September 9th, 2024
Noemi rubbed at her chafed wrists as the ropes fell to the dirt below, her knife securely tucked away on her belt. She could hardly believe that she was standing here, alive, after everything that had happened. The little white snake still stared at her expectantly, have taken its perch upon the piece of rubble. It looked to have once been a pillar, but who could know for sure.
Your prayers have been answered, Noemi Valente. Now it’s time for you to answer mine.
That’s what it had told her. The two stood in the crumbling ruins, half-consumed by time and the jungle around them. “Who are you?” Noemi asked, barely above a whisper. She scolded herself at hearing the fear in her own voice. By all rights, she should have been dead. The fact that she wasn’t meant that she shouldn’t have anything to fear.
I am the Feathered Serpent.
The snake’s voice still sounded in her head, its sibilant tones having a slight echo inside her skull. Noemi blinked twice, her eyes staring down at the tiny white snake. “A feathered serpent? Like Quetzalcoatl?”
The snake flicked its tongue out, as Noemi felt more than heard the hiss of irritation.
I am THE Feathered Serpent. More ancient than Quetzalcoatl, older than Kukulkan. It is from me they arose, from me they were derived.
“But…you’re so tiny,” Noemi said, wondering if she was about to be torn apart for saying so. If snakes could glare, this one was certainly doing so, but it stretched out its wings and fluttered them briefly.
Hold out your hand, Noemi Valente.
Noemi didn’t question her, extending her arm. The white snake slithered across the chipped stone of the pillar, coiling up her arm. She could feel it tightening its muscle, but it didn’t hurt. It almost felt comforting in a way. The snake made its way up to her shoulders, its tongue flicking beside her ear.
This was my temple. When I awoke, I found myself here…diminished. My worship has stopped. My cult has been killed. I have saved your life as your prayers requested. You will rebuild my cult.
“Ehh?! Rebuild your cult?! What do you mean I have to rebuild your cult?!”
You will gather worshippers for me so that I may grow stronger as a divine spirit.
Noemi blinked again before shaking her head, waving her hands emphatically in front of her. “No, no, no, you have the wrong girl, I can’t do something like that. They want me dead, I can’t even show my face in Aztlan territory without jaguar soldiers hunting me!”
You are the one I have chosen.
The snake coiled tightly around her arm, as if to stake claim over Noemi. The red-headed girl groaned, her fingers lightly massaging her forehead. “Okay. Look, I’ll make a deal with you. You saved me here and I’m certainly not ungrateful, but I still need to get out of Brazil, away from Aztlan. If you use your powers to help me get away, I’ll work on building you a cult. Deal?”
The snake raised its head, flicking its tongue out as its wings spread. My power is weak. The serpents you have seen are all that I can call upon. With more worship, I will grow stronger.
“Yeah, I get that, and I’ll keep my end of the bargain, don’t worry,” Noemi said, her voice dropping as she started walking. She didn’t want to stay in one place too long, not with the chance of Aztlan scouts coming to check on their fellow warriors. She moved into the shadows, her eyes watching every movement carefully. “What’s your name anyway?”
I am the Feathered Serpent.
“Featherina? Nah, I don’t like that. It sounds…too European,” Noemi muttered, sounding out different syllables on her tongue. “Oph…Ophidia. Do you like that name?”
It does not matter. You may call me as you wish, so long as it is me to whom you refer.
“Right, well, Ophidia, it’s going to look odd if I’m walking around talking to a feathered serpent all the time. Do you have a human form you could take?
The snake said nothing at first, though it loosened its grip around her arm. It took to the air, its wings fluttering to keep it aloft before it began to shift. Feathers started to fall and gather around the spirit as it grew in size, taking the form of a very tall woman, with long legs that looked suited to a dancer. Her white hair looked layered, like the feathers in a bird’s wings, soft with short strands lying one on top of another. Her red eyes were still slitted like a snake’s. Her wings folded gently, before turning into cloth before Noemi’s eyes, creating a cape around the goddess’s shoulders. “I am not so weak that I cannot manage such a transformation.”
“Ah, of course…” Noemi said, her eyes looking the goddess up and down, half in disbelief. She didn’t know why she was surprised. It was not as if Ophidia was the first spirit she had encountered. Still, she could never quite get used to the way they radiated an aura of sheer power. It did not take long, however, for Noemi to recover from her shock.
