Chapter 5

AT 1084 (AZ 1456) - Early Spring
The Ruins of Poris, The Darklands

Arachne was not particularly well-versed in warfare. She and her daughters resisted the Monarch Lich when he first sought to restore the Dominion, but it was a short-lived effort. She did not expect the Zephyrians to fare any better against the Monarch Lich than she had. In fact, she expected them to fare much worse. After all, they were nothing more than ordinary humans. How could they even survive in the Darklands, much less wage a successful campaign against one such as the Monarch Lich?
They were supposed to be hapless flies wandering into the web, but they proved far more resilient than anyone would have expected. Yes, they died in droves, but there were still many left who continued to fight. It did not seem that they would stop until one side or the other was completely destroyed. Already several of the major powers had been broken. Even the mighty King of Dragons was forced to slink back to his valley beyond the sea like a common snake in the grass.
Arachne did not intend to sit idly by waiting for the day the Zephyrians would come marching into the Stone Forest. She would strike first, but unschooled though she was in the ways of war, she knew that there was no profit in risking her own when she could have another fight in her stead, especially when that other was an enemy.
It did not seem so long ago when Arachne last visited Poris. How the tables had turned since then. Then Arachne was desperate, though she did everything in her power to hide that truth. She stood on the verge of losing everything she sought gain to a rival who seemed to be growing in strength each day. But in the end, it was Arachne who won. She bore the next generation of the Dark Race in keeping with her pact with the Monarch Lich and the greater part of her strength remained untouched. Basilissa's fortunes, by comparison, had taken a far less favorable turn. There was no better time to strike than a moment of weakness.
As with the previous occasion, Arachne was obliged to reduce her honor guard at each pass along the way to the hive's inner sanctum. Only this time she was not gripped by any sense of foreboding. She even walked about in her humanoid form for no other reason than to boast of her accomplishments. Victory was so close she could taste it and it was delicious.
As with the time before, the puppet queen in the inner sanctum made an empty display of courtesy before Basilissa spoke through her.
"What brings you here, Spider Queen?"
"Your power is waning," Arachne said. "This is the last of your sister colonies, I hear."
"It is of no concern," Basilissa replied. "I can always raise up new queens and new colonies. Even now the eggs have been laid and soon they will hatch. In a few years' time the new colonies will thrive in the place of the old."
"Unfortunately for you, this colony will soon fall out of your claws."
The puppet queen tilted her head.
"And what makes you say that?" Basilissa asked. "Even if the Zephyrians marched against this place in force, they are yet many days away."
A smile crossed Arachne's lips as she replied, "Because I am taking this colony for myself."
Not giving Basilissa any time to react, Arachne sprang upon the puppet queen, tearing off her head in a single, quick motion. As the puppet queen's body collapsed, Arachne pulled off the parasite attached to her back and crushed it underfoot. Now that the connection to Basilissa had been severed, it was time for her conquest to begin.
The workers and the soldiers did not react at first. The puppet queen did not get the chance to signal her distress. Arachne went to work commingling the puppet queen's scent with her own. In time, they would recognize her as their new queen. The headless puppet queen could be kept alive with a little effort and continue to lay eggs for days, maybe even weeks to come. It would be enough. This new Herakles army would wreak havoc on the Zephyrians and Arachne's power would be secure. Perhaps she could even lead them against Basilissa, but all things in good time.