The White Serpent
October 6th, 2024
“So you’re a…champion was it?” Noemi asked as the small group worked slowly to cut a trail through the overgrown jungle. “A champion to a god?”
“That’s right,” Anton said, leading them with his bow slung over his shoulder and machete in hand. He and Noemi were at the front, while Tess and Gisela followed in the rear. As they walked, the four of them were followed by the invisible spirits of Catarina and the older Gisela, watching the memories pass.
“So I guess there are champions everywhere, huh?” Cat said, walking a bit behind them.
“As far as I have seen, though to varying degrees,” Gisela said. “Not all pantheons embrace such a system, or they do so differently.”
Cat watched as Anton helped the younger Gisela over a large fallen log. “He seems nice.”
“Anton was a good man,” Gisela said simply.
Noemi spoke up again as silence descended on the group.
“So how does someone go about becoming a god’s champion?” She asked.
“Well it’s not like I applied for it,” Anton smiled. “I was chosen, for my skill and for my character, so I was told.”
“That’s amazing…” The younger Gisela said quietly, reverence and admiration in her eyes. “You actually spoke to a god. Did it come in person? Or through visions and stuff like that?”
“Oh, it was in person,” Anton chuckled. “And let me tell you I have never been more terrified in all my life. A great white-scaled serpent with massive wings that filled the sky. It was as big as a mountain and spoke with a voice that shook the trees.”
“Wow…” Gisela said, trembling at the mere thought of it. “Did you see it too, Tess?”
“No,” The younger girl shook her head. “It was a little before we met.”
“Anyway,” Anton continued, pausing as he made another slash through the brush. “The Feathered Serpent came to me and he said that the world was out of balance. Chaos reigned over order and with every passing day things would grow worse if a balance was not restored.”
“And humans are supposed to be able to help with that?” Noemi asked. “Seems a bit optimistic, most of us are just trying to survive.”
“I thought the same way,” said Anton. “But it only takes something small, a little action, for the consequences to ripple outwards. That’s how he explained it to me at least.”
“So what do you do?” Noemi asked. “Just go around doing good deeds and helping people?”
“More or less,” Anton grinned. “Like umm…like Batman I guess.”
“No way, Batman doesn’t use a bow,” said Noemi. “You’re more like umm…”
“Like Green Arrow,” Gisela spoke up. “He used a bow!”
“Sure, Green Arrow then,” Noemi grinned.
Tess gave Gisela a confused look, but Gisela just turned a bit red and went quiet. Outside of their perception, Cat grinned slyly at the older Gisela.
“I didn’t know you read comic books.”
“I used to in my spare time. I had a lot of spare time,” Gisela said flatly.
“You nerd,” Cat teased her.
“So when did you meet Tess?” The younger Gisela asked, suddenly self-conscious of her reference.
“Oh, a few days later,” He said. “I saved her from the claws of a monstrous jaguar spirit.”
“I just wish you had killed it…” Tess said quietly.
Gisela shivered. “Y-you didn’t?”
Anton shook his head gravely. “No, only wounded the damn thing. Cowardly cat has been stalking us ever since.”
Gisela paled as she whirled her head around, as if expecting to see the face of an enormous jaguar watching her through the trees.
“I wouldn’t worry right now,” Anton said. “It doesn’t attack during the day, and the damn thing’s too frightened to make a direct attack. But when night comes we’ll need to be on our guard.”
Noemi paused to let Gisela catch up before giving her a comforting pat on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry,” she said quietly. “I’m not about to let some big dumb jungle cat scare my sidekick.”
Though still clearly frightened, Gisela nodded, somewhat reassured.
“The thing is evil…” Tess said, her hands folding over her chest defensively. “Just wish it would go away n’ die already.”
“I don’t think it’s evil,” Anton said. “It’s a spirit, but it’s still an animal. It’s just doing what feels natural to it.”
“Well, what’s natural to it is evil to me,” Tess grumbled.
“I don’t think we humans ever cared all that much about the natural order,” Noemi said. “Seems to me, if we’ve got a giant jaguar following us, safest thing to do is bring it down.”
“Well I’m not about to object,” said Anton. “No sense letting yourself be hunted for any kind of greater good, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. I doubt anything out there in the dark actually thinks of itself as evil.”
“Not about to debate philosophy,” Noemi said. “But I’m a pretty straightforward girl. If it wants you dead for any reason other than food or self-defense, it’s evil.”
“Well, let us hope the lines remain that clear,” Anton said. “The definitions of right and wrong seem to change quickly around here these days.”
As the memory sped ahead, the day began to darken into night and the group decided to start setting up camp. They had two tents and Anton and Noemi decided to take turns standing watch. Noemi took the first shift as the sun began to set, walking a distant perimeter around the camp as the shadows grew longer and darker with the setting sun.
Tess worked to make their meal (Canned beans salvaged from a town along with whatever small darting mammals and lizards were unlucky enough to cross their path) as Anton sat beside Gisela to check his enchanted bow for any damage.
