Alice sprinted down the path, ducking as sea passed under the still-burning webbing, bits of flaming silk showering down, and glowing embers fluttered past and around her. Esther fell behind immediately, Alice turned back to see her struggling to stay on her feet, stumbling, just barely putting one foot ahead of the other.
Odi was nothing more than a giant shaking mass of spiders. As Alice ran back and hooked her hand under Esther’s arm, she watched as the great wolf shook itself like it was just emerging from a lake. Spiders went flying into the darkness like so many drops of water. Alice could see that the spiders had been at work, both cutting and stabbing him, and entombing him in a cocoon of silk. Odi’s face clear, he lifted his head to the gray, similarly enwebbed sky, and let loose a howl.
The sound, and something more than sound, echoed past and around them, and Alice felt it slap against her like a wave of awe and fear. Her feet slipped from beneath her, and she dimly realized she was slumping to the ground. Esther, leaned back against her, and it was all Alice could do to keep her eyes open and watch as the spiders similarly followed suit. The strands of silk binding Odi to the path strained and, he shifted his weight, and then layer after layer began to snap and whip back from him. The wolf stood once again, and breaking free, his gray fur a muddy red with blood, and his entire face dripping with black gore.
The break in the fight lasted only seconds, but it was long enough fro the wolf to shuffle sideways, knocking a host of the spiders off the ledge. Odi made eye contact with Alice again, and she had the clear image of a staircase down into the walls, like the ones she had seen as they walked, and somehow knew without a doubt that it was not a hundred yards ahead of where they were. The great wolf’s non-voice hit her with the force of a wave breaking over her and shattering her temporary torpor with a single word. “Go.”
His message delivered, the wolf shuffled again, as more and more of the spiders recovered and climbed atop him again, reclaiming the purchase on hide. The wolf took two bounds and leapt into the darkness, falling into black. The horde of spiders was diminished by the great wolf’s departure, but not nearly enough to make a fight against them last more than moments, let alone winable.
Alice could dimly hear Esther muttering next to her. “Shit. I told Bruce I needed him for this.” She struggled to pull herself to her feet, holding to Alice’s arm. “Go. We need to go.”
Alice hauled Esther the rest of the way to her feet. Her own calf was screaming from where the arachnid had cut her, and she didn’t look down. She was getting sick of looking at herself bleed. Esther’s heavy lidded eyes closed and she stumbled a step, then collapsed. Her eyes still closed, she spoke again. “Need to go.” And then she was silent. Alice caught her.
The spiders were coming, skittering for them with insectile speed, low to the ground, rushing like hounds, dozens of black carapaced, venomous, octopedal, web spinning hounds. Alice pushed the thought from her mind and lifted Esther’s limp body into a fireman’s carry. She considered absently whether it was supposed to be called a fireperson’s carry now. “Not the time for this” she muttered.
Esther was a small woman and she weighed practically nothing, but even carrying herself was difficult for Alice with the shape her legs were in. She hadn’t had a particularly easy and restful past 24 hours. It didn’t matter. She knew what she was looking for. The image of the staircase was clear in her mind. She would either make it or she wouldn’t, and the only thing that would decide it was how fast she could run.
100 yards felt like it might as well have been 100 miles, but if there was one thing Alice could do, it was run. She heaved forward, sprinting with everything she had, gripping Esther by the arm and the leg, draped across her shoulders. She could feel the burn in her thights, feel her gut twisting with nausea, her calf screaming. She put it all aside and just moved.
She barely noticed as the light of the great lighthouse in the distance passed over her, but it illuminated the path ahead of her, and in she could see the stairwell Odi had shown her. A brick at the top of the stair was slightly skewed, the mortar around it was crumbling like everything else in this god-forsaken place.
Alice ran, not making much effort to keep Esther from bouncing around on her shoulders, only what was necessary to keep her limp body under control. She could have made handily if she had just dropped Esther on the ground and went ahead without her. The spiders would probably have stopped to entomb and devour her like they had tried with Odi. And Alice wouldn’t have been carrying 90 pounds of jewelry with 10 pounds of woman wearing it, but leaving her behind wasn’t an option.
Alice didn’t know Esther. They had barely really spoken beyond offering Alice the job and when she had found her in Chip’s office. And what talking they had done had revealed Esther to be something of an uptight jerk. But if being a jerk merited a death sentence, the Alice figured they should really be in this together anyway. She had never been much of people pleaser herself. Alice felt herself smiling through her labored breathing.
The sound of skittering iron tipped legs against stone brought her back from her thoughts. She was close, only a few steps from the stairs, when she felt the impact of one of the things hit her from behind. The spiders didn’t weigh much, but the impact felt like she had been hit by a writhing, carnivorous bowling ball.
Alice sprawled forward, landing hard on her hands and knees. Esther’s body went over her head and into the stairwell. Alice could hear the sound of her bracelets and rings clattering against the stone an brick steps. The spider clinging to Esther’s body flipped off of her at the last second as she crossed the threshold of the stairs, and quickly oriented itself back toward Alice.
Alice could hear the horde of approaching spiders behind her, and didn’t dare to spare a second to look back at them. She didn’t like the idea of wrestling one of those things in close quarters, but she like the idea of being overrun and dismembered by a whole bunch of them even less.
Not giving herself the time to change her mind, or the spider much of an opportunity to react, she just charged it, jumping at it the moment she had her legs underneath her. She was trying to catch it and carry it into the stairwell, maybe the force of her falling down the stairs on top of it would be enough to kill it.
Faster than she expected, the spider sidestepped her jump, letting her pass by nearly unmolested. It raised a single leg and buried the tip into her right bicep with all of the force of Alice’s flung body. As Alice carried it past the threshold of the stairs, the spider’s leg went with her, and the piece embedded in her arm stopped against an invisible plane of force, and snapped off, falling to the ground. Alice had a moment to think that was interesting and surprising before she fell down the stairwell.