Catharsis [26]

Tremayne looked as though he were about to answer my question, then caught sight of my homemade climbing gear, and stiffened. I hastened to explain.
“I’m sorry, but I needed to… urinate… and didn’t want to dirty your building.”
He shook his head slightly, then lowered his chin and shoulders and noticeably relaxed.
“There are those who say that it is the smell of your people that draws the snakes. There are others who say that your people only come when the snakes are about to attack. The snake that was here was excited to know you were here, which made it easier to surprise. How did you escape it?”
“I heard it- and smelled it- coming, after I’d… finished… so I jumped onto the rope and hurried up it. Fear helped me to do so.”
“Ah, so it was already in the area before you went down. That eliminates the idea that your presence drew it here,” Tremayne seemed pleased at the thought.
I was a little bit concerned about this new knowledge. “The snakes show up when humans do? They never show up without humans being here?”
Tremayne nodded, “There does seem to be a corelation. The only time in memory that they come is when a human comes here through the stones. This is why I was concerned for you walking alone.”
I thought again about the bowie knife, back at his house, and decided that I would begin to carry it with me. So I’d need to build myself some kind of a belt and scabbard. And while I was at it, a better set of clothes, a blanket, and some kind of tote bag or basket would be nice. I had my “hobbies” lined up for me without even trying.
Instead of getting into that I asked again, “How long until the suns come up?”
Tremayne was deep in thought but interrupted himself, “Uh, hum, we are about one third of the way through the night right now. The snakes only come at night, so you will be safe once the suns are up.”
“Can I stay up here for a while? I would like to build myself some gear and might as well stay out of your house while I do it. If you can spare some pillows, and the knife, and the pot, I could make do quite well here- without disturbing your family so much.”
Tremayne turned to look at me, then, “You are nothing like Albert and Grace, are you, young Lo Rell?”
I blushed a bit at being called “young”, “I’m not from the 19th century, if that’s what you mean,” I began, but saw some confusion on his face, “Oh. Right. Um… Albert and Grace are from an older time. Things have… changed… where I live, since they were born. The fact that they’re still alive- and looking as young as they do- is surprising. People don’t generally live that long where I am from. I’m actually considered rather old, there.”
Tremayne cocked his head then. “When they each first came here, they looked very much as you did, but their healing was rapid and they regained their health. Your healing will come as well. Just keep eating your fruit and using your body.”
I was in shock. “Their …healing? They were older? I’m… going to get younger?”
Tremayne chuckle/buzzed at me. “You’re already looking younger. Here.” He pulled a sheet of highly polished black stone down from a shelf- a mirror.
It was like looking at an old snapshot of myself. I looked straighter, thinner, a bit less… dusty. My skin had regained a bit of its old glow. My eyes looked brighter.
“OH. MY. GOD!!!” the exclamation jumped out before I realized it, and then tears sprang to my eyes. Concerned that I might upset or confuse Tremayne with my outburst, I regained control of my emotions.
“Sorry. This is a bit of a… shock,” I said, “I haven’t seen myself with only one chin in quite some time.”
This brought on a new kind of shock, because Tremayne laughed loudly at me, the first time I’d heard a full on laugh from him, and it was the weirdest thing I’d ever heard.
It was something like if a howler monkey and a rooster had a child and put it on top of a church steeple in a thunderstorm. There were flashes and crackles and rumbles and a whooping cawing sound that went to the skies, and all of it was loud.
Tremayne was bent backwards, face to the ceiling, eyes closed, hands on stomach, bouncing with the force of it.
He had the giggles.
At me.
I huffed my affront a little bit, as you do when somebody is just melting down in glee at your expense, but his mirth was so contagious that ultimately I just gave up and joined in. We laughed until we cried, caught our breath, and then caught each others’ eyes and started up again. We were completely helpless to stop.
This went on for some time.
