The Serpent Chronicles
The darkened hall was as silent as a tomb, shadows gliding like ghouls along the walls, a creeping mist rolling through the columns. The stifling silence gave crushing weight to the air and threatened to suffocate all who ventured through it. And the only one who dared the trek through the fog was Hsss.
He was cold, he couldn't see, and his stomach was clenching in a painful manner. He had not the faintest idea what had lured him down into the hall, but it persisted to compel him onward into the smothering mist. His foot steps were deadened but he took no notice; he was wearing armor much like his father's, and yet it mattered not. All that mattered to Hsss was the foreign urge to traverse the hall and find… something. What, he did not know.
"Hsss…" a thin, grating voice whispered, seemingly from all directions. The young Hydra stopped abruptly and darted his heads about madly to find its source. His ragged breathing pierced the silence sharply, adding to his anxiety. But nothing was there; he was alone.
"Hsss…" the voice sounded again, and he felt as though it was familiar. "Why have you come…?"
Hsss recognized the voice then: the Necromancer. His heartbeat picked up its pace, sounding loudly against his ribcage.
"Necromancer?" Hsss called into the fog, but there was no reply. "Nameless One?"
"You should not have come, Hsss…" the cold voice spoke again. "You have written your own doom…"
Heavy footsteps sounded behind Hsss, accompanied by a familiar growl. Spinning about in a flash, he spotted a large, looming shape approaching through the fog.
"And you have written it in your own blood…" A resounding roar echoed through the hall as the hulking figure charged through the mist, slashing at Hsss with its talons. He barely dodged in time, and felt the claws scratching his armor, causing him to lose his balance. Tumbling to the floor, he rolled over on reflex, to see a fist bigger than his chest slamming into the stone where he lay but a moment before, shattering it. In an instant he realized who his attacker was, and the rotting flesh confirmed it: Gorgoth.
"I can deny him his sport, but I cannot deny him fresh meat…" As those words were spoken, the hulking zombie shifted and brought both his fists down on either side of Hsss' central head, roaring in his face. Cold slobber splashed his face and the floor around it, causing the Hydra to shudder, as Gorgoth leaned in for the kill.
"Do not struggle… It will be over soon…" Hsss tried to think of something, anything he could do to escape as the slavering jaws neared. Everything seemed to slow down, but what followed happened so fast that he had no power over it. But in a way he was grateful for it. With a scream and a flash, Hsss vanished from the room, leaving Gorgoth's teeth to plunge into cold stone instead.
Hsss reappeared in another hallway, a narrower, longer, danker one, lined with dark, bed-like alcoves on either side. The mist hung here, too, but it was somewhat thinner. He sat up and looked around franticly, but he was alone again.
"Hm, clever…" the Necromancer spoke again, seeming closer this time. "Do you fear death, Hsss…? Are you afraid to die…?"
Hsss leapt to his feet as he realized where he was. He could see clearly now the skeletal remains in the alcoves: these were the catacombs. His panic returned tenfold as the mist around him began to take on corporeal shapes. The shapes of Snakemen and assorted other beings.
"You cannot run… There is no place to hide…" the Necromancer hissed as the mist coagulated into pale ghost-forms. "They will always be there…"
Hsss spun around madly as the ghosts advanced on him, looking for any escape route, but there was none. Their cold, blank, milky-white eyes stared at him balefully, as their lanky hands reached out for him. Their auras chilled him, and the touch of their transparent talons numbed him. He saw their hands pass through his arms and necks, and through them he saw the continuing corridor, his only hope of escape.
Screaming at the cold, Hsss broke into a hard run, through the ghosts, past the skeletons that were beginning to lean out of their alcoves, down the misty passageway. They shrieked in response but he heeded them not. All that mattered now was to escape the catacombs and find help. An immense wooden door was before him with a weak light shining from between the boards; this was his way out. As the door neared, hope rose in his chest. He threw out his arms in anticipation of the impact against and subsequent bursting through the exit. But he merely melted right through instead.
