Scales From Their Eyes // Pages In the Dark

OMGosh Viper Priestess (Mad McFjury)

So a bit too long ago, I joined a neat little Contest, and was blessed to be joined by a most gentlemanly gentleman with the art skills of a minor Greek god. Seriously, check him out.

JT - Viper Priestess Concept Art2 (Mad)

Anyway, so I joined this Contest with high hopes, and surprisingly actually got about halfway through a story, inspired by some siiiiiick concept art from the aforementioned artist. Alas, the Contest did not receive enough attention and foundered like a limp fish. In the mean time I determined to FINISH REGARDLESS… And so I did. Juuuuuust a year+ too late (turns out it took another Contest at a local university to get me off my duff.)

I will probably be going through this & editing it here & there; I didn’t get a chance to ‘vet it’ before sending it in. I also was forced (again, deadlines, lol) to get rid of all the Patois (Warcraft 3 Jungle Trolls tend to speak with rich Jamaican accents) & decide some things I wasn’t quite sure about; the name of the “elite group”, some character names (in particular the protagonist’s name (up to that point I had just been writing “[protag]” all over the place. Srsly)), and even one of the climactic one-liners that I just couldn’t decide between (wrote four drafts of one line, left them all in for the submission)

So, without further ado, take a look! Let me know what your thoughts are.

JT - Viper Priestess Concept Art5 (Mad)

She ran down the hallway, breathing heavily. He couldn’t be… He couldn’t have… She couldn’t dwell on it. All of her energy went into running, pounding, desperately needing to see proof. As she ran, the hallway blurring past, some small part of her mind noticed how the light streamed in at regular intervals. Light, dark, light, dark. It reminded her, not pleasantly, of running through the pillars of Aboraz. Fitting, for her world to be so in upheaval, yet that the rhythm of the night’s wonders could so escape her.

Thinking of Aboraz brought her back to that time so long ago, when she first strove to find a place among the Ophidaes, the Serpent’s Own. Unlike other clans, where proving oneself in battle or mastering the mystical arts assured entry, the Ophidaes prized subtlety and cunning most of all; the only ones worthy to worship the Scaled One were those who could be more cunning and more subtle than His children.

Each member of the Ophidaes held a truebond with a particular child of the Scaled One; anything from the lowly grass-snake to the rare and mighty anaconda. This link was forged in the ruins of the ancient Troll garden-city of Aboraz. She remembered well the ritual; being clothed only in snakeskin and being bitten by the tester’s ceremonial serpent. As the venom rushed through her body, her vision began to fade and her limbs grew cold… That is, until they thrust a special carved mojo amulet around her neck, keeping the poison from reaching her heart. She was told that unless she found and bonded with a snake-familiar upon which to place this amulet, she would succumb to the poison within days.

Finding the familiar she had named Yatha had been no small feat; the musurana had the size of a boa but the venom of a viper. Crooning prayers and walking back and forth, she had at length mesmerized the snake into a receptive state; and then, communing with the spirit of the snake as a sister, had convinced her to share her true name. This name she would
forever keep sacred. Exiting the ruins of Aboraz with her new amulet-adorned familiar wrapped around her arms… That had been a moment of great pride in her life. She was determined that it would not be her last.

Yatha now lay poised with alertness across her shoulders, coiled in contemplation. As she made it to the door of the library, all was hushed and quiet. Preparations had been made and the Festival of Molts would be going on, with it’s snakeskin lamps and elaborate dances. In fact, she had risked having to do penance for leaving as abruptly as she had… But this was all-too important. She had to make sure that… Yes. The single, nigh-invisible snake scale she had placed upon the door’s latch was undisturbed, proving that Mala’kiah had not broken in yet. Relief washed through her; the Mysteries were safe. With utmost care she undid the latch and crept into the shuttered library. The familiar aroma of musty scrolls and dried ink met her nose, and Yatha uncoiled slightly in relaxation. Easily finding a secluded corner, she settled in to wait.

Kehri’san could recall a time when the comforting aromas had been distasteful, the solace of the shelves more foreboding. It was not long after she had successfully passed her initiation that she had been given a responsibility. The Ophi’daes believed strongly that each troll was like a scale on the Great Serpent; individually unimportant but in their proper place & performing their proper function, essential. She had anticipated this, and was excited at the prospects. Would she become one of the vaunted Snake Clan warriors, lithe and deadly? Or perhaps one of the sagacious ambassadors, tasked with gathering information and resolving disputes? She dared not believe she would be found worthy for entrance into the Chiathon; those in that elite and most sacred of callings practiced the twin arts of spy and assassin with such cold-blooded guile that only the most devout were selected.

Thus it was with great hesitation she met with the leader of their clan. Torumek by name, he had led the Serpent’s Own with a canny and keen mind. It was said he could sense fear like the pit viper. Were the rumors true, she worried he would be inundated with the waves of distress coming off of her. However, with no wrinkling of nose, he stood smartly, held her by the arm, and walked down the hall, extolling the virtues of the Ophi’daes and his excitement for some ‘new blood in these old halls’. Imagine her surprise when their walk ended with them in the library; her calling was over the dusty tomes and decaying scrolls! She was no shepherd of snakes, but a shepherd of books… Except that was not all. For unbeknownst to all but a meager few, she was not simply a librarian, but a guardian; a guardian over the treasured scrolls that made up the Mysteries, documents housing some of the deepest and most potent secrets known to trollkind. Deep and potent enough to require protecting at all costs.

She shook herself back to the present, running over in her mind the forms and phrases, things she would finally have a chance to employ. Ritual must be observed, after all. Especially on this most gratifying of duties. Mala’kiah had been asserting himself too openly, and too strongly, for there to be any doubt. And now that she had proof of his involvement… Well, they would all see. Finally she would have the opportunity to expose
him for the dissident and radical he was.

Silently, counting out the time with her heartbeats, Kehri’san waited out the minutes, then hours. A creaking plank, a passing shadow, and instantly she would grow alert… But all these passed by her door without stopping. She was about to question her certainty when Yatha suddenly stiffened across her shoulders. Cautiously peering around the room, she began to make out a form in the inky blackness; a form that she had somehow missed in her surveillance.

Strangely, though her eyes had long adjusted to the gloom she could barely make out this figure. However it didn’t take long to determine that it was indeed Mala’kiah; his hooked nose and adorned tusks were unmistakable. Worst of all was that maddeningly-placid look on his face. How could he look so calm? More importantly, how could he have gotten in? The door was locked behind her, the windows were secured… Kehri’san shook her head, she
didn’t have time to figure that out. Mala’kiah was slowly walking straight towards the location of the sacred scrolls.

Years of communion with the Ophidaes had given him amazing control over his motion; he slunk soundlessly across the hard stone tiles, sinuous movements bringing him imperceptibly closer. It was as if he moved between the motes of dust, illuminated by intermittent moon beams. He had been a great teacher, one of their best and brightest among the Ophidaes; that made his treachery and subterfuge all the worse to witness. Kehri’san herself had learned much under him, would even have come to admire him, but for his insistence on delving where he ought not.

That same illumination on her dagger reminded her of a season when her blade was clothed in a much more viscid substance. Years ago there had been a surge of trespasses among the adepts of the Ophidaes; thievery, vandalism, and a general sense of disquiet in the air. Rumor had it that one of the masters, Mala’kiah, had been inculcating within the youth a sense of improprious questioning; worse, in some cases full heresy. Many of these younglings took these lessons to heart, becoming rowdy and even rebellious. This would have affected Kehri’san little… Except that it culminated in the ransacking of the library and the theft of the Mysteries. Despite her training and instruction she was more than a little anxious about performing her duties, which is why several of them managed to down vials of poisonous hemlock before she could reach them. She was only able to reach one of them; but one was enough. Gods, her hands shake now as much as they did then. With the adept’s blood filming her ritual dagger, her whispered prayers competed with his choked, dying gasps. Before he died he had feebly swung at her, arms spasming in the paroxysm of death. That boy had been the first, but he had certainly not been the last. Brushing away the cobwebs of yesteryear, she crept forward silently to bloody the blade once more.

