How We Roll Winner
Hoatzins cawed and monkeys hooted amongst the leaves and fronds rustling in the wind. This is the Dark Jungle, one of the deadliest locations in the world. Even in the face of modern civilization, pollution and deforestation, it stood strong and healthy. In fact, little known to most, it actually spanned multiple continents by means of time-space anomalies, allowing one to cross oceans in an instant provided one knew the proper waypoints. In general though, the jungle was a terrible sprawl that threatened to confuse and loop aspiring travellers in endless circles, until they succumbed to thirst, poison, insects, predators, or anything in between. At times almost mockingly, the foliage would make way for a small clearing, enough to take a look at the clear sky above before the jungle took them.
This night, the sky was pitch black save for the glow of the moon. In one such clearing knelt a woman. Though physically she looked as if she had only recently embraced adulthood, in reality she was older than the mother of the many generations of mothers of the matriarch of a family. Her hair was adorned in braids and ceremonial tattoos adorned her arms and cheeks. Her clothes, form-fitting yet loose, concealed all manner of deadly weapons, ranging from hair-thin needles concealed in her wild mane of hair to the wickedly distorted blades sheathed on her back.
She faced a large totem in the shape of a great serpent which mysteriously, despite being strangled by vines, seemed to be brand-new. Slowly, hesitantly, she began to tap the effigy. At the same time, she chanted in a low, singsong tone.
“From the sky in which the eagles fly /
From the darkness in which the snakes reside /
I beseech thee, one long and wise /
Heed my prayer, and come to my side.”
Her voice was barely audible over the ambient noise of the jungle. Yet, invisibly, the vibrations carried into the totem, traveling through the vines, echoing through the trees.
The jungle abruptly went silent. And when the jungle goes quiet--
There is a predator near.
She found herself trembling. She took a deep breath and forced herself to be still with all the discipline she could muster. Something tingled at the edge of her senses. She looked up -- and involuntarily gasped.
From the darkness slithered a creature as vast as the great anacondas that roamed the jungle. Only this was no anaconda.
She raised her head and her hands, palms up. Acutely aware she was exposing her neck, she said carefully, “I, Citaral of Kihororu, greet Caurasou'nabbaie Nabama.”
Caurasou'nabbaie Nabama, the 499th, gazed coldly back at her with great, golden eyes. It did not move, but colors shimmered through the gleaming circles. Colors that Citaral understood immediately despite the years.
:::Citaral of Kihororu once the Priestess now the Grand Mistress of the Disciples of Crizox returned to her homeland disgraced yet begs an audience.:::
Citaral shuddered as the invisible singsong words, soundless but understood, were hurled like spears directly into her heart.
“I come not as Grand Mistress,” she said firmly (she hoped), forcing her voice not to waver. “And in my heart, if not in name, I am always a Priestess of Kihororu. I return to save my homeland.”
:::Then the Priestess understands the dire straits the Jungle suffers.:::
A few months ago, Citaral had caught wind of a disturbance in the Dark Jungles. It began with the disappearance of a team of Crimson Hexagon researchers, but had been slowly escalating into an indescribable threat. Indescribable indeed, for words failed to describe her horror upon witnessing what had happened.
Where once she remembered the trees and vines, the harpy eagles and lemur monkeys, snakes and aardvarks, there were now bulbous, pulpy masses that pulsated and spewed toxic spores, infecting the trees like a cancer that fed on anything and everything living. Even worse, the hapless wildlife that happened to breathe in these spores were transformed into horrific monstrosities, with hard, bony fungi-like growths bursting out of their heads and flesh, reducing them to demented creatures that could only be described as demons. They shrieked in agony as they clawed off their peeling flesh, bloodless, pale, and marred by webs of the infection, until all that was left was a stone-like substance and they stood motionless, forever preserved in their last moments.
The survivors called this plague the Root.