Hsss yelped as he hit cold stone, and curled into a ball on the floor as he realized that he had merely leapt from the frying pan to the fire. The stench of decay was even stronger here, and the groans of the dead chilled his blood. He squeezed his eyes shut; he was afraid to look.
"Hello, Hsss…" the grating voice of the Necromancer spoke next to him. Daring a glance with one of his heads, he peeped out from his fetal position, shaking with terror, to see the tan and tattooed Viper sitting above him on a throne of bone, half-rotten zombies standing at the ready by his side. His dark eyes glinted malevolently, and a smirk crossed his features at the pitiful Hydra before him.
"Do you not see it, Hsss…? Your flight was for naught, and lead you straight to me…" The Necromancer chuckled darkly. "Or, perhaps, did you believe that my presence would offer some protection, some clemency…?"
A familiar roar echoed through the chamber as Gorgoth burst through the door with a splintering of old wood and a shattering of worn stone. The great zombie roared again, and Hsss curled up tighter, trying to think of anyplace he could teleport that he'd be safe.
"There is no escape…" the Necromancer rasped, his figure stiffening and his grin broadening in anticipation. "Death has come for you…"
Gorgoth advanced on Hsss deliberately, his steps slow and heavy, a trail of drool dangling from the side of his mouth. He paused above the quivering Hydra and bared his fangs. Once again the zombie leaned in for the kill, but the Necromancer quite suddenly leapt to his feet.
"Beware!" the Necromancer practically roared, raising his staff, while his tattoos began to glow pale blue. "Beware! Beware the Red Wyvern!"
Then Gorgoth lunged at Hsss, bellowing, his gapping maw wrapping around his upper body, his sharp teeth crunching past metal, sinking into the flesh…
Hsss awoke with a start, and sat bolt-upright with a small cry. His breathing was ragged and his heart was beating at speeds he had never thought reachable. His skin was twitching uncontrollably, and was starting to feel loose, the way it did right before he had to shed it. But the first thing he truly noticed was that he was completely unharmed; not a scratch, not a wound. It had only been a dream.
Hsss let out a wheezing groan as reality finally reached him, his eyes rolling back into their skulls. He pulled his legs up into to his body and tried to still his racing heart and uncontrolled breathing while resting his central forehead on his knees and let his other heads fall limp. It was all a dream, a horrid nightmare, he tried to reassure himself, but something at the back of his mind said that it was more than that. One aspect of the dream kept coming to mind: what did 'red wyverns' mean?
Wyverns. Small, draconian scavenger-beasts that Fang said could often be seen foraging on battlefields. He also said that when they were on the wing they could be easily mistaken for true dragons at great distance, or for small dragons closer in. But they had the wrong body shape to truly be counted amongst the Draconids, only four limbs rather that the dragon six. But what did wyverns represent, and was there any significance to a red coloration? Sun Scale had said something about him having the gift of foresight; maybe she would know. Maybe it was some sort of prophesy. He had heard once that visions often came in the form of symbolic representation.
His heart rate had finally slowed to a resting beat, and Hsss released the breath he hadn't realized he had been holding. His body went limp, and he rolled onto his side, still curled up in a ball. He felt ill, and squeezed his eyes shut in vain to fight back the nausea. And he knew that trying to find sleep again was hopeless.
That was when Hsss heard the door open a crack, in a quasi-stealthy manner. He didn't dare move a muscle.
"Hsss?" It was Snake Face. "You awake?"
Hsss heard him tip-toe over to the side of the bed, obviously unsure whether he was awake or not. Frankly, he wanted him to think that he was asleep, not wanting to have to tell him that he had been roused by a nightmare. A horrific nightmare about someone on their side, in fact.
"Hsss?" Snake Face reached out a hand to touch Hsss' shoulder, which nearly caused him jump out of his already loosened skin. But he only flinched, prompting the Gorgon to shake his shoulder. Groaning, Hsss turned a head to glare weakly up at Snake Face.
"What is it…!" Hsss half moaned, half whined softly. Nodding ever so slightly, Snake Face stepped back from the bed side.
"I just thought there was something you would like to see," Snake Face whispered as he gestured for Hsss to rise. Still feigning tiredness, he sat up and rubbed his eyes.
"What do you want me to see…?" Hsss faked a yawn, trying to look sleepy even though he was wide awake.
"Get dressed and I'll show you. But do it soon or you'll miss it." Snake Face turned and walked to the door while he spoke. "I'll be waiting outside for you if you want to come."
And with that Snake Face closed the door, leaving Hsss alone in the room with his tumultuous thoughts. On one hand there was the mental turmoil stirred up by the nightmare, but on the other was curiosity at what Snake Face had to offer. Sighing and finding a resolve, he stood and stretched. Nodding to himself he pulled on his britches and jerkin in light of the cold morning, and half staggered to the door, opening it to see his companion leaning against the wall next to it.
"Well, you ready?" Snake Face inquired quietly, cocking his head to the side stepping away from the wall. Hsss nodded wearily in response, and the Gorgon nodded back.
"Alright… come along then." And with that Snake Face took Hsss by the wrist and led him down the corridor. "Quietly, now. I don't know how many are up at this hour."
Hsss responded by softening his steps slightly and silenced his breathing. Through the hallway and down the stairs, Snake Face led him, never letting go of his wrist. Hsss stiffened when they entered the main hall, but no mist hung about the vast chamber, nor was Gorgoth there to maul him. Just an empty stillness.
Snake Face did not sense Hsss sudden display of fear, but instead he stopped and looked about the hall, apparently weighing options. Nodding to himself he steered them towards the main gate.
"Where are you leading me?" Hsss whispered softly, starting to hang back a bit, trying halfheartedly to slip his hand from the Gorgon's grip.
"Can't tell, it would spoil the surprise," Snake Face whispered back. "But first we have to get Ebony."
Ah, Hsss thought, so we are going to be riding there; I hope it's not too far. He didn't want Asp'rios to wonder where he was, but then reasoned that the High Priest had his ways of knowing where people were, namely Diamond Hide. That assuaged his fears somewhat, and he fell back into step with Snake Face.
Their soft footsteps barely echoed through the empty hall, deadened by the still air as they continued towards the stable. Hsss idly wondered when the normal day started in Midgar, but brushed it aside. He then wondered what Pyathon's hours were like, and what he would be doing right now. His question was soon to be answered.
The stable was just as silent as the main hall, but the smell of animals and straw was still present, though somewhat dulled. All the steeds were asleep in their stalls and Pyathon was no where to be found. Only now did Snake Face let go of Hsss' arm and let him walk his own pace. And while the Gorgon went straight to Ebony's stall, Hsss took a moment to look around.
Hsss ambled slowly around the edge of the corridor, glancing into every stall, having a look at each of the creatures contained within. There were horses of varying builds and patterns, as well as great cats with similar variations. He recognized one cat that had to be of the same species as Saber. He also caught sight of a winged, lavender, draconian creature curled up in a particularly large stall; his first thought was that it was a Wyvern. He'd never seen a Wyvern before, only heard vague descriptions of them, which it seemed to fit.
Giving the winged creature only one more glance, Hsss moved on and looked into the next stall. What he saw there puzzled him even more. It looked like a mass brown of serpent coils, with no visible tail-tip or head. Curious, he moved closer despite his better judgment. He couldn't see any sign of movement to indicate breathing, but he could hear the sound of it clearly. He wondered if it was a Wurm, the great serpents of the underground, but then he saw a claw sticking out of the tangle, and then a head. He recognized the head: Pyathon. So, Hsss thought, he loves his animals so much he even sleeps as one of them.
"Hsss?" Snake Face's voice and sudden hand on his shoulder made him jump. "We're ready to go."
Hsss spun around swiftly to face his companion, which took Snake Face a bit aback. Calming quickly from his momentary panic, he nodded wordlessly and looked past the Gorgon to see Ebony standing ready in full tack, whickering slightly. Nodding back and stepping aside, Snake Face waved Hsss towards her. They mounted silently, Snake Face in the front, and the Gorgon gave her the tongue-click signal to walk. This clicking woke the winged beast. It raised its head groggily and glared at them as they passed with deep-set emerald eyes.
