Milyi had never imagined there were spiders this big. Her heartbeat screamed at her to run. The oddity of it, however, pulled at her natural curiosity. The creature was beautiful in its own way, stark and foreign on the familiar tree. The velvet of a white exoskeleton contrasted with its black markings, reminding her of spilled ink. The legs were tipped with longer hair that curled outward it wispy tufts. There were black dots on the soft white toes. She crept closer, for a moment forgot the voice.
Then it spoke again.
“You look terrified.” It stated this matter-of-factly. “Are you going to squish me?”
Milyi heard admonishment there, and a wave of guilt swept through her. How could this thing know? “Why?” Her voice rippled with her fear. “Are you dangerous?”
“Isn’t that what your people do? Squish first and be done with it?”
She could think of no response to this that wouldn’t be a lie. Instead of making answer, she shifted her weight from one foot to the next and watched the spider. It continued to descend until it was just above her eye level.
She'd saved it from the hunters. Maybe its gratitude for that gesture would outweigh all the tiny arachnids she'd crushed. Did those small lives add up to this larger one? Did this thing know what her people would do, if they learned her crime? She'd risked her own future for it, and that lent her a measure of bravery. Milyi took a step closer.
“What are you?” She wondered that for three days, had had to wait until they stopped watching her, until Grandmother had stopped fussing and hovering. She heard an echo of the old woman's scorn in her next words. “Spiders don’t talk.”
“Oh of course they don't.” He mocked her and crawled lower. “Not that they are often given the chance. I am a T’rant. You may call me Horatch.”
“Well what’s that?” She remembered the name now. Horatch.
“We are an old and noble race; and we serve an ancient one.”
“An ancient one?”
“An ancient race. One that flourished before your people ever lived.”
Milyi snorted.“I’ve never heard of any ancient race.”
She stepped back quickly. Horatch reared backwards at her words. His front legs and small appendages lifted up at a steep angle from the front of its body. Huge shining black fangs arched into view.
“The Great Ones were forgotten before your people made tools.” He sounded scornful again, his tone reminding her of Teacher. “The only legacy that remains is a memory of hatred.”
She wanted to ask more, find out what he meant by it. Then again, perhaps she already knew. Better to change the subject either way. “Were they also T'rants? Were the Great One spiders too?”
“Yes, and no. You might call the stars fire, but the description hardly fits them.” The T’rant’s legs came back down. His toes settled against the bark again, returning to a relaxed posture.
“I should go now.” She had chores to do, and if she stayed to long they might come looking for her. After her swoon in the jungle, the hunters were on high alert. Which reminded her why she'd come back. At least, she told herself this was why she'd come back, the only why. “Do you live here?”
“At the moment. Shall you warn the village Milyi, now that you know this?”
"They're hunting for you." She blurted it out. The confession came in a rush, laced with both fear and guilt. "Searching everywhere."
"Yes, they've been here a few times."
"Oh." He already knew. She hadn't needed to warn him. Of course. the T'rant was smarter than a regular spider. It would know to hide. Her cheeks warmed a little. Silly, to have been so concerned for it.
"Thank you, Milyi. Coming back was a very brave thing to do."
“I thought I might visit again.” She fidgeted with her skirts. What would they say in the town if they saw her here, conversing with a monster of a spider?
Horatch only said, “Good”
Then the T’rant spun and disappeared back up the tree in an impossible burst of speed. One second he was there and the next he wasn’t even a blur. If she had known it could move that fast…Milyi backed way for the first three steps. Then she turned and headed for home.
She was half way there before she wondered how the thing had known her name. Her feet stalled abruptly. She froze and squinted at the fronds around her. She'd never given Horatch her name. Had she? Maybe he'd heard the villagers say it. Of course.
But if she remembered right, he'd used it before that.
She spun around, meant to go back right away and ask him, but a tiny squeak from the jungle stopped her. She peered into the brush. Milyi knew that squeak.
Only the rattling for fronds answered. They told her enough, though, as the echoes drifted back toward the village. They told her Rani had been followed her.