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Fiction Humorous

Wayward Spider, The

by (author) John Haas

Renaissance Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2019
Humorous, Epic
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2019
    List Price

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All Spider wants is to seek his fortune as a thief. Is that too much to ask? Must be, since a break in gone wrong leaves him babysitting a powerful magic-user with sporadic control over his spells, and even less of a grip on functioning in society. And that's just where it starts. Each misadventure takes Spider further from his goals, but he's about to learn that sometimes we get what we need instead of what we want.

Werewolves, cults, ghosts and gods. This one has it all. Join a moody thief, a caster of chaos magic and a hulking behemoth as circumstances throw them from one quest to another.

And just why is that ancient cult chasing them?

About the author

John Haas is an award winning Canadian author living in the nation's capital of Ottawa, Ontario. He grew up in Montreal, Quebec and also lived for many years in Calgary, Alberta.

Since his early days he's enjoyed writing and telling stories. Over the years he's found ways to incorporate that into whatever else he's been doing, and there has been a long list of jobs. He's worked as a camp counsellor, professional driver, theatrical technician, stage manager, director, courier, independent business owner, hotel night auditor, office manager, health & safety inspector, handyman, school bus driver and service management specialist. It's entirely possible that a job or two has been forgotten over the years.

When not writing or working John loves to be with his two wonderful kids, doing all kinds of family stuff.

John Haas' profile page

Excerpt: Wayward Spider, The (by (author) John Haas)

Timurpajan, that bustling oceanside metropolis and home to thousands, was gloomy and overcast. The city's mood matched mine to a T, as if deciding that cheering me up was a hopeless cause and joined me for a good sulk instead.

The show of solidarity was appreciated.

My name is Spider, by the way, and this is my story.

Oh yeah. Nailed that opening. Ugh!

I mean, obviously this is my story since I'm the one telling it... Okay, maybe the "Spider" part wasn't so obvious, unless I call this "Spider's Quest" or something.

Hmm, Spider's Quest?


Okay, okay, moving on.

I wandered the streets of Timurpajan, going where my feet took me, allowing five years of memories to breeze in one side of my mind and out the other. Five years! The longest we'd stayed in one place, only settling here once life on the road had become too much for Dad.


He'd aged so fast. And now he was gone, leaving me alone in the world.

A sigh escaped me, coming from the depths of my soul.

Thinking in bad prose must be one of the stages of grief, but it refused to be shaken off, clinging like some nastiness stuck to the bottom of a shoe.

Look, usually I'm a much more happy-go-lucky kind of guy, but burying Dad had been the most crushing event of my life. That man had always been my anchor in life, my rudder, my compass.

Okay, stopping at the docks to think may have been a mistake.

This part of the city spoke of adventure and change though, and that's what was needed. Change. I itched to leave the city's claustrophobic walls and get back on the road, to travel, wander, explore. That was my true home, where I'd grown up.

Grown up?

A snort of cynical laughter escaped me.

For seven years now, I'd been an "adult," at least by human standards. I still didn't feel like one.

Well, at least I'd managed a laugh, cynical or not, and that was one step closer to the true me.

"Snap out of it, Spider," I said since no one was there to judge me for talking to myself. "Maudlin and gloomy is not the way Dad raised you."

A murmur of voices off to my left.

Four sailors loitered at the base of a ship's ramp, nudging each other and staring in my direction.

"Funny how talking to yourself doesn't seem crazy until you have an audience," I said to them.

One sailor nodded at this sage observation while the rest stood there looking dangerous. I moved on, leaving the smell of salt air, the creak of mooring lines, and the threat of untold violence.

Dad would have handled that situation some other way. Judging from past experiences, he would have charmed the sailors, challenged them to a game of dice, and left with all of their money.

Now that brought a smile to my face.

Didn't we have some adventures, Spider?

Dad's voice and words. He'd been lurking in my head the past couple of days, offering random bits of wisdom. If talking to myself was a tad crazy, then listening to my dead father speak inside my head was drooling-in-the-darkness bonkers. Still, I wasn't ready to let him go just yet.

Now, if this were a story--

All of life is a story, Spider, but I'm still only memories.

I sighed.

Weren't we thinking about the old days?

Yes. Right.

Dad had been my life's only constant, back to my first conscious thoughts. It had been just him and me most of that time, always on the move, living the lives of traders with some honest thievery thrown in.

By the age of ten, he'd taught me how to drive a wagon and how to read people, how to pick some of the most difficult locks and more guarded pockets. Together we'd seen most of this continent, from the Opal Sea in the west to the ogre communities south of there; from the Razor Mountains rimming the land in the north to the edge of that more segregated kingdom in the east.

It was a wild and beautiful world, full of adventure and excitement.

But, where to next? It was fine talking about change and getting back on the road, but that took money. My only valuable was the set of lockpicks inside my tunic. The thieving tools Dad had carried most of his life. Now they were bequeathed to me and had more value than a purse of gold. How best to put them to use?

Good question. Any thoughts, Dad?

No answer.

Guess even my subconscious had no ideas.


A meandering path led me past the thieves' dens and their secretive shadows, around the mysterious Tower of Wizardry which loomed over the city, and through the bustling, noisy market where traders hawked their wares.

A booth at one end of the market proclaimed:

See the world! Make your fortune!!

Join the Adventurer's Guild and explore the unexplored!!!

Keep 10% of all treasure found!!!!

They sure did like exclamation points.

These booths were set up in every marketplace through the kingdom, recruiting desperate young people to risk their lives for gold and glory. The fine print, which desperate young people willing to risk their lives for gold and glory didn't bother reading, stated the Adventurer's Guild kept anything unique or rare, and all items with magical properties.

Quite the racket. Still, ten percent wasn't zero, and the guild did outfit its people.

Further up was where our shop had been. Gone now, sold, along with all its inventory, and anything else Dad owned. A shop selling aphrodisiacs with names like The Basilisk's Horn now occupied the spot.

Just outside the market's other end was the Inn of the Sainted Ogre, our home for the last five years. The inn's name was a joke between the owners, Garveston Winterfield, Gar to his friends, and his wife, Lees Bonebreaker. Lees was a half-ogre who could crush stone in one hand while making her delicious spiced potatoes with the other--not that she stood around doing this. That would have been odd behaviour, even for a half-ogre who didn't care what others thought.

Gar and Lees were Dad's best and oldest friends, more like family, and were the main reason he'd chosen Timurpajan to settle down in when the time came.

To the right of the bright-blue wooden door was a sign showing a gruesome ogre in beatific contemplation, a ring of glowing holiness around his head. That sign had always amused me whenever we'd passed through Timurpajan. I've seen many ogres on our trading excursions but never met a sainted one.

Today, that sign did its job of lessening the heavy burden on my soul.

Heavy burden on my soul? Ouch! Was I some teen hiding in my room, composing poetry even a tavern bard wouldn't sing?

Enough already.

The heavy door swung open with ease, smells of beer, bodies and spiced potatoes fighting for my nose's attention. The inn's ground floor was a wide-open tavern with sturdy tables, surrounded by equally sturdy chairs, the kind which could take the weight of a man in armour, or a half-ogre woman. A table next to the door waited for patrons to leave their weapons.

This was a place for friends to share a drink or a meal, to laugh and sing. Grudges remained outside or were met with the wrath of Lees Bonebreaker.

Too late in the day for lunch but not yet dinner, and still the place was half-filled, mostly with patrons who had no better place to go, like me. Tonight, it would come to life again, but the Sainted Ogre didn't close for more than a few hours per night, catering to a diverse clientele depending on the time of day.

"There's the lad," Gar called from his spot behind the counter.

He gestured to his personal booth, and I made my way across the room, greeting familiar faces along the way. Gar jumped down from his serving crate and came around with two mugs. Like the potatoes, Lees made the beer herself, and it drew people from all around.

Sliding into the seat, I hesitated, then pushed the hood back to reveal my elfin ears, noting Gar's one raised eyebrow of reaction. Dad had always insisted on keeping my hood up and ears hidden while in public. It was easier than explaining why a human male travelled with an elf child.

That wouldn't matter anymore, hadn't actually mattered in years, but was an ingrained habit. In truth, my hood down made me uncomfortable, but there was no way to pull it back up without appearing foolish.

Gar jumped onto a step, then to the seat, and finally onto a raised section there just for him. Average for his race at a few inches under four feet, the halfling lived in an oversized world, compensating where he could around the inn.

As a child, I'd delighted in the fact that we were close in height, something which Gar enjoyed just as much. Everyone loved the halfling and Gar loved everyone back, finding the joy in whatever others did. His ability to cut to the heart of any topic and see past the people's masks was impressive.

Today his face was tinged with the same sadness it had worn at Dad's funeral. "How are you, Spider?"

I shook my head. "No more tears for me, Gar. I'm fine."

He raised an eyebrow, the weight of that stare boring into my soul.

"Okay, okay," I said. "As fine as can be expected. Trying to adopt Dad's realistic view towards life."