"That draconian creature there," Hsss whispered to Snake Face. "What is it? Is it a Wyvern?"
Snake Face slowed Ebony's step to have a glance at the creature in reference as it followed them with its gaze.
"No, its not a Wyvern," Snake Face whispered back. "Its head is the wrong shape: the snout is too long. I've seen Wyverns and this is not one."
"Then what is it?" Hsss asked as the creature decided they were of no interest and laid its head back down.
"Not sure. Could be some sort of Drake…" Snake Face started but broke off. "But who knows. Maybe we should ask Pyathon when we get back."
"Where are we going anyway?" Snake Face was silent for a moment as Hsss once more questioned him, seeming to be holding a mental debate inside his skull. After a moment he replied.
"We aren't going beyond the sight of Midgar if that's what worries you," was all Snake Face said as an answer. Hsss knew that that would be the only answer until he actually saw what the surprise was. Sighing in defeat, he slumped into the saddle and allowed Snake Face to guide Ebony.
For a few moments Hsss' world was filled with nothing but the sound of Ebony's hooves clattering on stone, the feel of her gait beneath him, and the sight of the floor moving below them. He felt half-asleep, despite feeling fully awake just a short while ago, and he had no idea why. But he was shocked out of this world by Ebony's sudden stop and the sharp yet muted creaking of the drawbridge. His eyes shot up to see the gate of Midgar lower into the gray light of dawn.
When the thunder of old wood and chains ceased, Ebony once again continued along her path at Snake Face's urging. Soon they were out in the open air again, a thin, ocean mist hanging on the ground. And with a nudge from her rider, the black horse broke into a full gallop. But to where Hsss could not tell.
Hsss settled into her rhythm, and allowed his fatigue to overtake him again, making him slacken his grip of Snake Face's shoulders and lean into his back. The Gorgon did not fail to notice this.
"You tired?" Hsss' response came as a muffled groan. "I understand. I guess you don't like mornings."
"I'd just woken up…" came Hsss' deadened whine. This caused Snake Face to grin, and a small chuckle escaped between his fangs.
"Well, what I'm about to show you is sure to wake you up." As he spoke this, another sound appeared over the steady beating of Ebony's hooves: the roar of the ocean.
Hsss looked up past Snake Face's shoulder to see the silvery-gray waters breaking against the gray-white sand, backlit by a faint red glow. The thuds of Ebony's hoof beats became deadened as dirt softened into sand. No longer did Hsss feel drowsy as the smell of sea-salt reached him on a sweet, cool breeze. In fact, it even seemed invigorating.
Ebony whickered as Snake Face reigned her back down to a walk, and finally to a stop as they reached the water's edge. The black mare danced about as the cold waves rushed about her hooves, whinnying as she tried to adjust to the chill. With a grin, Snake Face dismounted, his feet splashing into the water as he did so. With a hand to steady his horse, he motioned for Hsss to come down as well.
"Here we are, and the water's just fine." With a tiny bit of hesitation, Hsss complied, sliding from Ebony's back, letting his feet dip into the cold water. The sudden chill made him flinch, but he did not recoil, instead trying to convince himself that the rushing waters were almost soothing.
"Good," Snake Face went on, once Hsss had fully dismounted. "Now all we have to do is wait."
With a little pat on the shoulder Snake Face released his hold on Ebony's reigns and allowed her to wander. And wander she did, moving with determination away from the cold waters. He himself plopped down in the wet sand facing the sea, watching and waiting. After a moment Hsss moved to join him there on the ground.
Long they sat there, gazing out across the sea, the waters surging around them, the winds rushing against them. Hsss had no idea what they were waiting for, or when it would come; all he knew was that the gray dawn was soothing to his ragged thoughts, and calming to his frightened spirit. It was good feeling the smooth, wet sand beneath his feet and between his toes.
"It's almost time…" Snake Face whispered after a while as the sky began to brighten. Puzzled, Hsss looked around slowly in confusion.
"Where?" He felt Snake Face's hand on his arm, steering his gaze back towards the ocean.
"Just watch the sea where the glow is, right there on the horizon." Hsss' eyes followed Snake Face's gesturing arm to a point on the horizon which seemed to be illuminated than the rest, the sky pained gold and red above it. "Just wait for it. Any minuet now…"
And as Snake Face spoke the glow became brighter, the gold bleeding into the blue. Hsss watched it slowly change its hue, small smiles blossoming on his faces. Somehow, he knew now what he was about to see, but at the same time he was not so sure. And confirming his thought a spike of golden light lanced over the edge of the sea, announcing the arrival of the sun. And it simply took his breath away.
Yes, Hsss had seen many sunrises in his day, but never like this, not with the light reflected and doubled by the surface of the sea, playing over the jeweled waters. The lifting shroud of ocean mist veiled the blinding rays, allowing him to almost see the sun's red disk. How could I have not realized that this is what it was all about? Hsss thought to himself as he stared in awe at the rising sun. So simple, and yet so breathtaking.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Snake Face whispered, as though not to disturb the serenity of the scene. Hsss could only nod in response, speechless as well as breathless. He barely registered his companion's spreading smile and returned nod, or the waters that were surging further up the shore with each breaker and the chill as it soaked into the leather of his britches.
"I was equally amazed when I first saw it here," Snake Face continued as the sun slowly climbed away from the glassy horizon. "And I saw it quite by accident really, and only on the second time did I see it here on the shore."
Hsss, turned to him, baffled. The one thing he could not understand about this Gorgon was how he could be such a morning-person. Even he struggled to get up early.
"What were you doing up that early!" Hsss no longer seemed interested in the rising sun as he fixed his companion with a confused demi-glare. Snake Face only shrugged.
"I'm always up this early. Its nothing to me, a force of habit only. Besides, in my clan we have to get up early for the sake of the horses." Silence set in again, broken only by the roar of the sea, and remained for an immeasurable time as they sat there, Hsss glancing at the sun, Snake Face, and Ebony, who was currently trying to find something edible on the sandy shore, all at once. And in that moment something else occurred to him.
"Um… Snake Face…?" Hsss asked slowly, trying to figure out the best way to word his question so that it wouldn't seem prying.
"Yes?" the Gorgon replied without even the slightest glance in his companions direction.
"Has… has Asp'rios spoken with you yet?" A pause as Hsss unknowingly held his breath, waiting for an answer. Snake Face blinked, turned to face him, and blinked again. Another silence.
"Yes, he has, just two days after he spoke with you." Hsss released his breath then in a silent rush, and prepared his next question.
"And what did he tell you?" Snake Face blinked yet again, and turned to look at his companion. Their eyes locked briefly and the Gorgon's narrowed.
"Well… he told me about Grayskull… and about the Chaos Bringer… why do you ask?" Hsss gave a demi-nod to himself as Snake Face answered, and prepared his own reply.
"Just wondering if we got the same story, that's all…" It was not the real reason he had asked, but it was close enough. Another silence set in.
"Did… did he tell you why you, specifically, were chosen?" Hsss no longer tried to be subtle in his inquiry. Snake Face raised a brow.
"Well… yes he did…" The Gorgon was baffled by the mysterious barrage of questions, but answered just the same.
"And what did he say were your qualities?" Hsss' questions pried even deeper, but Snake Face continued to answer.
"He told me that I am calm and collected, that I am intelligent, that I can make good decisions under pressure, that I am someone not likely to panic…" Snake Face paused, his eyes narrowing further. "Why are you asking me these things?"
"Its just that…" Hsss broke off, trying to word his feelings exactly. "Its just that this whole business is worrying me, that's all. Its just a bit too stressful for me to handle."
"I see…" And once more the two adolescent Snakemen went quiet, looking back to the now clear horizon. "We probably should be getting back."
"Yes, we should." And with that they pulled themselves up from the wet sand, dusted themselves off and went to collect Ebony. They returned to Midgar in silence, the sun beating on their backs, their thoughts tumbling in their minds.