Dear readers, I am most relieved to inform you that I am alive and well. After that incident at her residence, Vedika was courteous enough to fly me home and explain my unfortunate condition to my mother, who persuaded Vedika to dispose of the disastrous anti-emetic paste. (Note to self: Vedika is a strong flier; definitely call upon her for aerial shots.) One short rest later, I felt as good as new, and I departed the woods to meet the next member of my party, the cleric Kratz, self-proclaimed Whisperer of Spiders.
I must admit that my nerves are a tad frayed. The Vedika incident notwithstanding, this will be my first time meeting Kratz. Our only contact has been through letters, and in his most recent one, he requested that I conduct this interview in a copse several meters from the Gru’sym Cemetery. Or at least I think his letter said “copse.” Brunhilda forbid otherwise…
The air is chill and stale as the breath of a Buer, and not a single leaf graces the parched birch trees under which I stand. Nor is there a single bird to be heard. It is almost as if the Unweaver had just passed through, but without leaving its signature tumescent trail of lumps and lesions. The only signs of life are thin, nearly translucent strands of silk stretched in crazed patterns between the branches. I reach out and touch one. The strand sticks to my skin like mucus.
I shudder. What kind of person must this Kratz be to request to meet here?
“Well, hello there.”
Shocked, I swing around to find an Elf—Wood Elf or High Elf, I can’t say—not much taller than myself standing mere centimeters from my face. He smiles crookedly. His breath reeks of decay, with a hint of lavender.
“You must be Adair B’Nansa. A pleasure to make your acquaintance, m’lady.”
Despite being conventionally attractive, he repulses me on such a primal level that I instinctively shove his face away.
“Feishty,” he says, his mouth smooshed by my palm. “Jush the way I like.”
“Gods, don’t tell me that you’re Kratz,” I say, removing my hand.
“Durandil ‘Kratz’ Thackeray at your service,” he sings, his voice as smooth as pig intestines.
“There must be some mistake—a clerical error. You can’t be the same Kratz Thackeray who wrote about joining my quest to battle the Unweaver.”
“The one and the same, m’lady.”
“Stop calling me that.”
“But why? Are you not a lady?”
“No, it’s not that, but—”
“Because a gentleman is fine, too. Or gender fluid. Or gender non-conforming. Whichever is fine; I don’t discriminate. I’m an equal-opportunity lover.”
He snatches my free hand and kisses a trail up my arm. It feels like a million little spiders have just hatched from my fingers and are trying to burrow into my veins.
“Stop that!” I shriek, drawing my greatsword.
“Oh, a barbarian, I see,” he smiles, releasing his lips from my arm and backing away slowly, bowed forward like a manservant.
It is only then that I see that his body is covered in spiders, dozens of spiders in all shapes and sizes. They run along his arms and across his torso, even down his clingy leather briefs. It is also now that I notice his attire—or should I say lack thereof*. When the Kratz who wrote me mentioned that his religion dictated a certain dress code, I did not imagine this.
Alas, this man must indeed be the same Kratz with whom I have corresponded for the last fortnight. O Brunhilda, what foul deed have I committed for you to punish me so?
“Well, to be frank…yes. You’re not at all what I expected. I imagined someone with a little more—I don’t know—decorum? No, that’s not it. Restraint? Yes, restraint.”
At that word, his eyes shimmer with a maniacal glow.
“Restraint? Oh, Kratz can be restrained. Kratz is very good at being restrained. Kratz loves being restrained.”
“Good heavens, not that kind of restraint, you pervert! Please, I’m writing for a general audience! There—there are children—”
“I jest, I jest! Oh, Adair, how charmingly neurotic you are. I couldn’t resist. Really, I’m just teasing you.”
The drool hanging from his chin suggests he is not just teasing me, but I say nothing. Instead, I turn around and walk away. I’ve had quite enough. Surely I can find someone else to fill his spot in the party, someone less demented.
I continue walking. I passed by a small village on the way here. Perhaps I can recruit a replacement at the local tavern. Any sot with a pocket full of potions would be more tolerable than him.
“Adair, sweetheart, please wait. You know you’ll never restore your family name without me.”
Wait, what? I grind to a halt. He reaches me in no time at all, grinning like a loon.
“How do you know about my family? I’ve never seen you in my forest, the next forest over, or five forests over, for that matter.”
“I have my sources,” he murmurs, tapping his index finger against his ear. Perched upon his index finger is a smooth black spider with an odd symbol etched upon its back.
