Chad hefted himself over the final ledge, heaved his weight up and over, until he could flop his chest to the ground, and sort of wiggle the rest of the way. He wore lightweight armor, which seemed like it would make going up a mountain easy, but then he remembered steep mountain hikes weren’t easy in jeans, let alone metal.
“How’s it goin’?” Wanda’s disembodied voice came from the magic mirror in Chad’s heavy pack.
“Geez… us… I need… a minute… fuck…” Chad panted.
“You need to work out more.” Wanda commented.
“Thank you, Wanda!” Chad exclaimed. He struggled to his knees, and then gathered the strength to get to his feet. He could see the carved stone entrance of the ancient cave. Almost there. They were so close to home. He was exhausted and his heart pounded in his ears between ragged breaths. He thought he’d be used to physical activity since he played football and track back home, but it was nothing compared to long walks interrupted by dumb animal murder. Speaking of which… He heard the shuffle of movement in front of him, squinted to look for the source of the noise, saw nothing, and was knocked on his back.
It was like he got hit by a car. The wind was knocked out of him and he wanted to cry. He knew what it was. A chameleon-goat, one of those weird camouflaged mountain-goat lizards. They weren’t particularly vicious, but they were territorial, and no one knew where their territory was, because they were always goddamn invisible.
Well, not 100 percent invisible, once you knew what to look for, you could see it a lot better, like Predator. He turned to look at the ground and saw dirt over transparent hooves clopping towards him. The shimmer was faint, but he could make it out.
“Okay, goatie, let me get back up.” Chad rolled himself back and forth a little to gain momentum. By the time he got onto his side, hooves smacked him onto his back, and pressed him down.
He was in trouble now. He dreaded the next part and struggled pointlessly under the chameleon-goat’s weight. He reached for his dagger but the armor restricted his movements.
“You want I should help?” Wanda asked.
“No! It’s a goat, that’d be like using Meteor on a Slime.” Chad said, tried to get up again, and failed. What looked like a mass of pink bubblegum ejected from midair and smashed into his face. He was treated to a sticky, slimy, tongue bath. This was the part he dreaded. It smelled like a mixture of rotting meat and skunk spray. Drool dripped down his face when the tongue retracted. Chad spit saliva out of his mouth and blinked it out of his eyes. He could see the bearded leathery face of the goat, and the strange cone eyes that darted in separate directions. The goat didn’t exactly have a color, it was kind of a silvery translucent mirage.
The chameleon-goat bleated spittle at him.
“I get it! I’ll go!” He finally rolled onto his side enough to tip the creature off.
“Blaaaaaah!” The chameleon-goat bleated again, stumbled off, and kicked up dirt. Chad tried to track it with his eyes. With a final burst of strength, he got to his feet, and struggled to pull the foot-long pole device from his pack. He grasped it, but his knuckles brushed past Wanda’s mirror, and it was like touching ice. He flinched and the collapsed spear flew out of his grip. It bounced away and telescoped open near the creature. It turned silvery visible in surprise, ran blindly into Chad, and Chad fell forward this time. When he hit the ground, his forearm snapped the creature’s neck, and it started twitching abnormally.
“Oh, no, oh, I’m sorry.” Chad stood back up, while he watched the poor creature struggle. It’s fur and skin bloomed shades of green, brown, tan, and gray, like a bad art project.
“Better finish it off.” Wanda suggested.
Chad sighed. He knew it was best to put it out of its misery.
“’Cause I don’t know if you’ll get the experience if you kill it by accident.” Wanda added.
“Thanks, bae.” Chad went to his spear and picked it up. Before he could stab the creature, a giant black hairy leg extended from his pack, and stabbed the goat’s head. Chad swallowed as a second equally large black leg sprout into reality on his other side, and small three fingered claws on the end of the spider legs gripped the carcass and pulled it towards Chad’s face. He held up the spear to block the disgusting goat before it touched his body.
“Come one.” Wanda urged. “I’m hungry.”
She apparently fed through him and he was sick of it. When he chose to revive her as a spider-summon-goddess-thing, he thought that she’d be like Spider-man instead of a giant half-spider demon. Now he was stuck in a stupid pact and part of their vow was warm blood. Even before she became a giant spider, he never planned on marrying her, but now they were trapped in a horrific symbiotic relationship to survive.
“Can I cook it this time? This one might taste good if it was cooked.” Chad insisted.
“Open up…” He heard her insist. A human hand slid out from his pack, pressed against the back of his head, and gingerly tried to shove his face into it.
He held his breath and dug in. He drank from the leaking vein Wanda had opened for him, like the worst Capri-sun. It tasted like dirt, fish, and pennies. The blood was maroon, and smeared all over his lips, nose, and chin. He started to dry heave and turned his head away to get some air.
“More!” Wanda insisted and smashed his face into the goat like it was a wedding cake. Chad wanted to cry, and inhaled some wet dog smelling hair. After pausing a few times to dry heave, he managed to get the liquid down, and Wanda let the goat drop. He heard her make weird clicks, something he thought meant “happy” or “pleasure”.
He tried to smear the blood off his face and spat out light maroon saliva until his mouth no longer had moisture. His stomach was queasy, but his strength returned. He refocused on the mossy carved entrance of the cave. There was a message in a mystical language he couldn’t understand. They looked like normal letters, but the top spelled out Achtung. Probably something in Elvish.
He took a deck of cards from his pocket that kept track of his skills and abilities. Each card automatically updated with his stats and it helped remind him how do some of the more difficult magics. He flipped through them, found his webbing ability, and the summon conditions. He memorized it and walked into the cave.
It smelled like mold and dead animals. The cave floor was smooth, and his boots made a metallic echo as he walked towards the inner chamber.
“Let’s get out of here. I am super tired of this world.” Chad muttered.
“Aww, was football less stressful?” Wanda asked. Chad pursed his lips and refused to show how angry the comment made him. He reached into his belt pouch and took out a glass vial with a small invasive species of fairy. He pressed a button down on the lid, crushed the small creature into a pasty glow, shook the vial, and it glowed brighter, like the worst glowstick. He thought he heard a tiny scream but tried not to think about it. Dead fairies disintegrated into a sparkling dust, and people realized they could use this to produce a light that lasted up to a week. Chad originally asked for a flashlight, but the shopkeeper didn’t seem to know what that was.
He walked down the corridor and ducked under webs with varied success. He continued until he saw the faint glow of the entrance to the inner sanctum and stopped at the wooden frame of the door.
He called up his personal webs that emerged from his fingertips. He stepped inside, and pressed his index finger against the doorframe, sticking the silk.
The sanctum was a library. He was surprised, he thought it’d be some sort of dank cave, but it reminded him of the Beast’s library from Beauty and the Beast, with three stories of shelves and an ascending system of ladders and catwalks. Torches with blue flames cast flickering shadows around the room. Towards the center was a patient, pale, white haired figure in a crisp black suit. He looked like a sort of modern-day Death. Lord Gaunt. He sat on a large black armchair and read from a large tome. A side table next to him was filled with a stack of books, a goblet, and a bottle of wine. To his right was a long stone table with two black wood chairs and a chess game set up.
Lord Gaunt closed the book and looked up. He gave Chad a chilling smile.
“Ah. A child.” He pressed the tips of his boney fingers together and leaned forward.
Chad walked the near invisible string from the wall, pulling thread out of the tip of his finger. It was like someone was tugging out a stitch and it was rather uncomfortable. Chad pushed his finger against another point on a bookshelf to create a place to continue the circle. They watched each other. Chad made slow movements around the perimeter of the room, as he dragging his index finger along, lookin’ like a weirdo. After three minutes of this, Chad nearly came back to his starting point, and the man moved.
There was a flicker and he was suddenly in front of Chad. A breeze buffeted his face from the speed.
“Oh no, that’s fast.” Wanda said unhelpfully.
Before Chad could finish, the man grabbed Chad by the throat, and picked him off his feet. Chad clung to the man’s hands, unable to do anything against the much stronger man. There was a blur of motion, and Chad’s butt slammed into one of the black wood chairs. The chess pieces on the table wobbled and nearly fell, but Lord Gaunt’s hands flew out in a blur of motion and replaced all the pieces before they could topple. Chad was nauseous from the trip and dry heaved a little.
“Knock that off, child, we’re playing chess.” Gaunt said.
“No, I hate chess.” Chad moaned. He rubbed his throat and coughed.
“Were you going to destroy me with a summons? Was that it?” He asked with mild amusement.
“Uh, yeah, I would have kicked your ass.” Chad said hoarsely with confidence.
“I’m not the sort of person you ‘fight’ though. That’s why I have the game set up, to give you a fighting chance. Mowing down insects isn’t challenging or exciting.”
“Okay, hear me out. Let me do the summons thing and I will be happy and win.”
“Child, there’s no spell or creature that can fight me, I do want you to understand that.” He waved his hand over the chessboard. “With this, you have a chance.”
Chad laughed. “I’d like to not to. When my brother told me the horse moved in an ‘L’, I flipped the board up, and punched him in the dick. That’s the level of skill we’re talkin’.”
“And your plan would have worked?” Lord Gaunt smiled.
“Yeah, easy.” Chad said.
Lord Gaunt extended his hand and smiled. “By all means.”
Chad got up, and half-jogged back to where he left the last thread. He took his pack off, put it on the ground, opened the flap, fished for the correct vial, placed this and his cards next to the pack, and then went to the wall to complete the circle.
