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Disclaimer: This story contains scenes of violence, and shows the aftermath of said violence. If you are offended by any of this subject matter, then I recommend that you should search for entertainment elsewhere. The characters Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Hercules, Iolaus, Autolycus, Darnelle, Glaphyra, Lyla, Kefor, and Derek strictly belong to MCA/Universal. Any subject matter that relates to the Battletech Universe aside from the names of characters and battle star groups not including the Eridanian Light Horse is strictly the property of Activision and the FASA Corporation. No copyright infringement is intended. All other characters in this story belong to me. All characters, settings, and situations in this story are fictitious, any similarity to persons, living or dead, settings, real or imaginary, and situations, true or false, is purely coincidental. Any usage of this narration is not permissible without written or e-mailed permission that has been granted to the party who wishes to use said documentation by the author of said documentation. Any questions, comments, or concerns are welcome. Please feel free to send them to me without fear or risk of retribution. I will view any and all correspondences with an open mind. Please include a return e-mail address to which I can send a reply. Please, enjoy the story.

Authors Note: This story contains references to the Battletech universe. If you are not familiar with this universe, then I will do my best to explain it to you. However, if you are familiar with the Battletech universe and you see any discrepancies, please e-mail them to me and I will do my best to correct the problem. For those of you who know not of battletech, then this is a brief summary: It is the thirty-first century and battles are fought in giant robots called battlemechs. The people who pilot them are called mechwarriors. The galaxy is divided into two regions, the Inner Sphere, the explored space, and the Periphery, the unexplored space beyond the Inner Sphere. There are two major powers, the Federated Commonwealth (FC), and the Draconis Combine (DC). Our hero is a member of the FC military, a commander of the battle star group The Reapers.

Copyright 1998 by Jason Drever.

PART THREE:  The Spider Queen

Sedrik urged them all to ride in his 'mech because it was faster, and he didn't want to leave her behind. Most of the group agreed, with the exception of Gabrielle, and Derek.

The little bard was terrified of heights, and the thought of climbing a slippery metal ladder ninety feet just didn't agree with her. The centaur's plight was similar, except that he was willing, but unable. Sedrik had the same solution for both.

"Nicole," he said into his mic, "disengage the beta shielding and lower the cargo lift pad please."

The large metal behemoth gently wavered into sight and a large screeching pierced the air. Everyone, aside from Sedrik, covered their ears and cowered, expecting a dragon or roc to fly down and snatch them. Slowly, as the elevator lowered, the group recovered, understanding that the screech came from the 'mech.

"This better not take long, "Hercules warned, "that screeching sounds a lot like a hungry roc."

"Yeah," Iolaus agreed, "another one might hear it and come to see what was going on."

Sedrik smiled. Superstitious fools, they were. Rocs and dragons indeed. Suddenly, Nicole's voice piped over the earpiece, and his smile melted away.

"Proximity alert!" she said, "large mass approaching at 41 meters per second, bearing 46.3 mark 21.5. Distance 2800 meters and closing. The target is 14 times the mass of the Warhawk."

Sedrik drew his Paladin, the missile-shotgun, and looked to the sky. 46.3 was just about north east. 21.5 was the angle of elevation. Then he saw the tiny dot that grew with each passing moment.

"Nicole," he yelled, "lock weapons on it but hold your fire. It may just be a passer-by."

"Unlikely." muttered Autolycus.

Soon, the shape grew into a bird. It was still 1600 meters away, yet he could see it clearly.

"Do the LRM's have a lock?" he asked. Nicole answered with a positive. The rest of the group were hiding around the legs of the 'mech, and the elevator still screeched it way down.

"Fire!" ordered Sedrik. 20 long range homing missiles lanced out of the front of the 'mech, screaming towards the approaching bird. It dodged, and the missiles turned in a circle, trying to reach the swerving bird. Then one of them made contact, and a slight portion of the bird's hindquarters disappeared in an explosion of 31rst century missile technology and mythological roc flesh. The cloud of red expanded as the other missiles hit their mark.

The bird faltered, but regained it's composure. It was so massive, the missiles had done only minor damage. Sedrik told Nicole to fire a second volley, then to switch to the PPC's, firing at will. Again the missiles lanced out, followed closely by four balls of high energy particles. The missiles connected again, but the bird dodged the PPC blasts in it's painful convulsions. Then the bird was atop them, knocking the 'mech over with a swing of it's massive wing. It pulled back hovering. Sedrik saw that it had lost most of it's right leg and hip, the wound raining roc blood down on the group.

