Book II - Chapter 52

Chapter 52

 

[Snake Report]

 

Remaining positive is important to long-term survival.

I learned this awhile back.

Part of the core doctrine, for those who have faith to the Tiny Snake God.

Stay positive.

Just keep slithering.

Use magic to dig out the terrain and make cool forts.

When you’re on the verge of a panic attack, practice skills and and spells to distract yourself.

Above all, though: Intentionally deny and repress events you’re not emotionally prepared to handle, and then pretend they didn’t happen.

Sss...

I’ll stop short.

This is a long list, and recently, I haven’t been doing so well in following along.

Tiny Snake God, I know you're watching over me, so I’d like to apologize.

It’s been tough to stay positive. I might still be slithering, but the last fort I made, sucked, and the last two have gotten bad enough that I don't even want to talk about them.

Things really haven’t been going how I’d like them to.

Scratch that: everything has gone wrong in such a way that I can’t seem to keep up.

I followed the signs.

Imra did too, she’s really good at this.

We did what we were supposed to do, or I thought we did.

Imra and I joined the Guild. We protected its members, we waited faithfully for the next divine interpretation of your Tiny Snake will.

Yet, clearly, I've failed my mission.

The Guild got burned down. I know that’s just a building, and I’m sure I could make a better one, but…

Someone got killed.

The Farstrider Guild is all huddled around, over there.

Alem is telling a story, passing the flask as he goes, about how Val of the Farstrider Guild was waiting for someone to come and save him. Propped up against a wall, in the dark, wounded and alone, while we were sleeping safely.

Sss…

Imra and I are separate from this.

From the far side, there's no reason for us to be a part of their mourning.

None.

Not unless we want to accept the blame for it. After all, this is my fault, because I decided to play it safe instead of heading back to the Guild.

Stupid.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

If I’d only taken us back there.

Instead of being paranoid, I could have told Imra to carry Eveth in a different direction, forgone caution and made us go to the Farstrider Guild instead of some rundown inn.

I could have prevented all of this.

It’s not that people were trying to kill him, or that he got hurt. Those are both bad, but they’re not what’s getting to me.

What’s really getting me, is that I wasn’t there to heal him.

What if he was important? This “Val” person?

What if he was who I was supposed to meet?

There’s no way to know, because I wasn't there to do what I was supposed to do.

Sss…

Alem said it was the worst injury he’d ever seen where someone was still breathing, that there wasn’t going to be a way to heal that sort of damage.

He’s wrong, though.

Maybe that will make Dren feel better, but I don’t care what sort of injurt it was. Healing is what I do.

Since I first came into this world: wounds, poison, burns, afflictions- even Imra's reaction to metal. I can beat anything.

Burning someone alive? Killing them?

That's simple.

All you have to do is take.

Steal…

Shut up.

I don’t care what you call it: killing something proves nothing. But saving someone? Reconnecting nerves, blood vessels, tendons and bones? Taking life back, snatching it away from death?

That's something special.

If someone is hurt, I can save them.

I take pride in that.

Maybe someone else might not have been able to help, but I know I could have fixed it.

I know I could have done it.

You must take, instead…

Shut up.

Stay quiet.

Ssss…

The guilt.

I hate it.

That’s why Imra and I are staying over here. Leaning against the far wall.

Separate.

It's the only thing we can do.

Val... I didn’t know this person.

Warrior of the Farstrider Guild. Brother of Tuth. Born in the pit of the slums. Unexpected protégé of Alem Stonewalker, and chosen by the Tiny Snake God.

Who he was…

What he was like…

I never even got to meet him, but the longer they pass their flask around: I’m starting to learn about him.

Apparently, Val was a born fighter. He once woke up in the middle of the night to an ambush in the dungeon only to tackle a Corpse Cutter wearing nothing but his undergarments.

Eveth once drank him under the table.

The stories have kept coming. Some of them are long, some are short, some are filled with laughs, while others… it doesn’t matter really. Everything after Dren’s sermon to cleanse the body might be better off forgotten.

I don't want to know. It's better if I tune them out.

This is for my own sake.

It’s already enough for me.

I have too many other problems. Too many things to think about. There's no space left for the luxury of feeling guilty, and besides: there isn’t a way to come into someone’s life after it’s ended. I'll never be able to claim to know them. That’s not how it works.

Just as Dren said during his sermon: “May his soul forever be alight, and his body return to the soil.”

May he rest in peace and let that be the end of it.

Sss…

Cold.

That sounds cruel, doesn’t it?

Maybe it is, but the high of the day's events are coming down around me now, and it's clear to me that this isn't our place.

Imra and I are outsiders.

Intruding would be a taboo.

From our seat at the edge of this small room, the two of us are only witnesses. When the flask is passed around, we watch it go. When a story is told, we listen, detached.

There are things we can learn.

In a twisted way, this is a golden opportunity. Our chance to discover more about these people, about the world. With every story, I can expand the picture, if only just a tiny bit.

I need that.

My Water magic can float and grind away on autopilot for as long as I want, but knowledge is what I need more than anything. Answers to the questions I haven’t thought to ask yet, pieces to the bigger puzzle.