Eventually we were both laying on the floor on our backs, tears streaming, deep breaths, trying to calm ourselves. We’d completely run out of steam, but occasionally our chests would rise off of the floor in a convulsive movement, arms and heads dangling, as a short barking chuckle burst forth of its own volition.
Then there would come a small gasp, or a soft “hooooooo”, as if there were some kind of relief in the process, some surprising release of something painful.
And of course there was.
After what must have been an hour, we were laying quietly on the floor of the storeroom. I may have begun to drift off to sleep. I felt as though I’d had a full body massage.
Eventually, he raised himself up on one elbow and said, “I want you to look at the snake. I want you to know what they look like.”
I fought down the small shudder of revulsion I felt at the thought of examining a dead thing, and said, “ok.”
I went over to my rope and lowered it, then climbed down. As I used my now-aching arms and shoulders, I decided I was going to build a ladder for myself. Or maybe a draw-ladder- something that could be raised and lowered…
Tremayne hopped down beside me as I reached the ground.
There lay the “snake”. It was nominally humanoid, with scales, which was fully what I’d expected. It was perhaps 18 feet long, a good two feet in diameter at its widest point.
Most of the length was what one normally imagines when thinking of snakes, but as you got towards the head, there were odd little protrusions that became longer and longer until they became arms. They were connected to each other with a thin lizard-skin. The overall effect was that they were kind of like the fins on a fish. but these were hinged, with multiple “elbows”, and had finger-like digits at their ends. These webbed multiple arms looked a lot like a centipede’s legs, except for the fact that they were webbed and had those hand-like ends.
The head was fused into the shoulders. There was no neck at all. Or, maybe the arms were coming out of the neck. The enormous mouth was agape and full of fangs, a long forked tongue hung out of one corner, and a viscous brown liquid oozed off of one point of it.
The eyes.
Oh my god, the eyes.
They were brown on top and golden on the bottom.
The eyelids were like an iguana’s, bunchy and wrinkled and lizardlike. The scales around them were smaller and more refined, a golden brown tone layered over darker skin.
Under the chin were the horizontal stripe-plates one associates with the belly of a snake.
The head, oddly, had four tufts of hairlike bristles on it.
I turned to Tremayne, “I’ve seen those kinds of eyes before. But the person was definitely a human.”
He nodded at me, soberly.
“That man was once fully human.”
“WHAT?” I stepped back from the dead thing’s dripping tongue, shuddering.
Tremayne sighed the deep breath of a teacher who has to explain a complex history to a child. I’d heaved that same breath many times, back in the day, and knew to listen carefully at what he said next.
“Let’s go get your things, get you set up.”
He pointed at the trail back to the town, and we began the walk back.
“He was captured by the snakes. They took him back to their den and their Mother… did things to him.
“That brown liquid from their mouths. That changed him. He became… infected? Is that the word? And the change affected his mind.
“He became… untuned? His music was off. His being was wrong.
“After she changed him in that way, she put him to work. He was sent by the Mother to one of the old cities. He spent many years there and eventually figured out the old travellers’ system, to some degree, and made it back to your plane.
“They didn’t, I don’t think, realize that it would be hard for him to return here, with the “snake poison” in him.”
We arrived at the town square, and there was a haze of ozone and smoke in the air. I realized that there were hundreds of little heaps of ash all over the area. Then I witnessed one of the largest of Tremayne’s relatives walk up to the corpse of one of the snakes and shoot it full of energy, instantly incinerating it down to a powder.
The action seemed to take a toll on them. Indeed, the amount of energy expended must have been huge. They went over to the side of the space to settle down on their haunches, roosting for a moment. Tremayne paused and spoke to them briefly and then we continued on our way while another took on the next corpse-disposal. Then I realized that there were similarly “roosted” figures all around the space. This was a huge job.
“We don’t know why, but the stones have some kind of protection built into them. We do know that this is why the Mother took him- and all of the others- in the first place.
“WAIT! WAIT! What?? There are MORE? More random half-eye whackos passing out tickets to other planes?”