Kehri’san knew, of course, that merely entering the library unbidden after dusk was no pretext for her duties in assassination; that was merely the first degree of trespass. The second he was in the process of effecting; approaching the hidden location of the en-scrolled Mysteries. The third, final and fatal degree was that of actually opening them & reading them. It was this third degree that she was bound, by ritual and custom deeper and longer than the Snake Clan itself, to uphold, and thus bide her time. No Ophidaes was assumed guilty until determined so; however, no one could by accident traverse all three degrees. The warning on the front of the Mysteries made that clear to any who would so transgress.

As he neared the location, she tightened the grip on her blades. She considered using her spellcraft against him, but quickly dismissed the thought; at his stage, he had mastered any jinxes or hexery she had only just begun to learn. No, her best bet was in her heightened skills of subterfuge, and her natural talents as a warrior. She did, however, call upon the Loa for aid with a gesture; Yatha’s eyes flashing in understanding. Getting up silently, she swiftly stalked forwards until she was standing merely a pace or so behind him. He now held the scrolls in his treacherous hands, regarding the front cover and its solemn warning with an air of… reluctance? She was preparing herself to break the silence with the voice of condemnation — when the silence was instead broken by another, more jarring and abhorrent sound: the tearing of paper.

She watched, aghast, as in his hands the scrolls of the Mysteries began to split from top to bottom. Inexorably, like bolts of black lightning, minute tears snaked down the pages, widening to great dark gashes. The effect was as a thunderclap on her mind; she could do nothing, not even gasp, as the sacred Mysteries were torn asunder. The rituals and rites, secrets and teachings, the knowledge! It was as if a great chasm of ignorance was being ripped right into the very heart of comprehension. Mouth dry and pulse pounding, she was utterly unprepared for the mutilation of her charge — those ancient, venerable scrolls.

Deliberately, with no apparent malice, Mala’kiah crumpled the remains in his large hands and, with a complicated gesture, turned the rest to ashes with a spectral flame. As she watched the soot of the scrolls settle to the ground, Kehri’san’s eyes widened, and rage took hold upon her heart. This flew so far in the face of custom and tradition, she felt it only fitting to return in kind. Eschewing her more priestly training in favor of her warrior’s wrath, she screamed in outrage, precisely and viciously stabbing him through the heart.

And the blade was left quivering on the other side of his chest, having passed through like air.

Dumbfounded, she could do no more than quiver as the utter impossibility of what had happened settled upon her mind like motes of dust. Mala’kiah was only here… somewhat. He had shed the mortal coil, relinquishing the flesh for a time to master the spirit. This itself was, if surprising, not amazing or new. Many of the masters and even advanced students learned this ability, for its obvious benefits. However, separating oneself from the material realm left one unable to interact with anything on it; and she had seen him tear the Mysteries, physically! The embers lie crushed and forgotten under her profane, thoughtless feet!

Chuckling darkly, the apparition of Mala’kiah did not even turn around. “Ye do not understand?” he asked. In one swift, impossible motion he wrested the ritual dagger from his own intangible chest and her more tangible hand — then, spinning nimbly and planting a forceful kick with his spirit appendage, he left her breathless on the floor with her own blade poised near her throat.

“A single scale,” he began, holding the dagger perilously close to her veins, “she falls from the serpent. In so doing she feels the serpent has been ruined. And so it has… To her. The serpent lives on, untouched by the tragedy.” In the midst of his words, Yatha lashed out at him, fangs bared. Mala’kiah merely pivoted and grabbed the musurana’s head as it passed, touching a few pressure points to render her familiar immobile. In all this he did not pause, did not lose tempo. “In fact,” he continued, “the snake will come to shed each and every one of it’s scales, time and time again. Is this not where both land and sea come from? The scales and the blood of de Great Serpent, whose spinning turns thee skies?”

