The Interrogation of Terago Headman of Myte, 5—

He had worn hands and a scar across his cheek, so I knew he was no ordinary priest, and I trust the hands I can see. With a silver pincer, he pulled the chittle from deep within my Nilla’s ear, its wings twittering once they emerged from the canal. She shook in his grasp, eyes still milky, but he was calm, robes filthy but hands clean. Beside him on a stool were his instruments. No book. No black fire pistol. The wings buzzed with fury at being removed from where the creature would have laid its eggs inside my daughter, but Heriz, for it was indeed the man you claim, pressed the creature into a jar, drowning it in honey, like the old Hesher women said Lagro drowned the sun at night to give us the night to rest. My Nilla shook, and he hushed her. “Almost done, sleepy star,” he said, in Macti. “Be brave a little longer.”

Surrounding him were my finest brothers. Each ready to tear out his eyes should he hurt my first-and-only, as so many brothers of the Wandering God do. Heriz’s tools shone like silver fire in the moonlight. I marked with anger the brothers who looked more at the silver than at Nilla, but I said nothing. He took a silver needle. Nilla shivered.

“It looks unkind,” he said to her, “but it will help you. As opposed to a pretty chittle, which sought you harm.” Iron grey eyes looked at me. “This is necessary. May I continue?”

I nodded and took a step back, as did my brothers. Nilla’s jaw firmed, just like her mother when she told fortunes... before a Bestorian dagger had claimed her.

My first-and-only was brave. A leader in waiting. The black hairs of Heriz’s thin moustache stilled, and gently he pressed the needle into her ear.

She winced, and my brothers drew ten daggers out under the cover of her breath.

Heriz pulled back the lever, and yellow milk sputtered into the chamber. Fever juice of the chittle. Softens the flesh so they can bury their eggs. Color flushed my first-and-only’s cheeks as the chamber filled to the brim, then tinted red. Heriz pulled out the needle with a gasp, placed it on the stool, then took a strip of cloth he’d boiled and placed it in her ear. A little rough, but it was needed. Nilla shivered, but the ghosting of her eyes faded.

He handed her to me. “Flush out her ear with clear fluven. Hot. As hot as she can stand. I’ve excised all the breeding fluid, but we must destroy any possible chance that another would smell it and crawl back in.”

I took my first-and-only, knowing I would die for him, if he required it. And when the black fire came, I would do even more.

Royal Inquiry into the Rebellion of the Southern Islands, Preface by Lord Myago of the Court of Imperial Relations, Submitted to the Lord Maestro of the Macti Archipelago at the Behest of the Emperor of Bestoria, 5—

Preface of Inquiry

The terrors of Professor Daru Heriz are among the most reviled in Bestorian’s control of the Macti Archipelago. He had arrived under a false heritage and the pretext of being a pilgrim of the Wayfarer, and was identified by island officials as a proud member of our empire and educator of the wandering god. Within the Imperial Services he was known as a spy for the Kingdom of Protero and rebel on our mutual frontier. (As their war with Bestoria was still in its luster, and because none could stand in the way of Emperor’s army at home, they sent their miscreants and diabolists to the fringe, stinging at our fingertips because they could not dent our armor, L.M.)

However, Heriz was the most peculiar of their agents. He was not a soldier, or even a mercenary. Evidence of his true life is scattered, but accords him the title of minor scholar, or, at best, archaic, with an affinity for lost cultures and dead races. He came into the service of the Portero’s royal family, though his work with frontier tribes made him an enemy of Bestoria. He arrived in the Macti islands in the year 5— of our Emperor’s lineage, after the monsoons and before the bloodiest of Macti rebellions that he is credited with organizing sparked into existence.

The Secret Chronicle of Heriz, as Compiled by his Colleague, Marteez Belaz of the Kingdom of Portero, 5—

The branding of our noble Heriz as “the Spider” rests with the proconsul in Glintono, Raymo Kairens, the mastermind behind the Dovenus massacre on the Shadow Islands and the Lord Maestro’s chief competitor for the Bestorian emperor’s ear regarding policy in the Archipelago. Heriz moved quickly from religious to medicinal efforts, for he told me that his father was an esteemed liquidious man who had served in the Bestorian Academy of Medicine, and he himself was half-Bestorian; it is assumed these family connections allowed Heriz his access to Bestorian travel and identities.