After all, these were the people the Tiny Snake God chose.

There has to be a reason for it.

There has to be reason we found them.

THERE IS A REASON.

Ah.

There you are, again.

I wondered when you might show back up.

There is a reason…

Going to stick around for a chat, or just run off into the dark like you always do?

There is a reason…

You seem quieter now.

A reason… a reason…

Pushing your luck every chance you get, the moment my guard is down.

There is…

I can put up with the talking, but I can’t with the interrupting when I’m trying to heal someone.

… is…

I had to repair giant holes in Eveth’s heart earlier. Do you know how close I was to botching that?

Still nothing to say?

I guess not.

Sure.

Stay silent then.

Like some sort of coward, only willing stick around when you think you can take control. I get it.

Just listen, then.

I don’t know what you are, exactly. If you’re me, or if you’re something else- but here and now, we have a rule.

This is my head.

This is my domain.

You are never to try something like that again.

Do you hear me? If you try that again, it will go badly.

Do you understand me?

Do you?

... There is a reason…

There had better be.

Sss…

There you go.

Fading off into the black.

Already gone, aren’t you?

Yeah.

That’s what I thought.

Run off, see if I care.

Damn it all.

Voices in my head.

Voices in my head that I’m talking to.

Of course- it’s always been voices. Screens, lists, and details: entities that secretly want something for me, and dangle the carrots from sticks so I’ll chase.

Now, it’s pompous asshole voices that preach like they’re in charge. Like they know best. I'm not some dumb monster who doesn't know any better. I already have a mind, and I’ve survived plenty of messed up shit without a voice telling me what to do. They all seem to think I’m too stupid to realize what they’re doing.

There's no way I'll just play along like everything is fine.

Everything is not fine.

You want to help me? No strings attached?

No.

Never.

That’s not how it works.

Not unless it's really just me, talking to myself. Trying to fill that role, trying to explain away and hide from all this freaky crap that keeps flying in my direction. Trying to make sense of things that can’t make sense.

Damn it.

I’m losing my mind.

Held on a lot longer than I ever would have expected, but here it goes. Bit by bit, I’m losing it.

Down the drain.

Going crazy.

I hate this.

I gotta get a grip.

Gotta get a grip. Focus on the Water magic.

Water… ice… vapor…

“Great One?”

Sssss...

“Forest God, may I speak?”

Who?

Oh.

Imra.

I guess my head is more than a little crowded these days.

“Speak freely, Loyal Elf.”

“I do not wish to intrude, Great One. I know you have been deep in thought.”

Deep in thought?

She’s being nice.

Draped around her shoulders like this, there’s no way Imra doesn’t know.

I’m sure she’s been listening.

How could she not be? I'd be listening.

She knows.

Probably too much.

Too much.

Does she know what I am? What's going to happen when she finds out?

Gotta keep it together.

Hold it together.

Hold it all together-

“Great One?”

“All is well, Imra. I know there are questions you wish to ask.”

I really do know. At least that’s not a lie.

Saying I know there are questions: I can practically hear them. Especially now, I might as well be surrounded by thoughts that aren’t exactly mine.

Floating oddities, all at a distance.

They’re too distorted to make out clearly, but more than visible enough to see them as silhouettes. I can see them. Feel them, resonating in my own head.

Like ripples under a pond.

If I watch them go by, I can almost understand.

“Is this about the humans?”

“Great One, I find the Cursed Blood very strange. Those I have seen are weak mockeries of the legends.”

Cursed Blood... she means humans. That's what the Elves call them, I guess.

“Some of them are weak. Not all of them.”

“You believe them to be strong?”

“I do.”

“Compared to those in this room, I am much stronger.”

“Why does it matter, Imra?”

“The weak are not worthy to serve you.”

Sss…

Imra is particular.

I'm starting to think being around humans for this long is really wearing on her.

Either that, or she's jealous.

“Great One: these Cursed Blood are nothing compared to your greatness. Even with their stolen gifts, they are but filth when placed beside you.”

“I’m… surprised to hear you say this, Imra.”

I'm not really surprised, though I am grateful she's not offering to kill them for me.

She's done that once or twice.

As a joke... I think?

I hope.

“It troubles me, that they do not respect you. They do not show gratitude.”

“You believe they should?”

“I believe they should bow deeply and swear their lives. Instead, they treat you as if you are nothing but a pet. Something secondary to them.”

“Ah… I don’t suppose this is about Eveth?”

“…”

Sss… is it?

“She owes a great debt.”

Oh.

So, I was right.

“You feel strongly on this subject.”

“She was embraced by a God, yet acted as if it were a punishment.”

“It’s fine."

"You are much too lenient, Great One!"

"Humans show respect differently.”

“They are weak and flawed.”

“Yes, but they’re all like that.”

“…”

“Most humans can’t be like you, Imra.”

“… but despite this, you continue to spare them.”

“I suppose I do.”

“Even though they are flawed. Even though they steal from the world. Even though you could destroy them.”

“Just because I could destroy something, doesn’t mean I want to.”

“I have not forgotten their sins, what terrible crimes their people have committed.”