“Well, looks like we’re partners now then, Ophidia!” Noemi said, holding out her hand to the goddess to shake. The serpent looked at her hand and tilted her head, raising one eyebrow.
“Partners? I do not think you understand, Noemi Valente. You are my first worshipper. I am your new goddess.”
“Well, right now, you need me and I need you, and you said it yourself, your power isn’t what it used to be right? Sure, you could tear me apart with your serpents but then who’d build your cult for you?”
The goddess didn’t reply, just staring at Noemi before turning away without any true response. Noemi nodded her head, knowing that her point had been received. “Right, so partners. So I want to get to know more about the goddess I’m working with.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, for instance, what exactly do you expect from worship? I know lots of different spirits have their own tastes. Like the Sunless cult wants blood sacrifice…”
Ophidia’s nose scrunched up at the mention of the practice of human sacrifice, her face contorting into a scowl. “I have no taste for blood. I know not of this “Sunless” you speak, but my successors’ tastes for blood are a reflection more of their worshippers than of me.”
“Good…I don’t know if I could have built a cult for blood sacrifice,” Noemi said, before her eyes went wide. “Wait a minute, you said it’s because of their worshippers they desired blood?”
“Indeed. The humans believed that it was the proper way to show their worship, as the blood is a powerful substance. As more blood was given, the other spirits grew thirstier.”
“So does that mean you could start developing a taste for blood?” Noemi questioned, warily, watching the goddess cautiously.
“In theory, should a cult develop. I find the idea abhorrent, however, and would not be pleased for you to try to influence your goddess in such a way.” Ophidia said, looking down haughtily, her arms crossed.
“No, that’s good, I don’t like it either,” Noemi said, letting out a sigh of relief. “The Sunless cult is one of the more blood thirsty cults. They worship the god called Tezcatlipoca.”
“Ah, the Jaguar,” Ophidia said, letting out a noise of disgust.
“Y-yeah, they’ve been taking over a large part of the jungle, leading the other Aztec cults throughout South America, so we can’t stay here. If we do, and word gets out that there’s a cult to you, she’ll stop at nothing to destroy you.”
Noemi tilted her head, a hand under her chin as thoughts swirled inside her head. “Actually, I’m not sure it would even matter. If they finds out I’m anywhere near here, they’ll send more people to kill me.”
Ophidia nodded her head, mimicking Noemi’s gesture, rubbing gently under her chin. “I have a question of my own. What did you do to so offend this Sunless Cult and the being known as Tezcatlipoca?”
“That…That’s a long story,” Noemi said, her eyes looking around the jungle, as if she suddenly remembered the danger she was in. The spies and agents of the Sunless were everywhere these days. She’d dare not tell the story so openly, without protection. “I’ll tell you when we’re not in the jungle, maybe. The point is, Central America, Brazil, it’s not safe right now. We need to flee.”
“Flee? To where?”
“We could go north to whatever remains of the United States and Canada,” Noemi said. The spirit’s face didn’t change, as if the names meant nothing to her. “…Or we could go even further south, trying to outrun the Cult of the Sunless.”
She grabbed a stick and started drawing a rough map in the dirt. Ophidia watched in silence. “Going north is bad, because it takes us right by Mexico City, which is the heart of the cult,” Noemi drew an arrow in the dirt pointing north, before marking it off with a big ‘X’. “We’re not taking that way. The south isn’t great because the rainforest is full of dangerous spirits that would love nothing more than to eat us both to consume power. I’m sure at your strongest, you would have no trouble dealing with them but right now, we don’t have the luxury.”
“If we can’t go north,” Ophidia said slowly, her voice carefully measuring out each syllable. Noemi shivered at the hint of a threat laced into every word. “And we can’t go south, then where exactly are we to go, Noemi Valente?”
Noemi dragged the stick across the ground, drawing an arrow to the west before curving it north once more. “To the sea. We get a boat and go to the Caribbean.”
“Yes,” Noemi said, more emphatically than before. “We go to the coast and get a boat and…and we should be able to find people there, maybe, who can help us fight against Tess. At the very least, we’ll be able to build your cult.”
“But we will be leaving our home.”
“Yes, but we’ll be able to find…we’ll be able to find people to worship you more easily out there than here.”
Ophidia stared down at the drawings in the dirt, her face frowning slightly. Noemi waited for any sign of thought on the goddess’s face. After what seemed to be a very long minute, the goddess looked up. “Very well. To the sea.”
The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa