She hugs her knees in the darkness. She knows she isn’t in the wall anymore, but the stone is still warm here, and she still has no idea what’s going on.
Her blood is still dripping down her hand, slowly sliding down her thigh. It stings, where the thorn cut it, and she realizes she has nothing with which to bandage it.
Here she can see, somehow, in the pitch darkness. It doesn’t seem to be as important a fact as the figures surrounding her. Someone is standing not too far away, and watching her intently.
She stands, rising to her feet and pulling herself together. Her legs shake though, as she walks to the figure.
“Master Winter?” The figure asks. “Do you not have combat to conduct?”
“What’s going on?” She asks weakly.
“Ah. You are the second, then. Master said you might appear. You should release control back to the other who lies in you- he is much better at fighting than you. Overall he is also more knowledgeable,” The man says, stepping forward. “Of course, I could just knock you out and release him myself.”
He takes another step forward. “After all, you really have no right to this body.”
The woman backs away. Her small frame is eclipsed by the figure- who is tall, at least six inches taller than she. Her bleeding is making her a little woozy.
I’m bound in here! This pompous idiot doesn’t know that- if he knocks us out we’ll both die, He will come in here and kill us both.
She is startled by the voice in her head, but what it says makes at least a little sense.
Let me help!
She raises her arms without willing it as the man advances. Her hands shake.
Oh, toughen up you wuss.
Suddenly, her scars glow. All over her body, lines she didn’t even know about flare with sudden light. The man pauses for an instant.
A tendril forms of red liquid, twisting up from the grit of the floor as well as from her own hand. It twines around her fingers and forms a rock hard sheath, sharpened at the tip and on the edges pointed away from her soft flesh. She staggers under the weight of it, unused to the sudden density.
It’s her own blood.
The man decides to risk it, lurches towards her with hands outstretched.
Something makes her raise that hand up- the blade of blood extends only a foot or so from her hand, but still is very, very heavy for her.
She feels her body lunge forward, an unfamiliar position, one foot out, body bent so that she’s half-past the man, her shoulder driven into his gut. He lets out an ‘oof’, but doesn’t go down until she rams a tiny fist into a bundle of nerves, striking them purposefully until he folds up.
Finish him off and move on! Do you want to die?
“You-” The man starts. The blood-blade falls down and strikes the stone near his face, falling off the woman’s hand as she loses her concentration. It drills into the stone and sticks there with a hiss. The man emits a very unmanly yelp as bits of stone dust strike his face.
“I’m not killing anyone!” She says fiercely, and out loud. “You’re nuts.”
Oh geez, not this again. Fine, leave him, just get out of here! I still have no idea how to break loose.
The woman runs, leaving the prone man where he lies, stunned. Something nags at her, even so.
“Why do you want to break loose?” She gasps, halting her frantic flight to figure out where she should flee to. There’s light along a passage to her left, so she ducks into it. It’s merely torchlight, but it’s much better than nothing.
You think it’s all pie and pudding in here, watching you fuck everything up?
“Who am I?” Her eyes scan the stone walls for something, anything she can use. Seeing only a torch, and seeing that the light is gone up ahead, she takes it from its hook and holds it in front of her, taking a deep breath to steady herself and trying to ignore the ferocious stinging. She’d grasped it with her injured hand.
You want your name, my name, or both?
“I don’t know!”
Your name is Winter. My name is Summer. Everyone knows both of us as Winter, though. So that’s what you’ll be answering to. You’ve lost your memory.
Winter presses herself against the wall, edging forward a little more cautiously than before. The ground here is loose grit, if she took to her heels she might slip and fall. The halo of light from her torch illuminates grim shapes in the dust- bones. Is it a crypt or a tomb?
It’s a lair. Don’t worry though, the thing that used to live here is dead. You’re going the right way!
She doesn’t believe ‘Summer’. Something about that voice seems a bit off to her, though she can’t touch on why. But she moves forward anyway. She can’t go back, that much is pretty clear now.
There is a thunderous rumbling, followed by a long, low hiss. The very walls seem to hum with it, and dust shakes itself loose from the ceiling and drifts down to coat her hair and back. She holds in a sneeze, because the silence is that dead, that foreboding. She continues down the hall.
From behind her she can hear shouting. Two voices now, instead of the man she left behind. Those are my servants. Don’t let them catch you, Summer’s voice whispers.
