The Snake and the Mirror

Hunted

 

The spreading jungle of central America seemed to be made of endless teeth, claws, and hungry maws as branches and weeds and vines whipped at Gisela and Noemi. Cat watched, a spectral figure in the memory with the Gisela she knew at her side as the younger one fled with Noemi through the dense foliage.

“Every day the jungle spread,” Gisela said. “The influence of spirits growing stronger every day, it made our going harder and gave speed to our enemies.”

“How long did you run for?” Cat asked, watching as they barely paused to catch their breath, even as it was clear both were being run ragged, Gisela especially so.

“I do not remember. Days, weeks, the nights and days blurred together.”

Even as the pair stopped briefly, catching their breaths, the echoing shriek of a jaguar’s roar echoed through the foliage around them and they set off again as fast as they could.

“This wasn’t a chase,” Gisela continued. “We were being hunted like animals. To be captured and sacrificed upon that same bloodstained altar.”

Cat moved closer to the past Gisela. The girl was a mess. Even beyond her torn clothes, gasping breath, and emaciated looks, there was a strangeness in her eyes. Her gaze was long, piercing while staring at nothing in particular.

“It’s what they call a thousand-yard stare,” Gisela said.

Cat saw Noemi help Gisela along, putting a hand on her shoulder as she urged her forwards. The younger Gisela shuddered, but kept moving.

“Noemi kept you going,” Cat said. “Through all of it.”

“I was broken, Catarina,” Gisela said. “Noemi was the only thing keeping those ragged pieces together before they broke apart entirely.”

“Was there anyone willing to help you?” Cat asked. “They can’t all have been…in league with Tess.”

“We tried.”

Gisela waved her hand and the memory shifted. The sky turned black as day turned to night then lit up as it became day again. With each passing day the toll on the fugitives became greater. Gisela showed Cats snippets of visions, of moving through isolated villages and farms, looking for a place to stay or someone to give them sanctuary.

Most of them turned the pair away, offering food or drink but no shelter, giving offerings through barely-opened doors before the doors were swiftly slammed shut again. Many of them gave nothing.

Noemi slammed her fist against the door, wood shaking under her mingled desperation and rage.

“Open up dammit!” She called into the locked and shuttered house. “We just need…somewhere to sleep…”

“Noemi…” Gisela put a tired hand on her shoulder. “Come on…we need to keep moving. We’ll find something…the next town is further away from the city.”

Noemi let out a long, ragged sigh, leaning her head and arm against the doorframe.

“Right,” She said, picking herself back up. “We need to keep moving forward. No matter what. Think you can keep up, sidekick?”

“Yeah…” Gisela managed a tired smile. “I…I’ll manage somehow.”

The two of them set off back towards the edge of the jungle.

“You both kept each other going,” Cat said, watching them leave the isolated farm behind. “I guess Anton was right. Noemi needed you as much as you needed her.”

“I didn’t believe it at the time,” Gisela said. “But looking back…the more obvious it became.”

“But there’s still a lot more to this story,” Cat said. “Show me more.”

Gisela let out a weary sigh. “Very well. Not much point dwelling here, I suppose.”

Once more the sky darkened and the scene shifted again. The pair of them were deep in the thick trees and underbrush of a dense subtropical jungle, Noemi taking the lead and trying to move through it with a scavenged machete in hand.

“Get off the road…” She panted between swings. “And they’ll be less likely to follow. Come on, Gisela,” She helped Gisela over a fallen log carefully, maneuvering around plants where they could so as to not risk leaving a trail.

The going was slow, and they were clearly exhausted. The burden seemed to lift from them, however, as they came across a vast open clearing. An area of low soft ferns that opened to the bright sky with a small creek running through the center.

Noemi hurried forward with Gisela close behind and the pair of them eagerly drank their fill in the crystal water running through the clearing. Gasping between mouthfuls of sweet water as they fell to their knees.

“What is this place?” Gisela finally asked, glancing around at the openness of the clearing, the tree line appearing to have simply stopped there for no apparent reason.

“Not sure…” Noemi said, joining her in glancing around as she looked for some answer. Her eyes went wide, and at the same time Cat realized why.

The clearing was silent. No birds, no insects, no hollering animal calls or any sound at all save the soft rustling of the wind.

“There’s a spirit here…” Noemi’s voice fell low. “Stay still and quiet…maybe we can convince it to help us.”

“You think that’s possible?” Gisela asked, but Noemi gave her a worried look.

“I’m not sure but…be prepared to run.”

Noemi’s eyes glanced this way and that, searching for any sign of the spirit. Her eyes caught a flicker of movement, a ruffling of feathers, and that’s when she saw the vast hawk that loomed at the edge of the clearing, so large it could easily have been mistaken for part of the tree, and its perch upon the branches seemed almost comical.

Noemi kept to her knees, gesturing to Gisela which direction to face as she bent herself low before the massive hawk spirit.

“Great spirit!” Noemi said. “We apologize for the intrusion into this clearing. We were lost and thirsty and wished only to survive.

“Impudent lesser creatures,” The voice of the hawk boomed across the clearing, it spread its enormous wings and swooped down to the ground, standing far taller than a man and looking enormous, even on the ground. “Give me reason I should not skin you alive.”

Cat saw the sword-like talons of the great hawk, easily big enough to eviscerate a horse, let alone a human. It was clearly no idle threat.

“Oh, great spirit,” Noemi bowed her head lower and Gisela did the same. “We did not seek to offend or to intrude. Let us pass by, and we will speak nothing of this place or this encounter.”

The hawk regarded them, staring down its long sharp beak at them before bending closer.

“I smell the hunt on you,” The hawk said. “I will spare your lives only because the jaws of another predator seek you.”

The hawk stood up tall again. “I will tell the great Jaguar of your presence here, and then perhaps I shall be rewarded.”

Once more the hawk spread its wings as the eyes of Noemi and Gisela went wide with fear.

“Run fast little mortals, your flight continues.”

With a great flap of its wings, kicking up dust and fern leaves the hawk took to the skies and Noemi was instantly on her feet.

“Dammit!” Noemi kicked at the closest fern, uprooting it entirely. “Just once! Just once, can’t we get a goddamn break?!”

“Noemi…” Gisela said quietly. “We need to start running…”

Noemi let out a long groan. “I know Gisela just…ugh five goddamn minutes!”

“Once we get far enough…” Gisela said, her voice still meek. “Far enough to be out of its influence…”

“Is there anywhere far enough!?” Noemi shouted, Gisela visibly shrinking. “You heard Tess on that temple! Where can we run? Where is there she won’t hunt us!?”

“I umm…err…” Gisela was visibly shaking, withering under Noemi’s anger. “What if we…left the continent?”

“Eh?” Noemi’s anger had begun to simmer as she calmed down.

“Take a boat,” Gisela said more hurriedly. “Sail somewhere far away. To America, or Argentina, or even Europe! Somewhere not even Tess can reach us…”

“That’s a long way to go, Gisela…” Noemi said. “Do you think we can…”

“We need to try!” Gisela said, grabbing Noemi’s arm. “More than that, more than anything…we can’t give up now!”

Noemi hesitated for a moment before nodded, the weary smile returning to her face. “You’re right. Once we run far enough we won’t have to run anymore.”

Together the two of them set off into the jungle again as the sky turned black once more.

“So that was our plan,” The older Gisela spoke to Cat. “Reach the shore, charter a ship, and sail somewhere. Anywhere that Tezcatlipoca could not follow.”

“Is that how you got to Europe?” Cat asked. “…wait, that doesn’t explain how you met Itzpapalotl.”

“There is a little more to the story,” Gisela said. “Two more scenes yet to show you.”

 

The jungle appeared once more, and Cat watched as Gisela and Noemi ran through it, hurrying through the underbrush with all the speed they could manage. Behind them, the shouts of hunters as they were pursued relentlessly, both of them clearly on the ragged edge of their stamina.

Noemi paused briefly, turning as she drew her pistol from her belt and fired at the closest hunter, who fell backwards as the shot drove through his chest and Noemi took off again.

As they ran past the trunk of a massive tree, Noemi pulled Gisela behind it as they waited, quiet, as the other hunters came to their fallen companion.

“Gisela, sidekick,” Noemi’s voice was a whisper as she put her hands on Gisela’s shoulders. “We’re not going to get much farther.”

“No. Nonono…” Gisela said desperately. “Noemi we’re so close…”

Noemi pointed to the east, away from the setting sun. “That way, on the south road, is a smaller fishing village. They might be able to get you further down the coast where you can charter a bigger ship.”

“Wait…” Gisela said. “Just me? No…Noemi no…”

“I’m heading north,” Noemi said. “There’s a bigger port there, the hunters will think I’m heading there. I can lead most of them off of you.”

“Noemi…” Gisela said quietly, but she could tell arguing wouldn’t get her anywhere.

The time had come for them to part.

Gisela leaned forward and embraced Noemi, who quietly stroked her hair before kissing the top of her head.

“Keep running, Gisela,” She said. “Until you don’t need to run anymore.”

Noemi pulled away from her and rushed out from their cover, firing wildly at the hunters to draw them as she ran in the opposite direction, leading them on in pursuit until she disappeared into the foliage.

Gisela stood still for one long horrible moment before ducking low and rushing away from the tree towards the southeast. The jungle seemed to consume her as she disappeared, moving quickly and quietly, and the memory faded away.

“What could I have done,” Gisela said to Cat as the memory ended. “What other choice did I have but to do as she’d asked and run?”

“She saved your life,” Cat said.

“At the price of her own.”

“Well…do you know that or…?”

“It’s been years, Catarina,” Gisela said. “Long years, and I don’t trust that kind of hope anymore. I have my mission. Defeat the Primordials and kill Tezcatlipoca.”

“Well…” Cat tried to think of something comforting to say. “At least…at least you’ll never forget her.”

“No, I won’t.” Gisela said. “And I did as she asked. I ran. I ran across oceans and continents. But now I’m not running anymore.”

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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