The Chronicles of Infel

Xeno_Spider

001

I want to start by saying that I’m not a spider—not in any way, shape, or form. If I heard two people gossiping, and one of them said ‘Oh, Xeno Alistel? That kid’s a spider’, then I’d have to disagree with them. Loudly. With my fists.

To begin with, I’m a human being—not a spider. Following the obvious, calling someone a spider is basically saying without saying that they’re a conniving, self-serving, manipulative, entrapping son of a bitch. Unsurprisingly, I’m a little averse to having that kind of tag slapped bitterly on me like a package label at the world’s most can’t-be-asked deli. Thirdly, if someone were to make a list of all the animals I actually would like to be compared to, spiders would be very near the bottom. Surprisingly near the bottom, actually. There’s a hundred animals with a thousand traits way better and way less insulting than spiders; like a monkey, or a horse, or a crab, you know? I feel like I could pick out a handful of likable personality traits from that bunch. But spiders have eight fist-fulls of the worst traits of all time and I don’t want a single one of them. Spiders are cunning, deceptive, patient…

…and cruel.

“We need you to kill a spider.”

The groan and creak of floating wood filled the airship cabin. A distant hum of propellers fought the whistle of hot steam spouting from far off copper pipes.

A man sat behind a plain maple desk, strewn with papers, with his eyes on a map.

I stared at him from across the desk.

“A spider?” I asked. “What, you mean like in the bathroom? Aren’t you a little old for something like that, lieutenant?”

His eyes moved from the old torn map to me.

“Kid, can you cut the sarcasm for five, maybe ten minutes, while I try to give you your first mission?” he asked.

I squinted one eye and pursed my lips.

“…gonna be pret-ty hard.”

The lieutenant snapped his fingers.

“Focus, Xeno.”

“Oh, I’m focused alright,” I said. I’m just having a tough time imagining a scenario where Xeno Alistel, fearless up-and-coming rookie of the Avatoan army, throws on his sword, marches into some town, and strides gallantly towards the man in charge, uniform billowing, to declare:”

I struck a pose and lowered my voice.

“Don’t worry, citizen; you know us as Avatoan, but we know ourselves as Mankind’s Hope—the greatest bug exterminators of all time.”

“Spider’s aren’t bugs, Xeno. They’re arachnids. It’s a totally separate thing.”

My expression drooped.

This particular voice came from a woman, who I won’t mention just now. Not because I don’t like her or anything, just because at this particular moment she isn’t really  relevant. Also she was irritating the crap out of me. But whether or not she was irritating, and whether or not I mention her, she’s usually right about these things. Even though sometimes she can be dumber than me, she was usually right about these things.

I ignored her.

“Anyway,” my eyes panned up towards the lieutenant. “I’m not going to waste my all-important first mission on somebody’s phobia. I didn’t join the greatest insurrection of all time to become the elves most feared form of pest control. I joined so I could have a chance to save the world. Which I can do, by the way, if you’d give me half a chance.”

“I’m tryin’ to do that,” the lieutenant said. Then he blinked. Twice. Dismissively. “Only thing you’re proving is that you’ve got the attention span of a gnat.”

I bit my upper canine into the corner of my lip.

When a person wants to make a point very succinctly, they tend to use a single word to summarize a bunch of traits in someone. This is something that I’ve noticed, so bear with me for a moment:

Usually it’s something like an animal—for example, when you call a famous general a lion or when you call a shady merchant a snake. When somebody wants to wrap a whole lot of something in a neat little gift basket, they take the nearest animal—or insect as the case may be—that contains a handful of the characteristics they’re going for and shove it in the face of the person they’re talking about. And in that one word, basically everything you mean to imply about the person is inferred by whoever is listening. Like the spider thing. Want to call someone a conniving bastard? Just call them a spider! They’ll spend half the day trying to sort out the insult you might have meant, and end up labeling themselves with eight more slights than you even intended and basically insulting themselves for you.

And that kind of thing drives me up a wall. Not up a wall like a spider would climb up a wall, but more like…

Whatever. Humans have no business being compared to spiders.

“So, if you’ll stop calling attention to yourself for two minutes, Xeno—” the lieutenant began.

“I will not,” I said.

“—then I’ll explain the damn mission I’ve been tryin’ to explain, and you can draw your own conclusions on whether or not it’s worth your time.”

He pulled a small piece of crumpled parchment from his overcoat.

“Scouts pulled a note from a green flag nearby,” he said, looking down at the note. “‘Spider, aggressive, kill, help.’”

“Are you making a grocery list?” I asked.