The denizens of the Dark Jungles, from the Bonehunters to the Butterfly’s Lights, rallied to fight the Root, but as of now, the cause seemed hopeless. The Root relentlessly corrupted everything in its path. Magic fizzled out in its presence and it seemed to defy the laws of nature. And most dire of all, Kihororu, the holy city, Citaral’s former home and the place of worship for the Durdaunta Saupas -- the Guardian Snakes -- was now besieged by the Root.
“I am glad to see Caurasou'nabbaie Nabama has survived,” Citaral said.
:::My predecessors the 497th the 498th have fallen to the Root has spread unchecked.::: 499th signaled.
“Both of them?” Citaral whispered.
“As I feared,” Citaral murmured.
:::Does the Priestess seek the 499th for a reason?::: the 499th inquired. :::Or does she simply miss her old master?:::
Citaral winced. Even after all these years, the 499th never failed to make her feel like an overexcited child. “The tribes are afraid--”
:::That their god has abandoned them?::: the 499th said, indigo and blue humor flickering across its eyes. :::They could have discovered this by a simple prayer. No, they wonder simply why the 499th wanders the forest rather than solves this crisis.:::
Citaral nodded. “That is one way to put it.”
:::And to solve a problem,::: the 499th continued, :::we must stand in the holy city, staring ominously at the ones we protect..:::
Citaral winced. “That’s not--”
:::The Priestess ought not blame herself,,::: the 499th signaled. :::The seasons are past many but to the 499th the Priestess is still young. The 499th when young would have approached the problem the same way. But now the 499th is older and wiser, and it knows that sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to forget about it entirely.:::
Abruptly, the 499th changed the subject. :::The 499th has been contained too long within cut off from the world outside not the realm of Durdaunta Saupa. Everything you know, tell the 499th.:::
It sounded like a redundant request, considering the Saupas had the entirety of the jungle as its eyes and ears, but Citaral understood her former master’s intentions. Or so she thought.
Citaral recounted her tale. After the fall of the Disciples, she had retreated with the Grand Master Caeos Essence and his Truthspeaker Avisar ri Ens to a hidden retreat in the Northern Mountains. There, they were joined by Caeos’s personal warriors, the True Disciples and the retreat’s guardian, the Archivist Irikori Enorivah. Save for perhaps Avisar, no one knew the Grand Master’s intentions.
Then abruptly, the Grand Master left the Northern Mountains on a journey with a purpose only he knew. Without the Grand Master present, the Northern faction had crumbled under the assault led by Sariel of Flying Mountain Sect. The loss of Third Master One-Eye had enabled the Oracle of Parakmi to predict the location of the Grand Master.
Avisar had led the Disciples to war against the Five Families, Caeos’s captors. As Grand Mistress, the Grand Master’s shadow, Citaral had sprung him from the clutches of the elegant monster, Velageance. The assassin had poisoned Caeos with a rare hallucinogenic toxin, causing him to ramble incoherently. At the time, Citaral had carried the delirious Grand Master out of Velageance’s stronghold while simultaneously fighting her off, but the Grand Master’s words still reverberated in her memories.
“A field of white and black, a sky of changing colors. Four for Order, four for Chaos. Tip the scales, win the war. A boon the powers provide. A choice for ones unworthy.”
The 499th’s eyes seemed to come alive at these words, shimmering green and yellow with inquisitiveness. Now that was an odd thing for the 499th to take notice of.
“‘Four for Order, four for Chaos,’” she repeated. “A field of white and black, a sky of changing colors.”
:::Yes.::: The 499th did not speak with sound, but its eyes seemed troubled. The many years Citaral had spent with the Disciples of Crizox had served her well in honing her intuition.
“Caurasou'nabbaie Nabama recognizes this phrase.” It was not a question.
:::Recognized,::: the 499th affirmed. :::An ancient tale among Durdaunta Saupa nearly forgotten. A scale of Order and Chaos primordial forces use chosen pawns to battle for cosmic superiority. Powers beyond the Jungle, earth and sky manifest in the material realm in the form of a “boon” in exchange for victory in their arranged arenas of death.:::
Now this was a story Citaral had never heard before. “What is Caurasou'nabbaie Nabama implying--?”
