I suppose I always was a little strange. Never quite fit in at school, never really made any friends.
Not that my life was a sob story, not at all. Sure, my parents weren’t exactly the greatest folks around. Dad got drunk with alarming regularity, he’d come home and scream and yell, eventually he’d pass out somewhere.
I know what you’re thinking. No, he didn’t hit any of us. Not me, not my sisters, not mom.
He was a failure, you see. He used to be a priest, a skilled healer. A real pillar of the community so to speak. He married my mother, herself a high ranked ranger of some sort.
Well, see, thing is, dad had it great. He had beautiful kids, a beautiful wife, a beautiful life. Turns out he wanted more.
He got caught one day. He had “turned his back on the Sun” or some such dainty phrasing.
I always hated that about us high elves. We never just call things what they are, we pussy foot around it and invent feel good terms. Pointless, flowery language. Maybe it made everyone feel better about things? I mean, our society isn’t perfect. We have mobsters, rapes, murders and a drug trade just like everywhere else. We’re just better at hiding it.
Anyway, long story short, dad liked him young girls. Yeah, I know all the old jokes about priests and young boys, but he didn’t swing that way. He was all about the prisonbait, if you know what I mean. Sometimes he’d get what he wanted the easy way, sometimes he’d have to be a little more underhanded and use this thing called “mind control.”
I’m sure I don’t need to describe the details to you.
So naturally, society holds him up to be this horrible evil monster, called him a “traitor to the spirit of the people”, and then… well, and then the mages cut him off from the Sunwell.
I know right? I didn’t even know that was possible. Apparently it is, and it’s not pretty. What that does to someone…
Have you ever known someone who was addicted? Like, really addicted. I mean, “would kill their own mother for a fix addicted”.
Now take that person, and completely deny them whatever it is they are addicted to. Then tell them that they will never get better, that they will always feel as horrible as they do now, and then tell them the good news.
The good news is, without the Sunwell, dad was mortal now. He would die of old age just like all the humans. He’d still be around for a few centuries, maybe even pull off an entire millennium if he was lucky, but still.
He would age. He would wrinkle. His body would weaken, wither, and eventually his organs would fail and he would die.
Understatement of the year right here, he didn’t take it well.
Kinda funny looking back on it now, what he went through then. Every last one of us had to suffer the same after, well, you know, Arthas. Had to fill that addiction somehow.
Dad chose alcohol. Not the wines we make, not dad. Wine wasn’t good enough for him, not nearly strong enough. He drank the hardest liquor he could find, which turned out to be human made booze. He loved the stuff. Would drink entire bottles of it every night. The humans called it “absinthe.”
You know, I never suspected the human race to be the ones to create the strongest alcohol around. I always thought it’d be the dwarves! I researched it once. Apparently the dwarves actually use rather low alcohol content in their drinks. See, for the dwarves, drinking is a social thing. They use weak drinks so everyone’s up and kicking for hours. What good would it do if everyone passed out in five minutes?
Oh, but I digress.
The sad thing is, mom didn’t leave. A stalwart woman, mom. Even after everything dad did, even when he drank himself into unconsciousness every single night, she stayed with him. Love is a powerful thing, or so they tell me. Makes you do stupid things, like stay married to someone society had rejected entirely.
Dad didn’t make it past five years before his body failed.
Me? I didn’t even notice. Like I said, I was always a little weird.
The other kids would go off and play and set up whatever little social hierarchy thing they wanted. The old pecking order, you know? First few days of school was always the same. You’d have all the alphas competing for top spot, the betas backing their alpha of choice, then once the dust settled, there’d be a system in place.
Gods help you if you were low on the totem pole.
Me? I never bothered to participate.
I was off by myself this one time. Just playing with spiders and flies, you know, ripping the flies wings off and watching the spiders hunt them. Sometimes I’d take some of the spider’s legs too, just to even the odds. So these kids, four of them maybe, come over to bother me. Just trying to show their dominance, you know how kids are. Ravenous little beasts.
The big one pushed me. Knocked me clean over. They all laughed. So I got up, and ripped the big one’s ears off. Both of them, at once. Oh how he screamed. He screamed and screamed and screamed and bled… and all I could think of was how much he reminded me of a fly.
Nobody bothered me after that. Suited me just fine. Mom would always give me worrying looks. She thought I didn’t notice, but I knew what was going on.
They called me a “psychopath”. I think that’s the word. Someone with no morals, no sense of right and wrong. No shame, no guilt, no remorse for evil things.
I know right? They honestly thought all those things actually existed. Poor little flies. Deluding themselves into thinking that their little rules applied to the spiders.
It’s not fair, you know. The flies never win. They need their wings to even have a chance of escaping, and even then they end up trapped in a web, unable to move, completely paralyzed as the hideous, eight legged beast of the darkness slowly consumes them.
Pitting the flies against the spiders got boring.
I started making spiders fight other spiders. Now that… that was more interesting.
I thought, at the time, that the biggest was the best. Might makes right and all that. You can learn a lot from spiders, if you watch them, if you really watch them.
It’s not the size. It’s not the agility. It’s not speed or poison strength or anything else.
The spider that won was simply the superior predator. There were no real factors. The one that was the better predator killed the weaker one, and that was that.
Sometimes a spider would easily kill another more than twenty times its size. That same little spider would then blunder into a perfectly laid trap, and lie there helpless in the web of the spider it had just killed. Nobody would come to eat it. So the spider sat there, struggling for days as it slowly starved to death.
I grew up. I moved away from my heartbroken mother and my sisters with whatever psychological problems plagued them.
I became a spider.
A predator of the darkness, the horrible monster that all the flies feared.
I cannot even begin to describe the ecstasy of my first kill. The first time I held another’s life in my hands. She screamed, begged, pleaded. She writhed, tried to run, whimpered and wept when she realized just how trapped in my web she was.
I tried to assure her. I’m not a rapist, not a thief. I’m not a criminal, after all.
I was just a predator. I was just hungry. Please try to understand, I’m just going to kill you.
I was a little surprised when she became even more distressed than before. I still don’t really understand. Death isn’t so bad. Why is it that prey has such a hard time just accepting their place?
But I digress. More philosophical musings.
That first kill was pretty messy. I mean, you don’t really know what you’re doing the first time, right? I was so nervous, fumbling around. Oh, I was so embarrassed. In plays and things kills always go so smoothly and cleanly. Well let me tell you, actually killing someone is a lot messier than that.
People don’t just go limp and lie there when you knife them. They freak out, they thrash and struggle, and if you’re not careful that knife ends up in your leg.
Still have the scar, boy that little bitch got me good.
And the blood! They never show you the blood. It gets everywhere, stains everything. It doesn’t even come off skin easily.
And then they’re not even dead! Still alive and kicking. Sure, wounded and bleeding, but nowhere near dead. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to actually kill someone. She just wouldn’t die! I’d stab her again and again and she’d keep fighting and fighting.
Well. You never forget your first time. It was pretty much a disaster, but hey. You try and try again, and get better and better, right?
You learn things, little things. I started binding them, for example. Really eliminated a lot of the thrashing and flailing. Spiders, you see. Maybe put a little poison on the blade, just enough to keep them paralyzed. Spiders again!
Like I said, you can learn a lot from spiders.
Eventually I found out that there were people who’d pay for this sort of thing. People who would pay people like me enormous sums of gold to kill someone else, a specific someone else.
All the thrill, all the hunt, and you get paid for it to boot! No wonder people keep joining the army.
Why, I remember this one time, somebody wanted some noble’s kid out of the way. A political rivalry of some sort, I never asked, never cared. I get my target’s name, place of residence, the rest is up to me. By my own stipulation, of course, it wasn’t fun if they told me more.
So I found this guy’s place. Nice place, too. Probably the biggest mansion I’ve seen inside the city, besides the Sunspire itself. Must be somebody real important, this Theronidas Theron fellow. I thought I recognized the name, wasn’t the regent of Silvermoon named Theron?
Like I said, I didn’t care.
The place was fairly well lit, even at night. Still plenty of darkness for a predator like me. I had already pinpointed the kid’s room, I knew his schedule, I knew he always went to sleep early and often slept in quite late.
Heh, nobility, am I right?
I was pretty sure I’d make the kill that night. There weren’t really any guards posted.
I loitered in the shadow of one of the potted trees. A massive street cleaner slowly swept by. If you stuck a few dozen paintbrushes handle first into a tea kettle, then flipped the kettle upside down, you’ve about got what the cleaner looked like. It was surprisingly noisy, most stuff the mages throw together runs dead silent. This one was making quite the loud hum.