“Noemi seems very protective of you,” Anton said idly as he worked. “Reminds me of Tess and myself.”
“She is…” Gisela nodded. “But I worry I’m just…slowing her down I guess.”
“Ah…” Anton went quiet for a moment before putting his bow to the side. “I wouldn’t worry too hard about it.”
Gisela looked at him. “But I’m dragging her down, she could do so much more without me.”
“Do so much more what?” Anton asked. “She could maybe walk a bit further each day, maybe forage less…but to what end. According to the both of you, you weren’t traveling anywhere in particular, just looking for somewhere safe.”
“Well, yes, but…” Gisela began to say before Anton interjected.
“Yes, but nothing, Gisela. I know Noemi’s type. She was out there looking for a cause, a goal, and she found you. I’ve seen the way she looks at you, the kindness in her voice and her eyes. She’s a woman with an objective now, to protect you. She may not need you in order to survive, like you need her. But Noemi needed someone like you to keep going, to have something to fight for and protect.”
“Is that why you travel with Tess?” Gisela asked quietly, trying to to raise her voice enough for Tess to hear.
“Eh, not quite,” Anton said. “Like I said I try to restore order where I can. But when I found Tess and that jaguar got away…well I couldn’t just leave her behind, could I? The thing is hunting her, and until it dies, Tess travels with me.”
“I see…” Gisela said. “So I’m Noemi’s…her what, objective?”
“No, no,” Anton chuckled slightly. “You’re her friend, Gisela. And by the look of things she didn’t have many.”
“You know…” Gisela almost leaped out of her seat as Noemi’s voice came from right behind her. “It’s rude to talk about people behind their back.”
“Eep!” Gisela squirmed as she turned to face Noemi “W-we were just…umm…”
Noemi, however, was just grinning, and with a gentle hand she took Gisela’s head and kissed her on the forehead. “You’re overthinking things, Gisela,” she said. “I stick with you because you’re my sidekick. Got it?”
“Umm…ya.” Gisela nodded a bit sheepishly.
“Good,” Noemi ruffled her hair before wandering back to patrol the camp, calling over her shoulder. “And bring me some of those beans when you’re done!”
Gisela nodded before turning back to Anton. “So do we have a destination now?” She asked.
“We do,” Anton said. “We’re heading to Mexico City. Tess says she had family there, and the rumor on the wind is that it’s one of the few safe refuges left.”
“That’s…quite far,” Said Gisela.
“No where’s too far if it can be reached on foot,” Anton said. “Besides, we’re getting farther each day.”
“We are?” Gisela asked.
“Of course, “Anton smiled. “I can see you improve with each passing day. You’re going farther without resting, eating better, and you look healthier too.”
Gisela reddened at the flattery. “Th-thanks. I just do it so I don’t weigh Gisela down too much.”
“You know she feels the same way?” Anton said. “She does her best to make sure she doesn’t let you down.”
“I doubt that…” Gisela said. “She just seems to be able to…do things so easily.”
“That means she’s just good at hiding it,” Anton grinned. “Though we should hush up if we don’t want to feel her boot against our heads.”
“Right,” Gisela smiled.
Before long their meager was ready and Noemi was called in to join them for eating. As they chatted and laughed the sun finally sank entirely below the horizon. When their dinner was finished, Anton took over on watch as Noemi and Gisela prepared their tents for the night. Gisela watched curiously as Noemi laid out a small cloth to begin cleaning her revolver.
“Hey Noemi,” Gisela said. “Do you think these things will protect us from things like spirits?”
“I dunno,” Noemi shrugged. “I wish I could say things like the bullets are tipped with silver and filled with holy water, or that the grip is made from sacred holly…but it’s just an antique I picked up.”
“So, it might not work at all against spirits…” Gisela said quietly. “It barely worked on that frog.”
“You know,” Noemi worked nimbly as she cleaned each part. “I’ve been thinking about it. And Anton’s bow is just wood and string, right? The shafts are just wood and feather too, with obsidian arrowheads I think.”
“But it’s magic,” Gisela said. “It was given to him by a god.”
Noemi started re-assembling her revolver. “And that’s the important part, isn’t it? That it was made by a god. Did it have to be a bow? An old weapon? Could it have just given him a gun if the blessing was the same?”
“I’m not sure if it works like that…” Gisela said.
“Maybe not,” Noemi said. “But at the end of the day, his magic bow works because Quetzacoatl said it would. And the only reason that matters is because people believe in Quetzacoatl.”
“Well…yes I get that,” Gisela nodded. “But what does that mean for your gun?”
“It means that while it might not amount to much,” Noemi said. “I believe my gun will work. I have that faith in my weapon and in myself against spirits. Now I’m not much compared to a god. But I like to think it will help that little bit.”
“Mmm…” Gisela watched in silence as Noemi reassembled the revolver, spun the chamber and made sure everything was in place, and then reloaded it.
“Do you believe in me?” Noemi asked.
“…I do,” Gisela nodded after a brief moment’s pause. “I’m not sure I would if it was anyone else but…I believe in you.”
The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa