant spider pinned Henry with two of its bristled legs. Henry kicked the air in a helpless attempt to gain purchase on the monster’s underside, but it was no use. He began to thrash violently as the Black Widow lowered its long hair pincers toward his torso.
    “Alex! Help!”
    I stared at the scene, as if watching from a thousand miles away. The spider used its legs to spin Henry like a top, wrapping his body in a cocoon of silk until he was a full-on burrito. It glued his mummified form to the ground and drew back, preparing to deal the final blow.
    I could still hear Henry’s muffled cries for help as the monster lifted its back leg and drove it through his heart. Before the spider could feast on his lifeless avatar, it faded from existence, leaving a pile of items at his feet. Henry was gone.
    And I was next. After finishing Henry off, Spider-zilla came right for me. I gazed unblinking at the creature’s giant mandibles. Drool oozed from its mouth, almost as if it was licking its lips. With each step of its crooked legs, I felt my heart beat faster.
    I couldn’t do it.

I ripped off the virtual reality headset, threw my controllers aside, and dropped to the shag carpeting of my mom’s basement. As I curled into a ball and scooted against the wall there was a dim realization that I was having a panic attack. I began to hyperventilate.
    Spiders. Why spiders?

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