I waited for it to pass before crossing the street.
There was someone there.
Someone else in the darkness.
He looked a lot like me. Wore a heavy cloak, face obscured by a cowl. Held himself in the darkness like it was a second skin, like he was perfectly comfortable in the darkness.
A fellow spider. Just like me.
I knew he’d spotted me just as I’d spotted him. Maybe I’d kill him, too. Spider versus spider.
“Good evening.” he said. His voice was warm, almost soothing.
I smiled at him. “A fine evening to you sir.”
“It is rather fine, isn’t it? I always do enjoy the nights more. Everything’s slower… without the sun, everything’s just so much more… intimate.”
“A kindred spirit! I know precisely what you mean. No distractions at night, the darkness concealing whatever it is you do, whoever you do it with… a marvellous state of being, really.”
He nodded. “So what is a fine soul such as yourself doing out here in the middle of the night?”
“Me? Why…” I gestured behind me, “I’m a street sweeper.”
“A… street sweeper?”
“Indeed! Why, we can’t very well keep streets clean during the day! Too many busybodies, constantly meandering about. Far better to do it at night when the streets are empty. And yourself?”
I thought I saw him almost imperceptibly nod. “I, too, am a street sweeper. We must, after all, make sure things stay clean. The detritus, the discarded relics of a proper society. The unmentionables. The little things others would rather just… throw away and forget.”
“And if we can make a little money on the side, why not?” I laughed.
He laughed as well. “I like the way you think! What are the chances, a pair of garbage men such as ourselves just so happening to meet on just this street at just this time?”
I spread my arms. “Providence, perhaps? Or is it simply that we are both after the same end?”
He chuckled again. “Yes, I thought as much. You’d think the nobles would trust the job to just one of us, instead of hiring a bunch of us.”
“I must admit I’ve never noticed that before. Is hiring multiple cleaners common practice then?”
He shook his head. “Just for priority targets. They like to make sure the job is complete, as quickly as possible. So they secretly hire about a dozen of us, in the hopes that maybe one of us is stupid enough to make a quick, messy kill. That way the assa… er, cleaner, gets caught. Then they don’t have to pay anyone anything.”
“A clever ruse, that,” I said, “Not that I care. Gold was always a… secondary concern.”
“Oh? You prefer the thrill of the hunt then? The pleasure of a successful kill?”
“Indeed I do, sir. The dance of death is far more important than pay day.”
I had managed to edge very close to him. Another step, a quick thrust, and it would all be over. I was actually a little disappointed, I had hoped a fellow predator would have provided more challenge than this.
“A kindred soul, then.” I think he was smiling at me. “Tell me, do you know who it is you hunt?”
“One Theronidas Theron,” I said. Took the last step. “Do you know him?”
“Oh, I should say I do,” he said.
I kept a lengthy knife strapped to each forearm. Each was spring-loaded, twisting my wrist just so would fire the blade forward, into perfect stabbing range. Each was hollow, and filled with a reservoir of venom. Spiders, you see.
It was over in less than a second. I lunged forward, my attack practiced and drilled down to a fine art. One lethal, final attack, an inescapable ambush.
I felt the blades enter my chest long before I saw them. I felt them puncture my lungs, felt my entire body screaming in pain as the nerve toxin took hold.
The man caught me, gently holding me. He was smiling at me, drinking in my eyes as my body began to die.
“You see,” he said, “I am Theronidas. I’m the one who hired you. I, like you, love the hunt, the thrill of the kill. What better thrill than hunting a fellow hunter?”
I couldn’t even gasp. I couldn’t breath. My entire chest was on fire. Such pain, such incredible pain.
It was sad, really. Almost heartbreaking. I had recognized a fellow spider, but never saw the web closing around me. The worst part was that I couldn’t congratulate him. I thought I was good. I thought I was the master of the darkness. In the end I was barely better than a fly.
My only regret was that I could not properly thank him for showing me what it was like to be prey, what it was like to stare into the face of a far superior predator and know fear.
No… not fear, not in the definition we use today. It was respect. I felt respect for a far greater hunter than I.
If anything, I felt honored to have been the victim of such a master of the art.
It was glorious.