The commanding officer of the Reapers calmly put the Paladin to his shoulder, sighted, and shot a rocket at the face of the great bird. The explosive shell detonated against the roc's beak, blowing a small hole in it's face. Then Xena and Hercules were beside him, somewhat useless but involved nonetheless. Xena's chakram flew from her grasp to ricochet off the bird's beak. It glanced down at the group, giving Sedrik a second chance. Sedrik recocked the gun, hearing the authentic snick-snack characteristic of all pump action weapons, and squeezed the trigger. The second rocket flew into the hole caused by the first, and detonated against the soft flesh within the bird's beak.

Bleeding profusely from the leg and face wounds, with smoke trailing from the hole in it's beak, the roc decided that enough was enough, and it turned and flew away, growing smaller as it grew distant.

Xena was smiling. She looked over at Sedrik, who was pulling spare rounds from one of the pouches on his belt and reloading the Paladin.

"That," she said, "is a very elaborate weapon. Is your country near here?"

Sedrik grinned at the irony. "It's a lifetime away.

"Well, I'd like to see that place." Iolaus said from where he had taken cover beside the over turned 'mech. "Weapon's to humble a roc!"

Sedrik reached up and pushed his mic to his mouth. "Nicole, can you read me?"

"Loud and clear, major."

"Good to hear your voice. Perhaps you would care to use the jump jets to right yourself."

"Yes, major, perhaps I would."

The air suddenly filled with a high pitched whine, and twin bursts of flame from the side of the 'mech, the one it was laying on, propelled the 'mech into a standing position. Then they ceased, and with that, the air grew silent as well.

"Damage report."

"Minor damage to the armor on the left leg, however, it is mainly superficial and should not hinder my effectiveness. I would like to remind the major that we are now resting with only 160 LRM's in inventory. If we were to encounter a second roc, or similar creature, our reserve of missiles may be depleted."

"I understand, Nicole, but thank you for the warning." Sedrik turned to the rest of the group and holstered the Paladin. "Still want to use my 'mech for transport, or at least escort?"

There was unanimous agreement. So once again, the elevator was sent down, but this time, no rocs appeared to challenge them. Derek had no problem going up, but Gabrielle's anxiety grew as the distance to the ground lengthened. Xena snuggled the little bard closer to her, comforting the frightened young woman.

Soon, they were all resting comfortably, if somewhat crowded, in the cockpit of the big Warhawk. Sedrik re-engaged the beta shielding and told Nicole to head west, the direction indicated on the map. Then they were thundering along at a great pace that only a 'mech with a sixty meter stride could manage.

Sedrik sat in the command chair, Hercules in the secondary chair, Xena and Gabrielle huddled together on the fold out cot that was bolted to the wall behind the command chair. Autolycus, Darnelle, and Glaphyra crowded around the front view ports, watching the ground rush past. Derek, due to his bulk, remained in the corridor leading to the cockpit, able to see everything, but unable to enter.

Nicole, in her infinite wisdom, was sure to skirt all villages so as to not accidently trample one. Gabrielle looked up at the front windows. But because of her poor angle, she couldn't see the ground, only the landscape that was another ten kilometers (km) distant.

Suddenly she perked up, pointing out the window at the approaching landscape.

"What's that?" she asked.

Sedrik pulled Nicole to a halt, and followed Gabrielle's finger. He saw something in the distance too.

"Nicole," he said, "bring the external camera view up on my vidscreen here."

"External camera engaged."

The usually black panel to the right of the command chair suddenly lit up, bribing a gasp of shock from each of the occupants that were not from 3144. Sedrik smiled and looked at the picture brought by the external camera (ex-cam). Soon they all were crowded around him, each trying to get a glimpse of the 'magic wall'.

"Bring the same view up on the main and secondary vidscreens and connect control of the ex-cam to my console."

The other two screens, the one at the co-pilots chair beside Hercules and the big one, above the windows, sprang to life. The group thinned out, Xena, Gabrielle, and Sedrik on the first console, Hercules and Iolaus on the secondary, and the rest on the primary.

The view showed the same picture as could be seen through the window. But by manipulating the console controls, Sedrik was able to zoom in on the structure Gabrielle had seen.

It was large. It seemed like the trees of the forest had been woven in the semblance of a great spider web. And crawling along the surface, was the biggest spider that any of them had seen, and on it's back, rode the Queen of the Spiders.

Sedrik shifted the camera to the left, investigating a few odd bundles that he had seen. The looked like cocoons, woven sacks of white silk. They were tiny, merely specks at this distance.

"I'd bet ten years pay to a toenail clipping," Sedrik grinned, "that those our what we are to free."

"What are they?" Glaphyra asked.

"Spiders usually spin their prey into cocoons for storage until they're hungry. I believe that those cocoons are people that are being held until they are eaten."