"Oh, you mean: It's a wild ride, except for the sudden stop at the end," Gar quoted.

The familiar words made me laugh, a real one this time, untinged by cynicism. Gar joined in, though maybe more in relief at seeing the old me than anything else. Then again, Gar could probably use a laugh too. We'd both lost someone vital in our lives.

Gar grabbed the beer mug, as large as his head, and raised it in salute. "To Warrick."

I grabbed the other and clinked it against his. "To Dad."

We took a deep, delicious drink.

One of Gar's servers, a human girl I'd spoken to several times, brought a plate of potatoes and deposited them in front of me. Gar had somehow signalled for food without giving any sign, and I was grateful for it.

The girl's eyes lingered. It was the ears, ladies always loved the elf ears.

"Thank you, Thari," Gar said, rather pointedly.

She returned to her spot behind the bar, covering for Gar. My eyes followed her path as she went, though the aroma of garlic, rosemary and a few secret ingredients soon pulled my attention back. I breathed that perfume in deep.

The recipe was known only by Lees, Gar, and myself.

Years ago, when I was young, curious and stupid... Hmm, okay, so I'm not all that old, if anything I am more curious, and as far as stupid goes...well, that's better judged by others, or from a distance of years. Anyway, one day while Lees made her potatoes, I spied on her, or tried to. She caught me and, instead of throwing me out a window, put me to work making them, trusting me with the recipe. Over the years she'd let me work in the kitchen with her whenever we were in Timurpajan, helping make the food and beer. That gruff, dangerous woman had a tender side and became a surrogate mother figure to me.

Had I said I was alone in the world? No, not as long as Gar and Lees were around.

"So, all done then?" Gar waved one hand vaguely which still conveyed his meaning.

"Yep. Shop sold and debts paid. Dropped off what was left at the orphanage earlier today."

"No temptation to keep some of it?"

"No, not with this."

A person pays their debts and doesn't steal from those needing the money.

One of Dad's first and favourite lessons.

I traced the ruts of ancient knife gouges in the table top.

"Why in the world did Dad keep travelling, Gar? He did better here in the last five years while sick than he had all those years on the road."

When Gar didn't respond, I glanced up. He'd been staring at me but looked elsewhere quick.

"What is it?" I asked.

Gar let out a pent-up breath. "Your father was a man obsessed with money, never could have enough of it and spent every waking moment scheming on how to get more."

I shook my head. "No. That doesn't sound like him at all."

"It wouldn't to you, but that was Warrick until the day he came through that door carrying a silent, squirming bundle."


"Oh, that man knew nothing about babies," Gar chuckled. "Not then anyway. Lees showed him how to feed you, change you, and we tried convincing him to stay so we could help, but he had to hit the road again. At first, we assumed it was his obsession with money, but that wasn't it. His focus had changed. He wanted to show you the world, make sure you didn't miss any experience."

That sounded more like my dad.

"You're fortunate he adopted you, Spider."

"Whoa! Hold on a minute," I said, one hand toward Gar, palm out. "I'm adopted?"

We both smiled. Then I giggled. Gar joined in, and soon we'd dissolved into uncontrolled laughter. It was a well-worn joke, but those are sometimes best.

My purebred elf heritage isn't evident from the name, or from my appearance, as long as I keep the hood up. Elves are reserved and lack that outward spark, that love of life.

As the story goes, Dad found me along the road leading to Derabi when I was a baby, lying in the shade of the giant elms which line either side of that road. He'd named me after the only other living creature in sight, a black spider crawling across my blanket.

"Warrick always said you were the one treasure he'd gotten for free," Gar continued, repeating words heard countless times but which had extra weight today. "Everything else he had to buy, trade, or steal. No one needed a baby less than that man, but he kept you anyway, raised you as his own."

"Taught me everything he knew."

By day it was trading, and how to deal with customers, and at night it was the art of thievery, emphasizing who to steal from and why: Only those that could afford it and never from friends.

Best of all, he taught me to enjoy life.

"I haven't met many other elves," I said. "Mostly adventurers who left the forests. They were all so sombre and reserved. Boring."

Another reason to keep my hood up. If people knew I was an elf, they would treat me like one.

"Elves don't laugh," Gar said. An old quote.

"This one does."

In all our years of travelling, we'd stayed clear of the elf communities in the eastern forests. Not difficult since they'd distanced themselves from other races, not encouraging visitors into their lands.

We sipped our beers in silence, me dreading what came next. Gar would resist it the whole way. But Dad had insisted.

