Book II - Chapter 63

Chapter 63

 

[Snake Report]

 

 

There are bound to be times when a snake makes mistakes.

I mean, it's inevitable.

Every snake makes mistakes.

I made a few.

Ruining a deep dungeon ecosystem by setting everything on fire?

Woops.

Poisoning a forest badly enough to rival the BP oil spill?

I didn’t mean to.

Saving my first friend since reincarnation dropped me into a literal hellhole… Well, that wasn’t a mistake, really- but it lead right into one, sure enough.

Accidentally doomed an entire expedition of people.

News just in.

If I wasn’t guilty before, knowing what I know now, I would have done the whole Tiny Snake Operation [This Time For Sure] a bit differently.

Like, a couple hundred more slithers to the left.

But such is life.

I guess, what I'm getting at here, Mister Boulder, is that I cause problems.

Big problems.

The kind people whisper about late at night with hushed voices, like I'm some sort of boogyman.

Rumors about my evil deeds have crossed oceans. In a world without internet, or cell phones, I might add.

I’m that good.

Heck, if half of the nightmares I keep having are any indication, I don’t think it’s just coincidence there's a giant fire on the Northern Continent.

That’s where we were last, before coming here, you know? Huge forest, filled with Elves and monsters.

Pretty sure that’s the same place.

How many of those can really be laying around?

I’d bet money I’m at least partly to blame for whatever’s going on over there, too.

Big money.

Regardless.

I guess what I'm getting at, Mister Boulder, is if you list my recent accomplishments on paper and really narrow down to the important ones: I don’t think a lot of people would vouch for me.

Imra might.

Miss Paladin might, may the Great Scaly Serpent in the sky bless her wonderful soul.

But anyone else?

I really do mean anyone.

No.

No, they would not.

My tiny snake resume is just one act of cataclysmic destruction after another.

Actions speak louder than words, or so they say.

If that’s true, the only person who’d want to hire me would be a super-villain.

Hell, they might not. Chances are, I’m overqualified for the position.

There’s no exaggeration when I say this: If people knew the mess I’ve made, they’d all run screaming like the extras in a Godzilla movie.

Which, I guess leads me right back to what I'm doing here, Mister Boulder.

The reason as to why I'm sitting on your back.

The reason why you’re staying really still.

That's right.

We both know.

I'm deciding what to do about you.

Ssss...

They're all asleep now.

After all that noise: eating, laughing, arguing…

Look at them, over there. Tucked away in their cloaks, sleeping soundly.

Peacefully.

It’s funny, but I think getting a second shot at life can give even a good-for-nothing snake some perspective.

This has been a tough stretch for all of them.

Staying up all night to ride out here, Alem must have been tired.

And, considering how many times she’s been shot, Eveth has probably had some better weeks.

Dren too.

Kid was supposed to be on watch, but he’s already snoring.

Probably ate too much to stay awake.

So, that leaves Imra.

My buddy.

She looks like she’s meditating, but really she’s just asleep like the rest of them.

Right now, she’s hunting in the forest, running along the branches…

She’s having a nice dream.

She’s not paying attention.

None of them are.

Yeah.

I think that's probably what you were waiting for.

Yes, you.

The innocent rock, who just so happens to be next to camp.

Patiently sitting around, waiting for everyone to close their eyes, drop their guard...

It’s funny, you almost had me fooled.

Me, of all people.

No killing intent, no movement or indication of anything that might set someone on edge.

The perfect disguise.

Oh, you’re good, Mister Boulder.

I wonder what level you are.

Oh?

Getting nervous now, aren’t you?

This little blue snake shows up, and it won’t stop staring at you.

You’re okay with that.

Tiny snake gets on your head and starts talking to you with magic, and suddenly you’re trying to be extra quiet.

Extra still.

It won’t help you now, Mister Boulder.

See, I have a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for pseudo-rocks like you.

Without Eveth’s help, my magic may be on the fritz, but let me tell you: I am deeply familiar with earth and stone.

All kinds of earth and stone.

Not in the scientific way, true.

I can’t tell you the name of the rock, or the molecular composition or anything a geologist is going to care about.

I mean instinctively.

Instinctively, I may very well be a master.

See, Earth magic was my BFF.

Do you know what that acronym stands for?

Best Friend Forever, Mister Boulder.

I burrowed my way out from hell itself with that magic.

I went right up through what has to have been several miles of bedrock, sediment, mineral deposits…

When shit hit the fan, I set that shit on fire to get the base components, and Earth Molded that shit into diamonds.

Literally.

I’ve done that.

So, it’s safe to say: I’ve seen it all.

You could call me an expert, among experts.

The average eye, glancing at a rock will give them nothing but the basic knowledge- but when I see a rock?

Not so.

I can tell you exactly what I’d need to do in order to strip the material down. How to break that into granular pieces, melt or compress according to tensile strength.

I can take any rock and rebuild it into a Shrine for the Tiny Snake God.

Any rock.

Which is exactly how I know the truth.

Sssss…

You’re an impersonator.

Mister Boulder, you’re not a rock at all.

You’re a faker.

Almost had me, too.

Almost.

I think that maybe, if we’d been a day later, you might have.

From a distance, you’re more than convincing, but it's been bothering me since I got here. Before I really looked at you, there was something else.

Another clue, I suppose.

No… I didn't want to freak anyone out, but…

The scent.

Yes.

You smell, Mister Boulder.

More than smell, you’ve got an unmistakable odor.

I go around tasting the air on a regular basis, and my senses are pretty good these days, but what you’re hiding?

However well you’ve hidden it: I know death when I taste it.

Bury it under the dirt all you want.

You've eaten people.

Sssss… oh, more than just a few.

People, metal… their wagon, if I'm not mistaken. Not just human mixed up in there.