"How awful." Gabrielle exclaimed, putting a hand to her mouth in horror. "Just waiting in there, waiting to be eaten."

Derek thrust his fist in the air. "Well, what are waiting for? Let's go get them!"

"Whoa," Hercules interjected cooly, "we need a plan."

"You're right." Darnelle added. "As soon as we get in there to rescue those people, that spider is going to be right on top of us."

"Right." Xena whispered. "We need a diversion." quickly, she spun to face Sedrik. "Sedrik, can you attack that thing with Nicole while we cut the prisoners free?"

"Sure, but I don't think that the big spider isn't alone. She is the Queen of the Spiderssss." He emphasized the plural sound. "I think that if you go down there, you'll be attacked anyway."

"Perhaps," Iolaus commented, "but I'd rather be attacked by a little spider than that big one."

"Alright," Sedrik replied. "ready to go?" There were assents all around. "Then let's go!" He spurred the 'mech into a full run, sprinting the last distance in under five minutes. As they approached the tree-web, Sedrik halted the 'mech and opened the access hatch.

"Live fast," he said to them as the descended, "die young, and leave a good looking corpse!"

Gabrielle wrinkle her nose in discust. "That's grotesque!" she exclaimed.

Sedrik smiled. "What," he grinned as she lowered in the elevator, "you want to live forever?"

"Of course!" she answered, before disappearing from view.

Sedrik returned strapped himself into the command chair and prepared for battle.

"The others have departed the elevator." Nicole stated.

"Bring it back up, and engage the alpha and beta shielding."

The 'mech wavered from view as a blueish bubble popped into existence around it. Then it too disappeared, under the influence of the beta shields.

Sedrik saw on the ex-cam that the heroes from the past had entered the structure, ducking under the great canopy of trees. Grimly, he turned the nose of the 'mech towards the giant spider and attacked.

Just as eight exited the metal walking thing, eight entered the wooded canopy. Derek had nocked an arrow in his bow and was leading the heroes in. Xena had drawn her sword, Darnelle gripped his javelin, Glaphyra drew two of her daggers, Gabrielle lofted her staff, and Hercules and Iolaus doubled their fists. Autolycus, being the stealthy sort, had decided to sidle along the walls, not prepared to jump into any upcoming battle. He was thief, not a warrior.

Under the canopy of trees on which the great spider strode, the wood gave way to stone, and a corridor formed from the surrounding forest. It was dank, dark except for a few sputtering torches held in sconces on the walls. They followed it to the end, where it joined an intersection.

One way went left, the other right.

"The only way to do this is to split up." Xena sighed.

"Are you sure?" Gabrielle whispered back.

"Yes!" she hissed.

It was decided that they break into two groups. Hercules, Iolaus, Derek, and Autolycus would go left, and the rest would go right.

So they said their farewells and wished each other luck and Hercules' crew departed. Xena looked down to Gabrielle and smiled grimly.

"You know," she sighed, "I hope we can do this, after all, we are only mortal."

"Speak for yourself!" Gabrielle smiled, "I plan to live forever."

They grinned at each other as Darnelle urged them one. Reluctantly, they advanced down the right corridor. They followed it for about three minutes when they came to a dead end.

"Great!" cried Glaphyra, "now what do we do?"

"Shh!" Xena hissed, and put her ear to the wall. On the wall, there was a picture of a spider, surrounded by four flaming torches. She heard the sound of muffled cries, like a prisoner that was gagged.

"There's someone behind this wall." she exclaimed.

"So how do get there?" Gabrielle asked.

"I don't know. Feel the walls for secret switches or something."

So they began to feel the walls, running hands over the smooth surface. They felt around the unlit torches and pulled on the sconces, but to no avail. There was no switch.

Frustrated, Gabrielle blew out a disgusted sigh. She looked around her, trying to figure it out. Then her gaze fell on something she hadn't seen before. There was a design on the floor!

Quickly, she looked up at the wall, back to the floor, and again to the wall. The pictures were identical! Except there were no flaming torches on the floor. Then she looked to the walls. The unlit torches! Swiftly, she ran to Xena and grabbed the pack she carried. Confused, the big woman let her take the bag and watched her as she dug in it. Gabrielle retrieved two objects, a flint and steel, from the pack. Then she dropped the bag and hurried to the closest torch.

Silently, with the others watching in confusion, she lit the first torch. Then she a second, and a third, going in a circle around the drawing of the spider on the floor. Then she lit the forth, and stepped back.

Nothing happened.

Discouraged, she returned the firelighter to the pack and handed it to Xena. Suddenly, the entire wall began shaking, and Gabrielle stumbled, striking her head on the floor. Through the daze that followed, she watched as the wall with the drawing on it pulled back, sliding away on hidden tracks. Then the wall stopped, revealing a door that they couldn't have seen. The mumbled cries came from beyond that door.

