Book II - Chapter 14

Chapter 14

 

Snake Report:

 

So, it turns out that following a convoy of presumed-traders across the flatlands without so much as a single road-side bush for cover, is surprisingly difficult to do while remaining undetected.

Not impossible, mind you. That's not what I'm getting at here.

It’s completely within the realm of possibility, just…

Tedious.

Imra and I caught up to them fairly quickly, considering their head start. Took about half the day until we could see their dust trail, and then another quarter to get within eyeshot.

Elves can run like… really fast, and those things pulling the wagons apparently don’t care much for speed.

At best, I’d give them a brisk power-walking pace.

Then again, they’re each hauling what must way a metric crap-ton, so who knows.

After that, I made Imra slow down.

For better or worse, unlike the chase scenes of Hollywood: when there's no one else around but a bunch of flat land and some weird looking boulders, an Elf with a blue snake on her shoulder is an easy thing to spot- even if we’re wearing a sweet looking burnt cloak.

Caution is needed.

You don’t want to fall so far behind you lose sight when night falls, but get to close? They might realize something’s up.

The balance of too close, and too far is a careful one.

Almost entirely confident that guy with a longbow sitting on the last wagon is waiting to take a quarter-mile shot at something.

Is it possible?

I’m honestly don’t know.

Maybe?

Not worth the risk of getting any closer to find out.

So, like I said: tedious.

Too close, too far- too much of either, and the whole thing all falls apart.

Oh, and you also need someone who can keep moving for hours without stopping.

Loyal Imra! How do you fare?

“I am well, Great One!”

Are you, though, Imra?

Are you?

She doesn’t even have shoes.

Really wish she had shoes.

I guess Elves don’t wear those.

My headache keeps hitting me, every time I heal her because of that. Getting worse, I think.

The cloak was a really good find, honestly, as Imra doesn’t really have much of anything. Her clothing consists of some forest-leather armor, and she didn’t have any weapons.

Well, aside from the [Elven Prison Shiv] but I really don’t count that.

The moment any real combat comes up, we just gotta run away.

Tough deal, but we gotta stay safe.

Safe, and alert.

Headache is killing me, but I should really be paying more attention. Imra’s watching the wagons, so I need to keep a lookout for other potential concerns.

We’re not in the dungeon, but it’s not like there aren’t some dangers out here.

For all I know, we could stumble onto a giant herd of hungry lizards. Or, one of those weird boulders we keep passing could leap from the ground and devour us.

Suspicious bastards.

Never a great idea to make too many assumptions on what can or can’t happen.

Sssss…

Doesn’t ever hurt to ask though.

[Voice of Gaia] is that rock over there a monster?

“…”

You mad?

“…”

Wanna talk about it?

“…”

… Yeah, that’s the fifth time today I’ve received a muted “talk to the invisible hand” answer.

[Spirit Attendant #1] do you copy?

Still nothing.

Can’t blame a snake for trying, I guess.

Sss…

[Voice of Gaia] took a little, but barely anything, and [Spirit Attendant #1] took a portion that was almost too small to notice.

Far as proof goes, that’s pretty much all I have that they’re still there at all.

Which bothers me, quite a lot.

Far as I can tell, they’re still active somewhere… but where? And “active” could mean a lot of different things.

Are they broken, or maybe just disabled, due to some status I can’t see?

Are my spells really broken?

If it was a status condition, shouldn’t I have recovered by now?

Are they just out of range and unable to reach me?

Out of range and unable to reach me… and travelling towards me at their own leisurely pace?

There’s a thought.

We’re probably nowhere near the forest, so… that would be bad.

Two balls of glowing flame, occasionally shouting out random nonsense that I had ordered them to say. Terrifying passerby as they float along. Terrorizing the countryside, ruining the Tiny Snake God’s good name.

[Spirit Attendant] road trip…

Ssss…

Regardless, I need to accept the facts.

Some of my magic is not working.

This is more than unfair, but life is unfair sometimes.

It might not be fun.

I don’t have to like it.

I do have to accept it.

Even if it is complete bulls-

“Forest God? Did you say something?”

No, Loyal Imra.

“As you command, Great One.”

Ahem.

Which… brings me back to the other problem.

Unintentionally taken up as a follower of The Tiny Snake God by Proxy: Imra.

First offering of the Elven tribe. Chosen to serve the holy duty of her people, no matter the cost.

I have strong suspicions that her role, at some point, was intended as the unfortunate individual destined to be eaten alive by a giant owl.

Of course, by slaying this fowl beast, and then inserting myself into the role it once filled, I not only saved Imra from a terrible fate, I also deceived her entire tribe. So… maybe that makes for a net “0” on the moral scale?

Saved her life…

Ruined everything…

Course, now I’m still lying to her…

Puts things back in the negative.

This isn’t exactly the best foundation for a healthy bond of friendship to prosper.

This is the kind of troublesome relationship, based not only on lies and deception, but blood rituals and secretive cult-worship.

Quite a pickle, I tell you.

Imra might be loyal snake subject #1 right now, but it’s important to not overlook the fact that she’s an Elf warrior raised in the Great Forest: a location know by dungeon-fairing humans as “a place humans really shouldn’t go.”

She could just as easily be classified as a dangerous and deluded individual under the influences of divine-level Stockholm syndrome.

When I first met her, she almost killed me.

So… this will need to be dealt with carefully.

I can’t just outright tell her: “Just kidding, I’m really just a snake. Sorry I killed your god and potentially lead your tribe to total annihilation.”

No.

That would end with my death.

Imra would have a very nice snake-skin belt around her waist, and then she’d go off and get killed by some humans. That’s pretty much guaranteed.

At the same time, lying about this forever might not be much better.

Lying to someone so that they’ll serve me. More than just serve me: worship me.

No matter how I spin it, this is more than a little bit messed up.

I’ll have to rip this bandaid off eventually…

Eventually…

Sssssss…

Still, I can’t really abandon Imra. Maybe, if I had my magic all working, I could technically slither off into the sunset and duck out when she was asleep.

Maybe.

I don’t have my magic, though, and what’s worse: I’d pretty much be leaving her to die.

Which is also messed up.

I’m not evil.

She’s an Elf, in human territory, lost without a single clue as to where they are. Also, middle of the dustbowl here: no water, no food, no shelter. If she didn’t die in a fight with humans, she’d die from one of those previously mentioned problems.

Sure, Elves seem to be mystical and ridiculous creatures, but they still need food and water. Despite their weird race-driven nature perks, that’s still a thing.

Especially after running a Marathon Des Sables equivalent.

Loyal Imra, do you need to rest?

“No, Great One!”

Hmm…

She’s lying.

Don’t ask me how I can tell.

I just can.

Thinking about whatever is scrambled between our minds is… more than a little weird.

Sun’s set, it’s getting colder. There’s some weird stuff moving, way off the road, and we’ve pretty much entirely lost visual on the caravan… not that it matters, anymore.

We know where they’re going.

Yeah.

See, the heat mirage on the horizon? The weird plateau I mentioned.

No longer just an untrustworthy illusion.

That’s a giant wall.