There is an enormous door here. The hall widens so much that the word ‘cavern’ becomes appropriate, and now there is this immense stone door, all covered in sigils and arcane runes. It shouldn’t budge no matter what she does, and for a bare moment she pauses. It’s too big to move.
Just put your hand on the hand rune. It’s still got blood, right?
Her hand does indeed still have a little blood on it. She looks around for a rune in the shape of a hand. But it doesn’t take long for her to realize she can read the runes, that she can understand them instead of looking around aimlessly.
“You mean the one that says hand or the one that is a hand?”
How should I know? I can’t read this stuff. Usually I have you do it. If your memory is broken I have no idea. You just said it was a hand rune.
Winter pauses, eyeing the door. She looks down at her hand, then up at the stone again. It only takes a few seconds of reading for her to find what she was looking for. She traces the rune- all along its curves and the shape of it. It’s like no hand she’s ever seen- but then, she’d only ever seen four so far. This one has four fingers. It has no thumb. Imitating the shape of it on instinct, she presses her hand to it, pulling her thumb away. A most peculiar sensation greets her, such that she almost yanks her hand away. It’s as if the blood in the wound is running from her hand into the runes. She can feel it sliding, as if to its own personal gravity, around her hand in an outline, traced along her fingers.
The rune glows, flares, and then the door slowly begins to slide away.
Shouts from the hall behind her make her wish the damn thing would hurry up. She pushes on it, and, to her mild surprise, it begins to swing outward.
As she pushes on forward into the next room, as the hallway widens into something enormous, as her heart thumps in her chest and her good hand- she’d switched her grip on her light source- clenches the torch tighter than before, a nagging thought wonders whether going back wouldn’t be a grand idea after all. Anything could have made that hiss.
She’s here with naught but her name and a voice in her head.
Is it really her name?
More shouting from behind her urges her past the little gap in the door and into the greater cave beyond. As soon as she steps through, the door reverses its arc and slams shut with frightening celerity. Just before it shuts, though, the shouting turns to screams.
Her torch is blown out by the great gust of wind that follows the huge portal’s swift passage. Winter is left in silent darkness. Even so, she gets the feeling that she isn’t alone. The stick flares hot in her grip, though it doesn’t relight, and it’s suddenly way too uncomfortable to hold it.
She drops the burnt stick reflexively. The darkness seems that much more oppressive now.
She hugs herself, suddenly self-conscious of her nakedness. Someone is watching her, and watching all of her. Something. It’s not right, it’s a prying sort of feeling, as if it were studying all of her at once.
No, don’t curl up. She doesn’t bite much, it’ll be okay.
Summer’s voice is less sharp now, more urgent.
C’mon, toughen up. If you show weakness she will pounce.
Winter feels a furred something brushing her legs, something long, sinuous. It flicks up and touches her belly and leaves her feeling weak and sick. She slaps it aside on reflex, hears another long, slow hiss. In it, she imagines words.
–So. You finally come crawling back to me.–
Now there is something hot against her back, and she turns and darts away from it, pressing her back up against a wall. A wall that feels scaly, coiled, and deadly, a wall that is dry like snakeskin. Dry like the voice as it returns, as something wet and unbearably hot flicks her cheek, as a breath scented with spice pushes her hair away from her face.
–Are you the Ever-snow or the other, the Eternal-fire? No, don’t answer…. I can feel her, she’s been bound. You are Ever-snow. Winter. Winter-Long-Frost.–
Winter feels herself shudder. “I thought he was a man.”
–Summer is not a man. Is your memory gone? Do I sense weakness?–
The warm thing is back, draws twin lines of fire up along Winter’s belly, but she swats it away on reflex, trying to keep from collapsing. Trying to stay firm.
“My memory is fine,” She snaps. “You stay away from me, snake.”
–You lie, but it is good to see you are not weak. Yet. Let me reintroduce myself.–
A blaze grows, an unbearable flame behind her. She stumbles forward, then turns, catches her balance, leans against another wall. It’s as dry and scaly as the first. It doesn’t strike her as anything particularly wrong until the blaze glows as well, illuminating the length of the creature she’d awoken.
Truly magnificent, the beast is a hundred times as large as she could have imagined. It takes up the entire cavern, surrounds her, its coils stretched out over a cave larger than the sky itself. For a moment her panicked mind wonders what could possibly be happening, then she realizes that the monster is glowing, and the blaze was in fact one of two heads, two serpentine, twining necks that extend from a long, serpentine body. Its scales are iridescent green, but it has bands of white fur as well, all the way down to the tip of its tail- which rattles slightly when the snake shakes it.