Heriz arrived in the Archipelago impersonating a religious healer of the nomadic god of the Bestorians, and earned the title of Professor Panacea from the Wayfaring Brotherhood for his skill at saving the children, particularly of the Terago tribes of the heathen interior of Mytes Island. This skill earned him coin with the people and suspicions with the local Wayfarer house, who had kept much of their fluidcraft a secret source of power to be doled out in exchange for obedience. Heriz gave freely, only for the “glory of the Wayfarer’s distant children,” and thus the allegiances of the locals soon migrated from the Wayfarers to him.

When the lead brother of the Wayferers, a certain Brother Althin, caught scent of Heriz’s true goal, he contacted Kairens regarding the plot. Heriz had used a similar approach with mountain tribes of our Inscrutable Peaks that border Bestoria, and thus turned their loyalty to the King of Portero. “He is a spider,” Kairens reported. “Only he lets others become his web, spreading out from his center with invisible silk until the time is right, ensnaring us where we stand, and he moves not one step.”

Despite the protest of a handful of colonial administrators, the Lord Maestro agreed to eliminate the Spider. He ordered two legions of Bestorian infantry, with full powder and black fire, to Mytes.

Confession of the Disgraced Captain Riv, Bull Regiment, Expedition to Mytes, Written before his death in the arena of Glitano, 5—

To catch a bug, you must burn him out. That had been our experience with Macti spies and rebels. Under the authority of the Wayfaring House we came with black fire and warned all that if the Spider known as Heriz was not returned, we would decree the island corrupted and purify by shot and flame. It had worked in Jani, Uurun, and it would work here.

The island burned. In the smoke I realized the idiocy of our tactics, and why some of the political offices had tried to block our fist. With every home we torched, we made fresh disciples of the Spider Heriz. He came as a healer and we as destroyers, until word of our brutality spread faster than fire across a kindled bridge. The island was lost to us. The Archipelago soon burned with his web of flame. He’d counted on our brutality. We gave it to him freely. His followers were swelling among all of the inhabitants. So when the fires grew too hot, the fighting in the lush wild too savage, and I was left in command, the only balm was massacre.

The Suppression of Macti, as Recorded by the Commissioner of Inquests for Glitano Archipelago, 5—

Before Cleansing: 10,000 heathen; 300 Wayfarer Brothers, 50 Colonial Administrators.

After Cleansing: 72 loyal heathen, 200 Wayfarers, 13 Colonial Administrators

Report of the Royal Investigation into the Conduct of Former Colonel Jarish Kin, Commanding Officer in Charge of the Hunt for Heriz, His Lordship’s Asylum for the Accosted, 5—

I did only what was asked of me by the Emperor and his appointed. But I made sure every heathen hut that hid him paid a price for their betrayals. Do I regret it? Does the Wayfarer sit still for the idle to catch up? I drowned the Spider in black flames. He is dead. And I killed him. If he were alive, could I be haunted by his bloody ghost?

Street Pamphlet Regarding the Rising on Yazit, 5—

A healer has come! And all those made sick by the Bestorians will be made well! The only price is a thousand heads of the outlanders. Feed the graves of our enemy, and taste the first kiss of freedom!

Account of the Death of Heriz, The Royal Historian of the Imperial Court, 6—

...when Colonel Kin concluded his expedition, he brought a man to the court of the Lord Maestro. This man was burned in skin, but the inner flesh of his body was the same scale-white of a continental-born. Here, Kin assured us, was the Spider Heriz. He’d surrendered when the last village of Taygur was burned and the children poxed. It would seem even the Spider’s skill at healing could not save them. However, the man never spoke. Even under the Inquisitors’ attentions, the man remained silent until he succumbed from his wounds, and his corpse was hung from the Keep’s gate while the Lord Maestro played the Bestorian Call.

It was assumed that the death and demonstration of the corpse of Heriz would be the cessation of the Macti Rebellions of 5—. The heathen tribes all recoiled from their uncivilized war of kidnapping, murder, and ambush. Order was finally restored. Bestorian fatalities are difficult to wager, yet not since the original landing of the indomitable Captain Magavit had the graveyards been so full.

Except that something unnerved the local Wayfarer Houses on Mytes, where “the Spider” had initially grown his web. The Brothers reported a curious fact, in early 6—. The decimated populations from the Cleansing began to rebuild, growing at an alarming rate. The islands were soon filled with children, and, unlike previous generations, they seemed immune to the bottle pox that had so ruined the populations upon our arrival. The wild fertility and endurance of this brood spread to other islands, and the phenomenon was recognized as a pattern that could not have burst forth naturally. Again, Heriz’s ghost was resurrected. He had done fluid wizardry and unholy couplings with the native wives, some said. The populations that had been leavened by fire were nearly reborn with the young, wide-eyed “Children of the Spider,” or so the camp talk of soldiers called it. Children who matured quickly and aged slow.

Excerpt from the Lost Account of the Bestorian Retreat from the Macti Archipelago, by Historian of the Throne Aimes Akec, for His Majesty Eises, Emperor of Protero and the Outer Realm, 7—

...the Bestorian record, such as it is, is beset with a concerted lack of empiricism and such dollops of hubris that it strays from history into legend and finally a child’s nightmare. The generation that Heriz saved with his fluidcraft were not abominations but merely the seeds of Bestorian avarice and rapine hungers coming back to haunt them. The horrors that awaited the former overlords of the Macti were the horrors deserved a degenerate Imperial throne.

What is troubling, from a scholarly view, is the amnesia of the Macti, especially the southern tribes, for what Heriz did and why. We were the sole continental power who struck at Bestoria through them, and we did it not with black fire and needleshot. We did it as healers. The receiving of gratitude for our efforts through Heriz has been glacial.

Pages from the Disputed Diary of Heriz, Recovered in Bestoria Minor by the Don of the Antiquarians as Part of his Trial for Sedition and Treason, 7—

“I came not for revolution, but for freedom. Not to harm, but to heal. Not to command, but to lead. The Macti, the Laprentise, and others have witnessed too much suffering at the behest of men of foreign standards who viewed them as fuel for the forge of empire. They did not see the wonder in a child’s eye, the dance of the Hesher women as their hands kneaded twisted knots of soft wood searching the grain for the child’s name; they did not see the courage of the hunting parties as they were enveloped by the green lushness and came home scarred from dreaded insects the size of children. Of their sagas, before Bestoria or Protero were synonyms for slavery and graves, when their people were masters of their own islands and spoke a language that once had no word for empire.”

Interview with an Alleged Surviving Child of the Spider, Shadow Island, Macti Archipelago,7—

Few remember. Our leader is young, and the young distort what came before. For the new generations, who never saw the dark eras, Heriz was not better than the Lord Maestro, and he was responsible for the black fire and the ashes of the dead. He was the bullet fired from the faceless emperor across the sea.

I do not say he is wrong. I’m too old to count the dead, and I will join them soon. But I know that the living are always many things. I was a Child of the Spider, but I did not want war. I spread joy as I could, traveling with the funmakers and the grinners. I also listened, and brought news of value to our leaders. I also suffered, as those leaders who united first against the Bestorians suffered and then divided amongst each other. I paid in time, which kept me in the hell of Protero’s Irons Deep and spared me the worst until Bestoria abandoned its island conquests. When I emerged, my generation was thinned and new ones had emerged.

A friend says that all Macti, even the fringe peoples of the northern islands, are all Children of the Spider. It is not so.

I only saw him once. He was just a man. A burned shade of white. But he came to see my elder sister, as she had now taken command of our return to the ashes of our home. I listened behind the wall, and did not understand. When he left he did not turn back. When I entered her room, she held a glass. Within it was a chittle drowned in honey.

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Jason Ridler is a historian and writer. He created The Brimstone Files for Nightshade Books, has published over 60 short stories, and teaches creative writing for such clients as Google, CloudFlare, and others. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, he lives in Northern California. 

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