Agatha spent every day of the week following a rigid schedule. In the morning, she would bathe herself thoroughly, before brushing her midnight-blue fur. After dressing, Agatha had her usual breakfast of raw trout and a glass of milk. Some days she longed for the taste of rat, but ever since the kingdom’s creation of the Sentient Animals Protection Act, which included rats, it was now illegal to eat animals with the power of speech.
After eating, her afternoon consisted of tending to the house, a small birch wood building that she had inherited from her father. It leaked during storms, and strong winds always threatened to tear the place to pieces. But it was a house of precious memories for Agatha. She would also, every now and then, pass the time reading the old children’s books she had once read to her beloved kittens. This was not often, though, as usually this caused her to descend back into grief and regret.
But in the evenings, she met with her close friend, a black rabbit named Daryl. He lived not far from her home, less than three miles, and he regularly came out to see her. Sometimes it would be three times a week; other times once a month, depending on his schedule. He had a wife and babies to look after now, which made it difficult for him to find time to meet her. But earlier this day, he had sent a messenger pigeon to her house, who told her that he would be coming over that night.
Agatha had waited hours and hours, nervously twisting her tail. When the knock on the door finally came, she leaped to her feet, and rushed over to open it. Standing on the doorstep was Daryl, wearing his wide-brimmed farmer’s hat.
“Evening, my dear Miss Cattington. Always a vision of divine beauty you are, especially in that of all garments!”
Agatha blushed, as she straightened out her dress, a silk dark-red evening gown that she had managed to buy a few days earlier in the nearby town of Dordol. It had cost a great deal, but it was worth it just to hear Daryl compliment it. She said, “Thank you. Come in, and I’ll get drinks.”
The rabbit nodded, hopping over the threshold, and placing his hat on a stand by the door. He casually kicked the door shut behind him. Daryl mumbled, as Agatha walked into her kitchen, “I apologize for not visiting in so long. Wife’s been sick, and I refused to leave her bedside. Kids were frantic, thinking she’d die if she fell asleep.”
“Oh, the poor dears,” said Agatha. She brought a tray of wooden cups into the living room, where there was a table and four chairs. They both sat, and Daryl snatched a cup, taking a long sip. “Ah, never fails, your delicious tea.” He then said, “So, how was your week?”
Agatha sighed. “Typical, for the most part. Just looking after the place, keeping it tidy and loved. It’s all I really have nowadays, other than you.”
Daryl nodded somberly. “So…they still haven’t come back?”
“Have you heard anything new?”
“Just the usual stories. I went to Dordol not long ago, and everywhere I went, there were people raving about the latest exploits of ‘the Brothers Brave.’ I remember hearing three different stories.”
“What were they, pray tell?”
“Well, one was about how they raided the King’s kitchens, surviving the traps and evading all security. In the end, they escaped with ten pies.”
Daryl looked impressed. “Huh. That’s actually pretty amazing, if true.”
“And then, better yet, one about them managing to steal the pies of Baron Bearinger’s birthday feast.”
Agatha rubbed her furry forehead, sighing. “And wait ‘till you hear story number three…”
Daryl chuckled. “It can’t possibly be better than those two.”
Agatha smiled. “You want to bet on that?”
Daryl gave her a devilish smile, and took a quick sip from his cup before declaring, “I, Daryl Michael Hareison, will bet five apples that the third story doesn’t top the previous two!”
Agatha laughed, as she said, “Deal.” They shook paws, and then she began, “The last one is—”
There was a gargantuan BANG, as the front door was smashed off its frame and flew across the room, speeding towards them. Daryl moved instantly, tackling Agatha to the ground as he yelled, “DOWN!” They hit the floor, just as the door flew over them, missing their heads by inches. It finally hit the far wall, and fell to the ground. Daryl helped Agatha to her feet, and they both turned to the doorway. Who stood in it almost made Agatha scream.
He was tall, with a rotund body that contrasted with the eight spindly limbs that grew from it. Two of them acted as legs, while the others were arms. Wrapped to his back was a quiver holding, not arrows, but swords. One for each arm. The small head of the massive spider had six bright-red eyes glaring at them both. Then a hoarse, gravelly voice emanated from his fang-filled mouth:
“Miss Cattington. You are to come with me, or die.”
Agatha and Daryl stood motionless, both frozen in shock. Agatha’s brain seemed to have stopped working, the spider’s words still trying to be digested by her terror-stricken mind. She finally stammered out, “W-What? Who are you? What do you want with me?”
The spider stepped forward, his arms all crossed across the front of his body. He chuckled, a horrendously un-cheerful sound. “I am…Randall.”
Daryl let out a gasp of shock, and Agatha briefly looked over at him. His expression was terrified, as he whispered, “The infamous mercenary. He’s the most bloodthirsty creature in the entire kingdom…”
“That I am,” growled Randall, as he moved closer. “And I am not fond of stalling. You, cat, are coming with me. If you resist, I will have to bring you to my master in less-than-good health.” He then reached back with one arm, and took from the quiver a sword. He pointed it at Agatha’s throat, and whispered, “Move. Now.”
But then Daryl stood in front of her, knocking the sword-tip away, as he snarled, “Begone, you scum! You’re not touching her! I’ll be dead before I let you come any further!”
Randall smiled, and Agatha whispered, “Please, don’t—”
The spider swung his sword, and the blade slashed into Daryl’s chest. He let out a painful squeal, as he fell backward, and blood spilled onto the floor. He gasped heavily, as Agatha screamed out, “No! Please, leave him alone! I’ll go with you!”
Randall, who had just raised his sword for another slash, halted, and looked at Agatha. He smiled again, and chuckled, “See? I knew you’d come around with a little…persuasion.”
Agatha fell to her knees next to Daryl, who was breathing rapidly, and through her tears she cried, “Daryl, don’t worry! Just hang on, hang on!”
Daryl coughed out, “Agatha...just go…go with him…Do everything he says…and you’ll live…”
Agatha sobbed, “Daryl, please, don’t go! I—”
But suddenly Randall appeared behind her, and grabbed the scruff of her neck. She cried out as the spider began to drag her across the floor, “Daryl! Daryl!”
She was hauled through the doorway, and then, with a mighty throw, Randall tossed her into the air. She screamed, and flew into the back of a large steel carriage with many other animals. They helped her up, asking her if she was alright, and she sobbed in despair. Randall slammed the back door closed, and locked it shut. He then jumped into the front seat of the carriage, and whipped the reigns.