I reached into my tunic and pulled out a money pouch, dropping it in front of Gar with a clink.

"What's this?" Gar asked.

"From Dad."

Gar shook his head, taking a drink from his mug. "We don't need charity, Spider."

"Not charity, Gar," I said. "Payment on the room you gave us these past five years."

Gar raised one eyebrow. "No tab was kept. That was me and Lees giving hospitality to family."

The sack remained on the table, and I had no idea what to do if Gar refused the money.

Gar took another drink. I did too.

"I told Dad you wouldn't take it, but he'd insisted. Said if you couldn't help those you loved then he'd misunderstood what life was about."

Gar rolled his eyes and grabbed the pouch, making it disappear without so much as jingling the coins.

"That's dirty fighting, Spider."

"Yeah, but I'm trying to fulfil a dead man's final wishes."

"Oh, enough already. I've taken the coins."

We both took another drink from nearly empty mugs. The potatoes were gone and this felt like the perfect place to remain for the day.

"Have you decided to keep the room?" Gar interrupted my thoughts.

"Yeah, for a couple more nights anyway."

"Stay as long as you want," Gar said.

I looked over at the serving girl, Thari, who had been glancing in our direction whenever she could.

"Hands off the staff though," Gar added. "It's hard enough finding ones that are trainable."

"Aw, Gar. No fair..." I laughed. "Yeah, okay. Understood."

Gar turned toward Thari who scrambled to appear busy.

"So, what's the plan, Spider?"

"The plan?" I asked. "Same one Dad had always intended for me. Get out there and find my own success. It's my--I don't know--quest?"

And the bad-poetry teen returns!

Gar nodded. "How do you plan to start this quest?"

A fair question, and one I'd been asking myself all day. "Well, thieving and trading are all I know, and I don't have enough to start a trading business."

"You can have the coins you just gave me."

"I appreciate that Gar, I really do, but the idea was that I make my own way, to build myself up from nothing."

"Hmm, a wise man once said: If you can't help the ones you care about..."

I grinned. "Okay, nicely played, Gar, but in this case, I need to prove to myself that I can take Dad's teachings and accomplish something with them, in honour of his memory."

"To honour Warrick, huh?"

I nodded.

"And you're looking forward to it."

"Of course. This will be a fantastic adventure."

"Just like your father."

"Am I?" I asked, hoping that was true.

"So, if you can't start trading, where will you go thieving?"

Another good question. My mind returned to the booth in the market. "I could join the Adventurer's Guild. See the world, make my fortune, help explore the unexplored. Lots of abandoned dungeons and keeps around."

I was only half joking.

"They always need a good thief," I added.

"A little desperate, don't you think?" Gar asked.

"Yeah, but maybe I could see a dragon."

Ooh, a dragon! Okay, closer to one-quarter joking now.

Gar signalled for fresh beers. "You know, most folk who go off with those groups come back dead, insane or possessed. The recruiters don't bother telling that part."

Yeah, dead, insane or possessed people did not enjoy life much.

"You know," Gar said, scratching at the smooth skin along his neck. "You could have kept that money you used to pay off Warrick's debts."

I opened my mouth, ready to repeat the part about making my own way. Gar was already waving the objection aside.

"No, I suppose not. Oh!" Gar slapped the table, the flat noise carrying across the tavern. "I've got it. You come back to our rooms tonight and steal this sack of coins. I'll let Lees know so she doesn't accidentally kill you."

I snorted at the idea of anyone stupid enough to steal from Lees.

"No. Thanks, Gar. That's not how Dad raised me. I won't steal from friends, even ones asking me to."

We stared into the fresh beers Thari had brought.

"Okay," I agreed, "so you're right about the Adventurer's Guild. Not much future in being possessed."

"Don't forget dead or insane. Those are pretty limiting too."

"Some thieving closer to home then. Merchants, royalty, politicians. Someone like that."

"Now you're talking."

There were plenty of patrons in the tavern for inspiration, and my gaze fell onto an expressionless wizard in rich purple robes only one table from us. He appeared to be in his late teens, though looks mattered little with that sort. A glass of wine, which he appeared barely old enough to drink, sat in front of him.

"The Tower of Wizardry has untold treasures," I said.

Gar coughed a spray of beer. "Are you mad? Better to go adventuring. At least you know what death you'll get there," he leaned closer to me. "And keep your voice down."

The seated wizard gave no sign of having heard, maintaining the vacant expression as if no emotion ever reached his face.