:::Speculation,::: the 499th said. :::The Grand Master, a powerful individual shook the earth in his prime. Pivotal. Influential. But still subject to powers greater than he. A logical conclusion dictates he was chosen as a pawn for this cosmological war:::
“Chosen … as a pawn … by the ‘Powers’?” Citaral said, startled. Unwittingly, she blurted, “Did he … succeed?”
She wasn’t sure what she was expecting to hear. :::No,::: the 499th said firmly. :::His conflict was with himself.:::
Citaral’s head was spinning. A glimmer of hope--!
“If I have any honor left as a former Priestess,” Citaral vowed, “I will become a champion and take this boon the Powers provide.”
:::Folly,::: 499th signaled as it hissed, angry red stealing across its eyes. :::The boon the Grand Master failed to take when his power eclipses yours hundredfold. The Grand Master is stronger than you lost to the Grand Master sullied your honor in becoming his trophy bride guarding his life.:::
Citaral’s cheeks burned in shame, a sight that would have shocked many who knew the Grand Mistress. She had spoken too soon. The 499th did not miss it, but it did not stop there.
:::The powers select without prejudice. Thus a sixtieth of the sixtieth of a chance that the Grand Master was chosen. Unreliable. Coincidence.:::
“But--” Citaral began to protest.
:::Draw your weapons Citaral.:::
Citaral’s heart sank, but obediently, she immediately drew both of her blades and sank to a partial crouch.
499th uncoiled itself from the trees and dropped to the ground. Its size was shocking. Even as it raised itself erect, standing taller than Citaral, its lower body formed coils on the jungle floor. Citaral moved uneasily as she made eye contact with the deformed head attached to the 499th’s upper body, no longer hidden in the foliage. The Mauthau Theukaunou.
Then the sound came, as she was expecting. An odd wet sound, like water running through a pipe -- or an artery. The scales under the Mauthau’s plating swelled --
And with a strangely anticlimactic hiss, several streams of dull, grey-red tendrils, fluid as water, poured out from each side of the Saupa. Instead of falling to the jungle floor like fountain spouts, the streams stopped abruptly in midair. They rippled slightly, then coalesced into single, tentacle-like appendages so that Citaral was now facing a massive Saupa with “arms.”
The 499th lowered its newly grown limbs to its sides, and with a sharp, fluid movement, drew out two blades, hidden under its scales.
The Devious Twins.
For several long, silent moments, they stood in combat ready stances, their blades glinting in the moonlight.
Without warning, Citaral struck, propelling herself at the 499th, barbed sword outstretched. The Saupa reacted with equal speed, bringing its right arm up to counter the blow. Edge met edge and briefly they locked swords.
Citaral did not hesitate. Their blades clashed at incredible speeds, catching the faint moonlight and reflecting it like flashes of lightning into the dark foliage, sending the nightly denizens scurrying.
Then quite suddenly, the 499th’s rhythm changed. As it parried Citaral’s strikes, it suddenly lunged with its head, maw aimed at her shoulder. She twisted aside to evade the bite --
-- and a crushing impact caught her between the ribs and she went flying. Her back hit the ground, and she used the momentum to roll back to her feet. Citaral panted imperceptibly. Curses! She’d forgotten about the Mauthau, which always provided the 499th a firm field of vision at any angle it chose.
:::Grand Mistress of the Disciples of Crizox still making an elementary mistake not worthy of such position nor Priestess,::: the 499th tauntingly signaled.
Citaral clicked her tongue. The 499th was deliberately provoking her, trying to throw her off rhythm. Although a classic strategy, Citaral was keenly aware she could not give the 499th even the slightest hint of indignation. Not a flushed face, not a quickening pulse.
Or at least, that was what she told herself. :::Focus,::: the 499th warned. Its coils shifted and it slithered toward her. Citaral lifted her blades, reversing her grips. This time, the 499th did not wait for her to strike first. It launched itself at her in a whirlwind of sword strikes, made even more disorienting by the Twins’ whipping blades.