Though the creature isn’t really all that thick around- in comparison with its length, its heads are disproportionate with perspective, too close to her for her to truly comprehend their real size.
And it dawns on her, as something hot and wet flicks out in a flash and brushes her cheek, that it was a tongue. Not forked, but the two heads working in unison. The thought of something so enormous having the taste of her makes her irrationally angry, but it’s immediately overwhelmed by terror.
Still, a name hovers on the tip of her tongue, and as the creature opens its mouth to speak again, is drowned in the hiss that follows.
–I am Goliath. I have been your servant for eons. I bring the heat of Summer to drown the everlasting cold.–
A memory stops Winter dead, a name rising from the hot blank sheet of her mind.
“Jane?” Winter whispers. Oh boy, Summer mumbles in her head. You remember.
The very tip of Goliath/Jane’s tail coils around Winter’s legs, urging her into a sitting position and lifting her right into the air like a comfortable scaly chair.
She’d scream, but her voice is so terrified that it flees her. Instead, she holds tight to the creature’s tail.
It doesn’t seem to faze the enormous serpent.
A scaled snout nuzzles her affectionately, about throwing her from the scaly perch. The creature is incredibly strong.
–I was wondering if you remembered me. I was trying to trigger the spell to break! I guess it did!–
A few minutes pass. The reunion is turning out to be a bit more awkward than Jane had hoped.
“W-which are you? Goliath or Jane?” Winter asks, when she can trust her voice.
Both, Summer says wearily.
–Both,– Jane hisses quietly. –Or I used to be. Goliath is dead.–
–You passed his bones. He was caught in the door when you last fled this place. I guess it served him right. I still have some of his memories, though.–
She’d thought the bones were simply part of the floor. Winter suppresses another shudder. It’s uncomfortably warm here, but she’s not about to tell ‘Jane’ that. The creature is as unknown to her as everything else- all she remembers is the name.
–How did Summer become bound?–
“I don’t know,” Winter whispers.
A tongue flicks her under the chin, lifts her head and forces her to look into the Serpent’s eyes, doing the job of a hand.
–How did Summer become bound?– Jane repeats, quietly, her hiss only subtly threatening.
Jane’s eyes are grey, stone grey. Both sets. The ones she gazes into swirl oddly, like twin murky pools of liquid steel. They don’t seem to have pupils.
“She lost a duel.”
The words come from Winter’s mouth, but she doesn’t remember saying them.
Something presses at her mind, an invasive presence, picking through memories lost to try to find the truth.
–Who was she dueling?–
“She was dueling He-Whose-Name-Shakes-Mountains.”
–Stupid girl,– Jane hisses mildly. –The likes of him cannot be defeated by pure magic power.–
There’s a pause. Jane appears to be thinking. Winter doesn’t much like this form of interrogation, not least because her body seems to have fled her control. Something holds her in place. A barrier. It’s in her mind.
She presses against that barrier experimentally, and finds that it lets her slip by. She regains control of herself.
“Don’t do that,” She gasps, able to breathe on her own again. “I hate being caged like that.”
Jane seems downright taken aback, and manages to look it, even with her scaly snouts. –Do what?– She asks lamely. –What did I do?–
“You know what you did,” Winter grumbles. “Don’t give me that. You just tried a Truth spell on me, didn’t you?”
And she realizes, as she says it, she knew that it was one all along. Her memory appears to be coming back to her, if more slowly than she’d like.
–Well yes,– Jane hisses. The way her heads hang is almost pathetic, if it were possible for a two hundred foot long serpent to look pathetic ever. –It was buried, that just seemed like the best way.–
By the Cycle, this woman infuriates me sometimes. I swear she has no idea what she’s doing. She’s our servant but it’s just a pain in the ass when she pretends she knows better than us. She could have killed us, if the binding were set on a trigger.
Winter pats the tail that’s coiled around her legs.
“Let me down gently, please,” She says quietly. “I don’t know what I’m going to do now, but I know that it’s a bit too warm here.”
Her Servant lets her down slowly, placing her on her feet. –As you wish. I am here if you need me.–
An enormous rumbling boom shakes the whole cavern, sending dust crashing down from the ceiling. It looks ruddy red, in the glow from Jane’s scales.
Shit, He found us!