Smiling at her friend, Xena ran to the door and pulled it open. Inside there were many cocoons, stuck to the wall with the sticky web of spiders.

"Get them out of that!" ordered Xena, and the group started laying about them with their weapons, cleaving through the sticky bonds that held the prisoners.

Then they stopped. All but one were dead. The one that was alive was very gaunt, breathing raspily and clutching a small item. When the heroes freed her, she looked up to them with light in her eyes.

"Thanks." she croaked, and she fell to her knees. Gabrielle rushed to her side, reaching around the deathlike figure and helping her to stand. But instead, she died, her last breath sliding out through smiling lips. Then she went limp, the small bauble she had held falling from her limp hand.

Gabrielle looked up at Xena with shock on her face, and slowly lowered the form to the floor. Glaphyra had retrieved the gem that the dying woman had dropped, and was examining it.

It was a red ruby, finely cut and set in a gold medallion. She turned it over, and read the inscription on the back.

The group of nine are strong it is said,

but now it is proven, by the hand of the dead.

"The Pendant of Strength!" she exclaimed.

So they had earned the first virtue. Quickly, they exited the room and returned to the intersection. As they approached it, Hercules and his entourage appeared on the other side.

"We got it!" Gabrielle exclaimed.

Hercules rushed past her, heading for the exit. "That's great!" he said. "Now run!"

"Why?" And then she saw.

Sedrik had attacked the spider as soon as the LRM20's had locked on, launching 40 missiles at the giant arachnid. The spider and it's rider expertly dodged the missiles, springing straight up. Sedrik was expecting that though, seeing spiders react at home, and had fired all four PPC's, aiming for a point in the air above the spider's head. When the spider sprang up to avoid the missiles, it flew straight into the flaming PPC blasts.

The high energy beta particles scorched the spiders hide, melting it's flesh into running puddles. The spider flew back, only to be hit with the homing missiles. The spider exploded under the impact of the warheads, disappearing in an expanding cloud of ichor and flame. When the dust settled, the spider was no more.

Sedrik cheered loudly as he steered the 'mech to the entrance in the trees. He was still smiling to himself as he exited the 'mech, sliding down the ladder to land by it's leg. And there he waited.

And waited.

For nearly twenty minutes he waited, leaning against the leg of Nicole, so to dispel his boredom, he drew his Boxer pistol and began polishing it.

He shined the baffle silencer screwed into the muzzle, the piece that reduced the great booming recoil to little more than a barking cough that seemed to come from a different direction. He removed the twenty round magazine, and replaced it, hearing the snap as it locked in place.

Then he looked up. He thought he had heard screaming coming from the entryway. He quickly levered a round into the chamber of the pistol and strode from the 'mech, intent on helping his new friends.

But they beat him to it. They came rushing out of the trees, running straight for him. He paused, unsure of their intent. Then he saw why they ran.

Following close behind Hercules, who had brought up the rear, ensuring they all had exited, was a large spider. Not as large as the first one, but it was large enough.

It was nearly the size of a horse, fuzzy-legged and swift. Without thinking, Sedrik fired a single round from the Boxer, and the hiccup recoil sounded out. The round flew out and punched through the spider, creating a hole big enough to reach through. Again he fired, and again, filling the spider with many punctures. It refused to die, however, and the twenty round mag soon ran dry.

Sedrik turned and sprinted away, ejecting the spent mag and fumbling for a second. He had given the others time to regroup, and soon arrows and daggers were flying into the arachnid.

Confused, the spider stopped, trying to decide which to attack. Sedrik took the chance to holster the empty Boxer and drew the great Paladin from his back.

Quickly, he fired repeatedly, blasting the giant spider with exploding shells. Still, the spider refused to expire. It bled from many wounds, and it would surely die, but until it did, it attacked the group.

After firing the seven rounds from the Paladin, Sedrik discarded the shotgun and drew both barracudas. The spider had lost most of it's mobility, crawling along on three legs. Grimly, Sedrik unloaded both pistols, a total of thirty rounds, into what he thought was the spider's head. Slowly, the beast's actions grew weak, and it slumped.

Sheepishly, Gabrielle reached out to poke it with her staff, and it struck again. It sprang on her, trying to sink it's fangs into her, and dripped ichor on her from it's wounds.

Then it slumped again, and slid off to the side, Darnelle's javelin protruding from it's back. Quickly, he pulled out his spear and helped Gabrielle to her feet.

The beast was dead, and they had won. Gabrielle smiled and showed Sedrik the Pendant of Strength.

Yes, they had won, but they were far from finished.


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