Slowly but surely, it forced her backward. One step, two --
Enough. She leaped, spun, and kicked--
-- and lost her balance. If she didn’t know better, she would’ve sworn she had somehow kicked a stone wall. A stone wall? What was--
The talwar swung around and sliced her shortsword out of her hand. It spun in a horizontal arc and embedded itself into a tree’s trunk with a thud.
She recovered and whirled -- too late. The second Twin wrapped itself around her neck. She caught the curved end with her fingertips before it could skewer her throat, but the battle was over. One twist and the talwar’s edge would take her head clean off.
She stood stock still, heart thundering. Something flickered in the 499th’s eyes, and she released her hold; the blade uncoiled from her neck. The 499th sheathed the Twins.
:::There is nothing more you can do here,::: 499th signaled. :::Do not throw your life away for nothing. I will do my best to hold out. Gather the tribes and flee this place, for our time here is at an end.:::
It reached its body up and began to pull itself back into the branches. For a moment it paused, and met Citaral’s eyes once more.
:::Priestess,::: 499th signaled. Was it Citaral’s imagination, she wondered, or did she catch a shade of violet in the 499th’s eyes? :::The 497th and the 498th disowned you when you lost to the Grand Master. But know that I do not blame you.:::
And with that, it vanished into the shadows.
I am the 499th of the Durdaunta Saupa. A deity not by birth, but by name.
I am the 499th, and the Dark Jungle is my domain.
I am the 499th and I am helpless as a plague destroys my and my people’s home.
I am the 499th and this is my story, though I doubt there will be any to read it when it is over.
I slithered through the treetops with practiced stealth. This region of the jungle was untouched, at least for now. Untouched by the Root, I corrected myself, but not by uncertainty … and fear. The spider monkeys and orangutans cowered within their retreats in the trees. The stray harpy eagle stood watch over its nest, morose and thin. They saw me and kept their distances.
The Durdaunta Saupa do not comfort nor assuage, for that is not in our nature. But we are sworn to protect the Jungle, and both we and all Her inhabitants know it.
I was unfocused. Distracted. My thoughts returned inexorably to events mere hours ago.
Contrary to what I had conveyed, Citaral had greatly improved during her time with the Disciples. She continued to use the traditional weapons of Kihororu, but the same could not be said of her techniques. Brutal. Powerful.
I had not been entirely truthful to the Priestess. Although I had quickly learned, after the fates of the 497th and 498th, to avoid the noxious fumes of the Root, I could not deny that something in my body had changed.
I had not been fast enough to avoid the Priestess’s lethal kick. Instead, I had triggered that instinctively, as though it had always been a part of me. I first noticed it months ago, when I awoke from my daily slumber. A strange stiffening, a hardening that prevented me from moving. I could not breathe, could twitch a single muscle, utter even the faintest of sounds, though I retained the full range of my sense faculties. A small thing, nothing more, that lasted for the barest of tongue-flicks.
A bare week before today, a boulder had somehow dislodged itself from a cliff, plummeting toward me. Normally, I would have easily dodged it like the Youd’dhau I am in the scriptures. Instead, I had not moved a muscle, and the boulder had cracked off my body, not even managing to budge me, nor the tree I was in, an inch.
A method bestowed by the jungle for me to fight the Root?
I do not know if I ever want to find out.
As for her story--
At last, I reached my destination: a tree that stood taller than its brethren, with hundreds of vines extending from its branches. The Sigan’yaulimm Ttri. To climb this tree was a taboo among the natives, for it is said the snake gods use it to speak to the Jungle Herself.
The vines converged into a circle, tied and suspended in the air with a rather intricate system of carefully trimmed branches. From the foliage, I reached the tip of my tail down to touch the vines.
Minutes crept by, which transitioned to hours. Then I felt it.