Quite the meal.

I gotta ask, how many did you eat, exactly?

Give me a number.

Come on.

You can tell little ol' me.

One monster to another.

I'm just curious.

Was it four or five?

No...

No, it was more than that.

Ten?

Warmer...

What a rush that must have been, right?

I can see the allure.

I mean, this is the cheat code, right?

The Rare Candy.

The Soylent Green.

People… why, they’ve got everything a growing monster needs, now don’t they?

How did you get rewarded, I wonder?

Stats increased? Maybe a few skills?

A title! Of course, you must have one of those by now, and plenty of points…

I wonder how you’d spend those.

Just instinctively reach for the menu, maybe? Maybe it scales on intelligence…

Well, that’s not a problem for you.

No, don’t sell yourself short, Mister Boulder.

You’re pretty smart for a monster.

That’s exactly why you're still sitting there, still as can be.

Frozen like a statue.

You're smart enough to know you're in grave danger.

I respect that.

Heck, I pretty much invented the maneuver.

Just stay still, until the horrifying thing nearby leaves.

Wait them out...

Hmm…

Hey, want to play a game?

Yes, a game.

I think you do.

Let’s guess each other's level.

You're smart enough to know what that is, right?

Here, I'll go first.

My gut is telling me you're about... fifty.

No: Fifty-five.

Was I close?

Oh, I was.

Not bad, right?

Yeah, you're around there. Maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less.

Pretty good, if I do say so. Not too shabby, Mister Boulder.

Okay, now your turn.

Guess mine.

Comon.

Guess.

Still not going to answer?

Why not?

Come on, give me a number.

No?

Fine.

Maybe you can't vocalize it, but I think you're smart enough to know the basics, at least.

I’m stronger than you.

Yeah.

You recognize that.

I’ve never forgotten what that feels like, you know?

When I was in the Dungeon, deep down, the feeling really set into my bones. Something I just can’t quite shake.

The terror.

When something else had the complete and total advantage, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Up here on the surface, a monster like you might go their whole life and never really get to experience that feeling.

Lucky, isn’t it?

Now you do.

We share that, now.

In honor of that, I’ll let you in on the secret.

My level.

Ninety-nine, Mister Boulder.

I didn’t cheat my way there, either. You'd be surprised how few of those levels involved people.

Most of them were monsters.

I killed a lot of monsters.

Like you.

So many monsters.

Unlike you, though, I didn't really eat many of my kills. Do you know what I did instead?

Comon, you have to guess.

That’s the game.

Guess.

It's no fun if you don't guess-

Hey.

Don't move.

I didn't say you could move.

You had your chance. I gave you all day to run.

All day.

I waited.

I really did.

I was really patient with you.

Yet, here we are.

You stayed anyways. Why is that, exactly?

Still quiet?

I’ll answer for you, then.

Maybe you were hungry?

Was that it?

I think it was.

You were hungry.

Not for flesh.

If people taste only half as bad as the scent you’re giving off, it wasn’t normal hunger.

It was for power.

Just kill those people, and suddenly you’ve got strength that might have taken years on your own.

Comes so easily, doesn’t it?

So easy.

Oh, right- I forgot. I was telling you what I did to my enemies, instead of eating them!

Still not going to guess?

Fine.

I’ll just tell you.

I set them on fire.

Yes.

Fire.

Oh?

Did you just relax a bit?

You are smart, after all. Look at you!

I can tell what you're thinking.

"You might be strong, but I'm not afraid of fire."

Hey, maybe you're right.

Sitting out here in the desert, baking in the hot sun all day. I bet you're pretty resistant to heat.

That happens you know. You can get resistances to all sorts of things.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

But... we could test that theory.

No, really, we could.

It's simple.

Watch.

Let me know if you feel this.

[Leviathan Breath]

This is pretty hot, isn't it?

Does it bother me? No, for some reason flames have never seemed to hurt all that much.

Here, have some more.

Now we’re cooking.

Pretty warm, right?

Looks almost like you're starting to melt, doesn't it?

Oh, you are.

Imagine that.

Hey.

Don't move.

I didn't say you could move.

That's part of the deal, see?

I gave you a chance, waited all day for you to take it.

But, you got greedy.

That’s no good.

Still, because I'm a generous sort: I'm going to give you one more.

Do you need me to tell you what happens if you choose not to listen?

YOU WOULD DARE TO STEAL FROM ME?

Ah...

You heard that too, didn't you?

That's right.

I know you did.

For a Boulder, it’s funny how you can still shiver.

But, now’s the time to pull yourself together.

See, I might be scary, but you can't even fathom what he might do.

That guy doesn't like you.

Oh, you have no idea the racket he's been making.

All day.

Screaming.

Yelling.

I tried to mute him, but every time, he kept coming back.

Louder, and louder…

He's had some pretty nasty plans for you.

Right now, he’s telling me to melt you from the inside out.

Can you imagine?

Hmm… I can't blame him, though.

Can you?

He doesn’t much like monsters trying to gobble up our friends.

That's not okay.

No, not at all.

That’s unforgivable.

UNFORGIVABLE.

Yes.

Isn’t it?

But, you’re in luck.

The Tiny Snake God believes in forgiveness.

So, you get one more chance.

One last chance.

So, we're going to take a walk, just you and me.

That's right.

A walk.

I’m going to sit right here, next to this melted patch of shell, and I’m going to wait.

When I say go, you’re going to walk.

How far?

I’ll decide.

All you need to know, is once we get far enough, I’m going to slither off, and you’re going to keep walking.

Far away from here as possible.

In fact, don’t stop until you collapse. How’s that sound?

Good?

That’s right.

Tell me, do you know what's going to happen if you don’t listen?

Sssss…

That’s right, Mister Boulder.

knew you were smart.