It seemed attentions other than just ours were on the wizard. A squat man with flushed face approached his table. Even to an inexperienced observer, it was obvious a scam was in motion. The man in front spoke in low, conspiratorial tones, holding the wizard's attention while an accomplice approached from behind. Each wore an aura of overconfidence assuming that, because the mark was young, he was also stupid.

That wasn't all they wore. Each had a single red sash dangling from their waist, identifying them as part of one group.

"River Rats, Gar? Why do you let them in here?"

The River Rats were Timurpajan's most pathetic, desperate band of thieves and beggars. Some possessed rudimentary thieving skills that could be refined with patience and practice, but in general, they were ones with no hope of joining the more distinguished Thieves Guild.

"If they have coins and don't cause trouble they can drink here," Gar said.

I turned toward him. "No trouble?"

"Oh, this isn't trouble. This is a life lesson. Watch."

Unsure who this life lesson was aimed at, I leaned back in the booth, watching the scene play out.

The thief in front moved his hands back and forth, distracting the wizard while his partner, a skinny man with slender fingers, searched the seated man's pockets. A bold move targeting an obvious magic-user.

Boldness and stupidity are separated by a thin line of common sense.

River Rats were not known for common sense.

The wizard himself was tall and slim, with wisps of half-formed beard starting on his chin. He wore the floor-length robes usual to his order and had one ring on each hand. Worthless baubles but flashy enough to draw attention.

The wizard's demeanour told me he maybe wasn't so unaware of what was happening. He was a bit too focused on the thief in front of him, watching the man with great interest and allowing the other maximum opportunity.

For one brief instant, I wanted to warn the Rats but discarded that idea. Having the game turned around on you was part of thieving, part of learning to become a better one. As Gar had said, this was a life lesson.

The rummaging thief, presumably the one with more skill at pick-pocketing, pulled a palm-sized glass pyramid from the wizard's pocket. After a cursory glance, he placed it in the satchel over his shoulder. Next came a tiny sack, tied at the top. The River Rat struggled to untie it, and I groaned. Gar turned toward me.

"Never count the gains until you're safely away," I said in a low voice.

"Uh-oh," the wizard said, interrupting the thief in front. "Do you smell bacon?"

"Um," the squat thief said. "I suppose..."

The wizard's eyes glowed a soft amber.

"Magic," Gar said, making it sound like profanity.

"You expected something else?"

"No. Just that much power in one person makes me uneasy."

"No dull moments with a magic-user around."

"Greedy pig," the wizard said.

Sensing the mood had shifted, the slender thief jumped to his feet, trying to stuff the unopened sack into his satchel but unable to manage. He raised one hand showing a black hoof where fingers used to be. His mouth opened in surprise, a shout on his lips that came as a terrified squeal.

The transforming thief fell onto his hooves and raced past the wizard. The squat thief grabbed for the now-pig, missing completely.

Glow fading from his eyes, the wizard glanced around, as if seeing the scenario for the first time. Amusement creased his dour face while he watched the still-human thief chase his partner around the tavern.

The frightened pig-thief rebounded off one table in an effort to escape from reality. The other finally caught him and turned to glare at the wizard with fright and anger, holding his bucking partner tight.

"You should have been happy with the pyramid," the wizard said. "Take comfort that the spell isn't permanent and that it stopped with your friend."

With that, the wizard's eyes glowed amber again. The thief looked at his hand, face as pale as snow, backing toward the door. The wizard, still seated, raised one hand. This was enough for both thief and pig who turned and barely found enough presence of mind to open the door before fleeing.

The door slammed behind them, and the glow faded from the wizard's eyes.

"Life lesson," Gar repeated.

The wizard's demeanour softened for a short time, then his almost-smile disappeared in the space between heartbeats, like blowing out a candle. His face returned to its previous dourness as if all that was enjoyable in the world had died in an instant.

This man was out of his mind.

It was a relief when he stood and flicked a coin onto the table before leaving the inn as if nothing had happened.

"Now," Gar said after the door had closed. "Is that the kind of person you want to try stealing from?"

"No," I shook my head. "Of course not."

It would be a challenge though, wouldn't it? And wasn't that the best part of thieving? In earlier days, while still learning the art, I would break into rich merchants' homes and creep close enough to touch their sleeping forms. All this without them knowing, sometimes not even taking any reward, doing it for the thrill, the challenge.

"I know that look," Gar said.

"Look? What look?" I asked.

The halfling leaned in close. "The one that says you'll be visiting the Tower of Wizardry tonight, no matter what sense I try to talk into you."

"I have no idea what you mean."

"Just like your father."

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