The threads started to glow when connected, and Wanda’s mirror rose from the pack. It shuddered, struggled into the air, and then shattered with a loud crack. It left a jagged black void in midair and Wanda crawled out, spider leg first. From the waist up she was a topless tan teenage girl with small breasts and black hair, but below this was the crimson hourglass patterned abdomen and hairy black legs of a giant spider. She used to be shorter than him but was now around eight feet high. Chad thought she used to be attractive before the bottom half of her looked like Shelob.
“A spider summons.” Lord Gaunt commented. “Are you going to try and poison me?” He said this in a way that led Chad to believe poison would not work on this man.
“Sure.” Chad said. “Wanda, sic him!” He pointed at the creepy old man.
Wanda stepped towards Chad, bent forward, picked him up by his shoulders with her two front-most legs and human arms, and plunged her sharp canine teeth into his neck.
“Fuck! Ow! Not the plan!” Chad tried to struggle, but her grip was strong. His arms were pinned to his side, and his strength drained as he quickly developed anemia. It hurt, but the flaring pain also released numbing endorphins that spread as he lost blood. As his vision faded to black, she loosened her grip and he fell-
Wanda dropped Chad and accidentally kicked his limp body when she turned back to the pack. His blood tasted so sweet, like she bit into a juicy watermelon on the first day of summer. She had mixed feelings of ecstasy and panic, but concentrated, and snatched up the vial and deck. She uncorked the potion with her bloody teeth and bent back to his lifeless body. She grabbed him with two of her legs, tipped his head back, put the bottle in his mouth, and made him drink the zombie water. After she thought he had enough, she spun him into a web, pulling the thread with two legs from her abdomen, and skillfully manipulated him into a white cocoon. After this, she dropped him, and flipped through his deck of cards.
“Blackest Widow?” Lord Gaunt guessed the spell being set up, while he patiently watched the scene play out. “I’ll admit it’s a strong physical boost, but I think you’ll find it… lacking.”
She held out a card, shook her head, and smiled. “Tears of a Widow. I can change one aspect of reality.”
Lord Gaunt laughed a little. “Going for an instant kill? Clever, but it won’t do anything to anyone above a Titan. And you won’t last long with your host dead.”
“Didn’t say I was using it for an insta-kill.” Wanda gestured to the table behind Lord Gaunt. Instead of a chessboard was a tv, PS4, and two controllers. The plasma screen flicked on and the PlayStation startup tone played.
“Wanda! Fuck you, Wanda!” The muffled voice yelled. “Get me out of this, Wanda, I’m claustrophobic, Wanda!” Chad struggled, but the silk webs held. The cocoon looked like an egg that refused to hatch. Wanda made a quick slice with a clawed leg, and Chad’s fingers pulled against the sticky threads. “Get me out of this!” He whined. Wanda bent over to give him a hand.
“Shed skin.” Gaunt muttered. It was a technique that cured the host’s ailments and that included zombie status. Chad himself didn’t know if it would work, but he was willing to gambit his life in order to escape this world. He struggled to his feet, covered in a mess of silk. No matter how many strands he pulled, he somehow never seemed to be rid of them. He tried to walk and fell face first. Wanda sliced the webs between his legs, to help him a little.
“Alright, so, now we can play.” Chad said and stood again. He pat Wanda on the human belly as he passed. “That’ll do, spider.”
“I can eat you.” She said and folded her human arms across her chest.
“What did you do?” Lord Gaunt asked.
“I changed the game. You guys are playing Call of Duty instead of chess.” Wanda explained. She was the one who originally came up with the idea. Chad was a terrible chess player and there didn’t seem to be a way around the game, so they found a way to change the rules.
“Oh.” Lord Gaunt said. He was at a loss for words. He was bound to the rules of the world and the ones he set in place and couldn’t back out of a challenge. The old man looked at the television like it was a foreign object. Chad picked up a controller and went through the menus to get to the game.
“Ready?” Wanda asked.
“What do I-” Lord Gaunt asked, half transfixed, half bewildered by the technology. He didn’t fully understand what was going on.
“It’s a game, he’ll set up a match.” Wanda grabbed the second controller with one of her claws and placed it in the old man’s hand. “Use this button to move, use this to look around, and this one to shoot.” She directed. “Go!”
The match started before Lord Gaunt fully understood. He walked into a virtual wall, the camera looked at the sky, and then rotated.
“Wait, how do I-” Lord Gaunt asked, looking from his fingers to the screen.
Chad’s character walked up to Gaunt’s, shot him at point blank range, and the custom match ended. The screen declared Chad the winner.
“We win.” Chad smiled at a glaring Lord Gaunt. “Get us out of this stupid world.”
“Us?” Lord Gaunt asked. He placed the controller down, more amused than upset by the loss. “I can get you out, but she’s an aspect of this world now. She cannot leave.”
Wanda gave him a pained look. “Chad… We’ve been through so much together, and I know you love me, and I understand if-”
“Don’t care, leave, leave, leave, leave.” Chad said, snapping his fingers at Gaunt.