Gods existed to be prayed to, for deliverance in times of need. This was the purpose of the Sigan’yaulimm Ttri, a way for all the tribes to communicate to their protector gods. I listened, and the vibrations painted a picture for me. It was an image that had persisted for months now. I did not expect any changes, and was not disappointed. Soldiers with faceless helmets and single eyes, clutching instruments that spit fire and death. A large mechanical walker, piloted by a monstrous shark-like creature. Swarms of the infected, absorbing all punishment, overwhelming even the outsiders and their advanced technology. And worst of all, my people, the ones the Durdaunta Saupa were sworn to protect, on the run, confused and frightened.
Sometimes the best way to solve a problem was to forget about it entirely.
If only I was just as good at taking my own advice.
I coiled myself in the center of the chamber, the Cintau. The Durdaunta Saupa did not worship gods, for to the Dark Jungle, we were those gods. This chamber was the sacred meditation chamber of the Guardian Snakes, of which only the High Priest or Priestess may enter to consult with the snake gods. Engraved totems of my predecessors lined the walls circling around me, staring at me. I imagined them to be staring accusingly.
I tipped the earthenware pot, scattering the mixture of herbs. A human Priestess would need to burn the concoction to draw out its mystical aroma, but I did not require something so primitive as fire. My tongue flicked almost unconsciously, tasting the air. The room seemed to blur, causing the surrounding totems to ripple like the haze of heat. The colors began to distort themselves. I peered through the hypnotic haze, trying to make sense of the dazzling eyespeak.
Foolish. Stubborn. Attached. Help.
Could the story be true? To the Priestess’s story, I had simply built on it, assumed it to be true, without actually believing any of it. Was it because I, faced with the prospect of extinction of the snake gods, had grown disillusioned? Or was it because even till now, I could still conjure hatred against the arrogant human called Caeos Essence, who had tricked Kihororu out of its Priestess in exchange for mercy?
Be that as it may, the Priestess was truly afraid for Kihororu. I wondered if the Grand Master even knew his Grand Mistress had left his side. She was even willing to sacrifice herself.
I snapped out of my daze. Hissed as I rose up, tongue darting.
The smell was gone.
Not just the aroma of the hallucinogen. The smell of limestone and mud bricks signature of Kihororu’s architecture--
Replaced with a deeply unsettling scent of something not quite natural, not quite artificial … simply … wrong. The heat signature was wrong, the smell was wrong -- everything was wrong.
This is not Kihororu.
I uncoiled and slithered out of the Cintau--
-- into a dazzling light.
But my senses did not deceive me. This was not an illusion conjured by the hallucinogen, for no hallucination was this vivid. The Cintau was located in a deep, cloistered section of Kihororu. A deep, underground part of Kihororu.
And here, I peered out from the Cintau, suspended nearly a hundred stories above ground. Beyond stretched a twisted, distorted version of Kihororu, merged with buildings of shape and form of which I was not familiar. Gleaming with pristine onyx and marble, smooth and unmarred in surface and temperature.
How do I get down? I wondered. No sooner had the thought crossed my mind, the empty space at the chamber’s entrance shimmered, brilliant bars of white (and black!) light coalescing with a blinding flash. When the bright spots cleared from my eyes, I found myself looking at vine-like structures leading to one of the buildings below. These “vines,” if you could even call them that, curved and twisted like their living counterparts, but were cold and solid to my eyes and tongue. Cautiously, I reached my body forward to touch them -- they did conjure themselves out of light after all, and it would not do for the 499th to plummet to its death due to an illusion.
The artificial vines held. My great length wrapped around the vines, slowly moving toward the next building. It and the ones surrounding it looked for all the world like an artificial mockery of natural trees. Unlike the twisted, battered frames of trees that fought against their parasitic neighbors, these fluted columns stood straight and tall, with regular, diamond-shaped hollows lining their sides in evenly spaced partitions. Cold. Lifeless.
One “tree.” Two “trees.” Three. Four.
What is this place? I wondered. A passing thought, nothing more, but the city answered, in rippling waves that stretched as far as my eyes could see. Messages that rippled in patterns reminiscent of the Divine Proportion, echoing itself through the walls, the buildings, and the sprawl.
:::You are now a resident of the Chequered City.:::
What day is it today?