Kehri’san could take no more. “Cease your speak of riddles and the tales of children! I am here for but one purpose; to protect the Mysteries. Why have you destroyed our greatest treasure!? How could you do such an abhorrent thing!?”

With her throat at the knife’s beck and call, she could do little more than appear menacing. Still she felt she must understand.

“And after the Great Serpent began to turn the skies, we arose from the dust of the earth that was His scale, and we began to drink from the water that was His blood. And soon, treachery struck; death was brought into our world through the venom of the Scaled Ones. Before we learned of their cunning and guile, we learned of their malice. That is why He is known as ‘Hethiss’; ‘He to Whom We Hiss’.”

At this, Kehri’san breathed in sharply. The name of their God was one of the chief contents of the Mysteries. “Th-that name… That name is forbidden! You are thrice a heretic; for such and for reading the Mysteries you must perish!”

He laughed again, a laugh which cut down her spine like jagged bark. “This knowledge, these wonders,” he spoke, waving his spectral arm through the air langourosly, “did not come to me through these paltry scrolls.”

“And, though your naivete may prove the stronger yet, I am not the first. As protector of the Mysteries and caretaker of the records, you have read the histories of our people, our great Clan… You have read of D’zeerah the Wicked, of vicious Klalau Fangborn, of Omalsk the Heretic, have you not?” His eyes narrowed. “Your leaders have not yet let the scales from their eyes; they are as blind as the threadsnake-”

“Enough!” She could take no more. “I refuse to pay heed to your blasphemy! Besides, what could those old fiends know that the great Torumek does not?”

Scowling at the interruption, he again spoke, “They are blind, and worse they are deaf, for they hear not what I and many others before me have heard. Do you not wonder how I have spoken of all this? Verily I destroyed the Mysteries long before I had the chance to peruse their contents. No, like those famed ones of old, these secrets came to me from the very one which you purport to worship. From the voices of the ancients, yea, the teachings of the great. The Great Serpent Himself hath hissed them into my ears!” He punctuated his words by hissing sharply in her left ear, brushing her cheek with his tusk. “I am born anew, molting off the useless husk of my old self.”

Her mind reeled. This was unthinkable. The Mysteries, the secrets, the key words and signs… His next words were almost lost in the depths of her doubt. “And thus you, lowly librarian, are as but a scale, falling from the serpent with none to mourn. None save me… For I have oft mourned the loss of innocence.” As if to indelibly inscribe this notion, he quickly moved the dagger away from her throat and sliced through the tendons in her lower legs. Blinding pain wormed its way up her thighs much like that poison long ago in the ruins of Aboraz. She tried to withhold a gasp, but could not hold back tears.

With that, he sauntered off, safe in the knowledge she could not pursue for many hours yet. As he passed effortlessly through the wall, her dagger clattered to the floor, unable to travel so.

As the hours passed and her mind grew accustomed to the pain, she was struck anew with a stark realization; an inconceivable notion that lay coiled in her mind. The secret, he had said, came not from the scrolls. It was absurd; who was he to make such claims! And yet how else could he become such a phantom; how else could he know that name? Could it be that… At this point, the notion deep in her mind bared it’s fangs. She realized with an agony that exceeded her injury that everything she had ever valued, all she had worked for, all those whose blood had fed her blades… It was all for naught. The secrets were not tied to the Mysteries, not protected by those hidden scrolls; they were spoken to any with a mind twisted enough and an ear ready enough to hear them! Her own God had given her a calling which He Himself had foiled, time and again! Why? Why!

Her bitter tears mingled with the discarded ashes, her final ties to faith washing out with them.


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