“Shut up. And before you even think of asking me what it’s supposed to mean—”

“Sounds like a spider is aggressively killing the help,” I said, covering my eyes with the back of my hand. “Those poor maids…”

“You not clever, Alistel.”

“Are you sure?”

The lieutenant continued.

“The city is called East Meadow, in the free marches. Place makes the best bath soap on the continent. Cleans the soot right out from under your nails, and they’ve always had a market because of it. But recently they’ve started making candles like you wouldn’t believe. Shipping them out by the wagonload; candles that’ll burn for months on end. They’ve got some kind of special wax that burns—”

“Wax?” I interrupted.

The lieutenant threw up his arms.

“God almighty, can you go thirty seconds without being the center of attention? Yes, Xeno, wax. That stuff you use to make candles? Seals? You press a ring into it sometimes? You know what wax is, country boy?”

“Don’t be an ass hole, Alan.”

“I’m about to lock you in the first cell I see for a month with nothing but rice for your meals.”

I rolled my eyes.

“My apologies, lieutenant.”

“Runnin’ out of deities to swear by, my God,” he muttered, slumping back in his chair. His eyes rolled back and his head lulled. “Forgot what the hell I was sayin’…”

I waited patiently.

“Missions, wax, spiders…” he droned. “Well, as usual, we’ve got zero to go off of. I don’t have a damn clue what ‘spider’ means; could be a code word—slang for someone in a high place they don’t want knowing they’re talking about him. And I can only assume ‘kill’ means the obvious. Which is why I’m giving the mission to you. You might be an idiot, but you’re no killer, and I don’t want people thinking that Avatoan is some group of low budget mercenaries. It’s elves we’re after, not humans, and I want the whole damn world sure that’s our game. So get to East Meadow and see what they want us to do. If it actually is an assassination they’re after, tell the guy who flew the flag to go sodomize a goat. Otherwise, if it’s a reasonable request and you can handle it, then do it. If you can’t, come back and we’ll send someone who can. That’s not a challenge,” he added. “I want to know what they want from us. The free marches are tricky; they don’t owe us any allegiance, and even though they’re humans, elves make sweet promises. The fact they flew our flag instead is a good start, but it’ll probably take a lot more to get them on our side. We need all the allies we can get.”

The lieutenant handed me a rations writ.

“We’ve got a horse and a week’s worth of supplies for you. It’s about a two day’s ride from Bethwood. We’ll be landing there shortly to send you off.”

“So you want me back in a week?” I aksed.

“Yeah,” the lieutenant said. “If you figure something out sooner, fly the flag and Elena will come and get you. Otherwise, meet back at Bethwood in seven days. Questions?”

“Yeah, why is Rhiley here?”

I looked over at the girl I mentioned earlier; the one who was smarter than me usually, but dumber than me sometimes.

She looked back and shrugged.

“That’s none of your business,” the lieutenant said. “We’ll be speaking with her after you.”

“Oh so she gets to know what I’m doing for my first mission and I don’t get to know what she’s doing for hers?”

“God damnit, Xeno!”

The lieutenant brought his fist down on his desk. Hard. It shook the glass windows of the airship.

“I vouched to get you a place on this ship,” he shouted. “I told Saken to give you’re smart-ass a shot. I’m trying to give you a chance to prove you’re more than just some backwater, country-bumpkin-punk of the street with a grudge. I’ve done everything I can to help you. And you’re fighting me. At every. Turn!”

The room grew quiet.

My back, and the hair on my neck, was straight as an arrow.

Alan never got mad.

“That spark you’ve got is the reason we want you here,” he said, sinking back to his chair. “But if you don’t watch your tongue, it’s gonna get you killed. You don’t have a wall to run and hide behind anymore. You’re not pulling pranks on a bunch of stupid city

elves. You’re an Avatoan soldier, and if you want us to put you in a situation where you can actually make something of your half-assed self, then you need to act like one. Get serious, and for God’s sake fall in line. At least with me.

Rhiley brushed her nose with the back of her hand.

I took a deep breath.

“Alright,” I sighed. “Alright, I get it.”

Then I grinned.

“No problem—none at all. Just leave it to me. I’ll have the place cleared out of every spider in a hundred miles. They’ll call me Xeno Alistel, Master Spider Exterminator. Children for generations to come won’t know what a spider is, because of how none of them there will be once I’m finished.”

The lieutenant relaxed. He brought up his hands and let his face sink into them. “Finally,” he chuckled. “We’ve found a way to direct that enthusiasm.”

End of Chapter 001