“Oh, yes, quite a few of them, sadly. And not just on your plane. All over the place. It’s a major problem we’re trying to fix.
“From what we’ve been able to figure out in the centuries since, she wants to be able to send her children through. But the infected ones can’t make the journey back again. We don’t know for sure why. So she gets them to send… specimens? to her.”
Several thoughts passed through my head at that information- mutagenic viruses? DNA filters? ‘tuning’?
“There are several reptilian races in the network, some can use the stones and others can’t.
“Some can travel to our plane, others can’t get here. Evidently their gamble is for their agents to find the way to travel back here. To find the key that will allow them through.
“When we realized that he’d been taken, a few other humans who’d been staying with us went after him to try to rescue him. But it was too late. He betrayed them, causing the deaths of several, including the beloved spouse of one of our oldest human friends.
She vowed to reclaim people from the snakes, in order to learn what they’re up to. For a very long time she’s been tracking them through several worlds, analyzing what they do, and helping to offset the damages they create.
“When more and more of your people began to come through the gate, we realized that this particular man was back to your plane, and was sending them through.
“Some were fortunate and came to us. Others were less so, and went to places that were less safe- including to the snakes’ gate, where they are put through much the same process he was. The Mother is still trying to find her way through.
“Where do Albert, Grace, and the others fit into all of this? And why didn’t they just take the damned stone from me as soon as they knew I had it?” I asked.
“They’re people who were sent through to us, who met our old friend while they were here, and decided to help. They evidently were planning to take you on as a new agent, and for that reason you needed to keep your stone, and tune to it properly. The emergency response for Albert was poorly planned out, of course.”
“Why don’t you just go to the Snake den and wipe them out?” I asked. “I mean, they’re obviously not going to stop until they get their way.”
“This attack, which involved hundreds of them, would be considered a small incursion. A patrol that happened to come across us. They number in the millions. They are powerful. We have only just begun to restore our population after their last attempt to wipe us out. These new houses help a lot,” he said, as we reached his. “They can’t climb, you see.”
That almost looked like a smirk on his face.
“What about those- um- Blemmyes… Leshys…?… that just invaded my homeland?” I asked, “How did they get through?”
“HA! I see Grace has been attempting to teach her system again!” Tremayne chuckled. “The snakes on our plane are not the only agents of this kind of disorder, and sometimes other species- pests, most often, or diseases- get sent through. I’m going to assume they showed up at the same time that the half-eyed one did?”
“Well, yes. Within an hour, if that.” I felt a bit dazed at this idea.
“Then that was definitely an allied effort to distract the team at the stones, and take their eyes off of what he was really doing,” said Tremayne. “And if the distraction was that dark, then whatever he was up to was darker yet.”
We climbed the ramp to the second level. Tremayne proferred a large basket, which I loaded with the pillows I’d slept on the night before. I stood there with the Bowie knife in its sheath, wondering what to do with it, for a moment. Tremayne cocked his head and then seemed to have a realization. He pulled a leather belt down off of the same shelf the knife had been on.
“I’m sorry, I forgot to give you this,” he said.
I smiled my appreciation and threaded the sheath onto the belt and then put it on. It was about a foot too long, so I wrapped the end around the belt on the other side of the buckle, noting to myself that I was going to have to make a new hole for myself when I got the chance.
Tremayne, meanwhile, summoned a couple of his chicks over and appeared to be giving them directions. Sure enough, one took the baskets full of bedding and flew off in the direction of the workshop, and the other grabbed the little table I’d been using and dropped down to the “back yard” where my glorified chamber pot resided.
“Thank you, Tremayne,” I said, “I really appreciate you telling me all of this. For the first time I’m beginning to understand what is going on.”
“You’re more than welcome,” he beamed, “People we laugh with are soul-tuners. We need each other. In my language we call each other laughing family.”
That felt good.

Published by goddesswest

I'm a painter and am writing something now. People keep asking me to put it together in an easier to access place, so here I am. Plan to get some of my artwork in here too, eventually.

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