“Whatever happened a long time ago: we’re not here for those things, Imra. The humans we’ve met have nothing to do with those.”

“I… apologize, Great One.”

"It's alright. I told you to speak freely."

“I forgot my place."

“It is fine, Imra. Continue.”

"Great One... it’s just… they are the enemy. They have always been the enemy.”

“Maybe, a long time ago.”

“Always, Great One. Cursed blood steal what is not theirs, and this will never change.”

“So... you think I should kill them?”

“Yes.”

“Is that what your tribe believed?”

“That is what I was taught. The way of the Lukra’Dotreka’Suma, the way of the Forest.”

“By the elders? The chief?”

“… I am sorry, Great One. My words seem very foolish now. I am forever faithful.”

Emotion.

Imra's almost always honest. She doesn't make any effort to hide how she feels, which is refreshing when compared to how I've been acting.

Through this… bond, right now I can feel gratitude which doesn’t belong to me. Layered over top my other senses. It's like a blanket... if I weren’t paying attention, I might mistake that feeling for my own.

“There are differences between what your tribe believes, and what I believe, Imra. I don’t want to kill humans.”

“What of those who attacked us? Was it not right to burn them?”

“That… that wasn’t what I wanted.”

“But to spill the Cursed Blood, Great One: isn’t that your duty?”

“Why? Because they steal gifts from the world?”

“They take what is not theirs to take.”

“If I were kill them, wouldn’t I be the one stealing?”

“No, it is justice. It is reclamation of the world’s power."

"Ah. So… that’s how it is."

"You are a wise God, so you understand. It is not something they should possess, and yet they use it so freely.”

Imra's gratitude is shifting into... respect? An emotion that's more difficult to define, a blend of multiple things.

"Am I?"

"Yes, Great One. Many Gods... they are not so wise. They are dangerous, powerful, but they are not wise. Some of them, maybe, do not think at all.”

“Have you known many Gods, Imra?”

“Only through legends: the stories of my people. There were once more, long ago, but they have fallen.”

“To the humans?”

“Yes.”

“So, you believe that if I kill a human, Imra… you feel that I’m doing a good thing.”

“Yes.”

“Because they take from the world?”

“Yes.”

“And… you would kill them, if I allowed it?”

“I would.”

“Even these people? Even after seeing them like this.”

“I am your spear, if you command me.”

“I see…”

I knew this.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but still.

Hard to swallow.

“Has my answer troubled you, Great One?”

“No, it’s just… Imra, I’d like to ask you another question.”

“Anything, Great One.”

“Just a question, nothing more.”

“I understand, Great One. I will see it answered.”

“What if I was human?”

Maybe this was too soon.

Respect has turned into... stillness.

Ripple free water, crystal clear but nothing under its surface.

Surprise… maybe…

Imra wasn't ready for that question.

“But you are not a human."

"It is only a question."

"You are a God.”

“Just, try to imagine it.”

“I… I find this to be difficult.”

“What if I were someone who also stole from the world, then? What would you think?”

“You would steal?”

The ripples are growing turbulent.

Was this too soon?

“Maybe.”

“From the world? Forest God, you would take from the world?”

“I’ve begun to think the world doesn’t like me much.”

“But you belong to the world.”

“What if I choose not to belong to the world? What if it hates me?”

“I’ve never heard of a world hating its own God.”

“Just imagine. What would you do then, Imra?”

“Then? I…”

Maybe I pushed her a bit too far on this one.

There have be at least a hundred half formed questions churning against one another, up against the metaphoric glass.

Like a white-water current, swirling around beneath the surface.

One by one though, they're fading.

Fading away, until it's calm again.

I'd be lying, if I said that didn't frighten me.

The calm.

“If the world became your enemy..."

I can't tell.

I don't know the answer.

Maybe I should have waited longer, asked this another time.

Waited for a place and time that I might be able to run.

Where I could escape-

“I would join you.”

Ah.

Not… not what I expected.

“I am faithful. My debt is to you, many times now."

"I... thank you, Imra."

“But, even for an if, becoming an Enemy of the World would be foolish.”

“I know.”

“Very foolish, even for a God.”

“I realize that.”

“Even for a Wise God.”

“I understand.”

“You would need to be careful. Gain allies, strength: take from other Gods- should we find them.”

“… is it really that dangerous?”

“The most dangerous thing I can imagine.”

“Oh.”

Oh.

That’s not good.

“I feel as though, perhaps I can understand now, why it is that you do not kill them.”

“That’s... I’m glad, Imra.”

“Not even the skinny one, who smells like ink.”

“Eveth?”

“She is not fit to carry you, Great One. I despise her.”

“Did you and Dren get along, at least?”

“Yes. He turned red as a Vol pepper when I took off my clothes.”

“Did he really- Wait, what did you just say? What about your clothes?”

“Imra.”

An outside voice.

Alem’s calling, waving a hand. The rest are looking at us, probably wondering why Imra and I have been staring at one another for the better part of the last fifteen minutes.

“Come, sit closer and join us. It's time we discussed something.”

Yeah.

I suppose it is.