My intuition tells me I should keep walking, that I should place as much distance between myself and this disgusting, masochistic spider lover, but I find that I can’t move. Panicking, I scan my body for traces of some sort of spell. I can still move my arms and hands; that’s how I continue to write all this, after all. I can move my feet, too, but each time I try to step away from Kratz, I sense a force pushing back against my foot, shoving me ever closer to his outstretched arms. It’s no spell, I realize.
It’s pure desperation.
When was the last time someone offered to help me restore my family name? When was the last time anyone outside my immediate family treated me like the noble B’Nansa I am? Lascivious and deranged though he may be, I believe that Kratz can help me. I want to believe that Kratz can help me.
“Won’t you at least interview me?” he lilts, batting his eyes. “I promise I’ll keep my hands to myself.”
And so the interview begins.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, Kratz. You’ve mentioned your career as a cleric, but where do you come from? Why go by “Kratz” and not “Durandil”?
I’m so pleased you asked, Adair. I come from a long, noble line of Drow, you see. Durandil is my mother’s surname. Beautiful, but not quite me. I believe a name must be earned.
Aren’t you a little pale to be a Drow?
No, I’m not! Er, that is to say, I am an albino Drow. The only one in the last seven centuries of my clan’s history.
I’ve never heard of such a thing.
Naturally, as we are very rare. Drow legend portrays the albino, The Pale One, as a symbol of ill portent. Miraculously, my parents didn’t kill me, nor did the clan ever speak of expelling me. They coddled me, actually. Since my earliest memory, they tasked me with treating the clan’s sewage, transporting the dead out of battle, and serving as whipping boy anytime something went wrong.
And when I say “whipping boy,” I mean that literally—hence the name “Kratz.” If I did as I was told, they even granted me the privilege of being disemboweled by priestesses for certain religious rites. Oops! That’s a clan secret. Scratch that from the record, will you?
Wait, disemboweled? Then how are you still alive?
My mistress works in mysterious ways. Praise be unto her!
Mistress? Ugh, please, let us at least try to keep this interview family-friendly.
Oh, Adair, she isn’t that kind of mistress. She’s a… Hmm. You know what? I rather like that idea. Let’s go with that, heh heh heh…
Moving on—what brings you to the Faire? Why did you respond to the Call to Action?
I saw your face on that flyer, and I thought, “Well, wouldn’t she make the most beautiful sacrifi—I mean, isn’t she the most beautiful slice!” Yes, yes, I wanted to meet you so I could admire your incredible beauty. No other reason, no siree.
So you don’t even care about battling the Unweaver?
Battling it, not so much, but I do enjoy healing people back to full health. Oh, the symphony of their shrieks and wails as they’re torn to shreds and ground to dust, and the delightful cracking of their bones as I cast Regenerate!
I suppose that’s…good. But you don’t care about the cause at all? About The Purple Braid?
Do you really care? Or are you just doing it to restore your clan’s name?
Hey! I am the one asking questions around here. And yes, of course I care about battling the Unweaver and helping weave The Purple Braid! How dare you question my motives?!
Easy, easy. It was an innocent question. You’re so cute when you’re defensive.
Do NOT condescend to me! I’ll have you locked you up in The Bazaar Dungeon, somewhere underneath the safety route, where the renovators dared not tread. Wait, you would like that, wouldn’t you…
The Bazaar Dungeon, hm? How delightful! I must see this place at once. Now where did I put that Scroll of Teleportation… Ah!
This interview isn’t over, Kratz! Wait!
Tah tah! See you at the Unweaver’s feet!
I reach forward to grab the strap of his harness, but I’m too late. His body stretches up in an effulgent azure glow, and his harness turns to mere dust in my fingers. Hot air blasts in my face, threatening to rupture my eardrums. I reflexively shut my eyes.
When I open them again, all I see is the copse of birch trees. The silken threads that once hung between the branches have disappeared. All is still; all is silent.
And here I thought the interview with Vedika was a disaster! Perhaps I’ll need to find a replacement for Kratz after all. A man like that cannot be trusted under any circumstances.
…And yet, I feel inexplicably drawn to him—not in a physical or emotional way, mind you. There is something oddly familiar about him, something about the way he structures his sentences and enunciates certain words, especially the name of my clan. But how could that be? He’s a Drow, for Brunhilda’s sake. My tutor warned me about his kind.
I can’t shake the feeling that our meeting was fate. No, that’s not quite right. This feeling, this dripping sensation in my stomach, is none other than…