What is this material?
Why am I here?
:::You already know.:::
Then, I thought, set me down on the ground.
And quite suddenly, I found myself at ground level. Confused, I arched my head backward. Yes, there were four tree buildings behind me, along with the original being the tallest. I could make out -- albeit barely -- the vine structures I had moved upon. The spatial anomaly had deposited me from several hundred meters in midair to the ground in the flick of a tongue.
I was not alone.
I jerked my head back, rising into the warrior stance. Enemies! How had I come across them without detecting them? They almost seemed to have appeared from nothing, based on what I could perceive with the Mauthau--
I faltered. I recognized them. The tribal chiefs of the Greu hau’undia, Ssaunta’khuli, Barbara’bounau, Muragi’mauchau, and the rest. A grand total of twelve stood in a circle. Visually and by scent, they matched … but something was wrong. Their bodies were as blue and flat as the artifices surrounding us. No heat. No life. This sense of wrongness shifted to alarm when the chief of Greu hau’undia greeted me, “I, Chau’iyeura’matou’cula of Greu hau’undia, greet Caurasou’nabbaie Nabama..”
In all the world, the only human who had laid eyes on the Guardian Snakes was the Priestess, and only she knew my designation.
Unlike humans, I do not require conversation to ascertain my adversaries’ intentions. I lunged and grabbed Chau’iyeura’matou’cula’s jaw with my mouth, swiftly wrapping my great length around him and squeezing him in a death grip. :::Who are you?::: I hissed.
Up close, I could feel that what passed for its skin and clothes were actually composed of a hard material cool to the touch, like coated limestone. Like the rest of my kind, I abhorred machinery but this did not mean I was unfamiliar with it, for a good hunter must study all of its prey’s characteristics. Unlike the Outsiders’ machines, these things were powered by methods I could not easily discern.
The body of the thing that resembled Chau’iyeura’matou’cula crunched under my strength, but it did not respond, did not even flinch. None of the other machines made a move to aid their comrade. Of the one in my grip, I twisted its head off, which gave off little flashes of lightning, before releasing the wreckage. I glared at the other machines. :::What are you?:::
In the space of time my tongue flicked to taste the air, the wreckage of the effigy of Chau’iyeura’matou’cula reformed itself, not a scratch marring its surface. As one, they stepped back from me and promptly went still. I detected a tremble in the ground, though none of the machines before me had moved. I looked up.
:::You are not the Priestess.:::
The construct that took the form of High Priestess Citaral blinked. Then, as though to mock me, its eyes flashed eyespeak.
:::I was no longer the Priestess when the 497th and 498th disowned me,::: it said, in a perfect yet twisted imitation of Citaral. How I would have imagined her speaking, if she were biologically capable of using eyespeak as a Duraunta Saupa.
:::The Darkness and the Sorcerer are dead,::: I found myself answering. :::And the Priestess returned of her own volition.:::
:::And yet the 499th pushed the former Priestess away,::: Citaral -- the construct -- countered. :::The 499th is ancient and stubborn refuses to seek help afraid of its own irrelevance. The 499th is aware of the Root’s extent infecting the jungle’s denizens creation of the Death Cult yet hides this fact intending to solve--:::
:::Insolence.::: I unleashed my Kousa at a speed which frightened even myself, drawing my swords in a single, fluid movement. The Citaral construct reacted instantly, drawing its own replicas of Citaral’s barbed shortswords.
:::The Priestess will not disrespect the Durdaunta Saupa,::: I reprimanded it.
And so once more we fought. I had not realized it before, but the sky somehow darkened so that we stood in a stark, artificial imitation of the clearing not so long ago.
Our blades clashed at incredible speeds, catching the false moonlight and reflecting it like flashes of lightning at the constructs of tribal chiefs, to which they did not so much as blink.
Then quite suddenly, I changed my rhythm. As I parried Citaral’s strikes, I lunged with my head, maw aimed at her shoulder. She twisted aside to evade the bite --
-- and with my tail, I caught her between the ribs with a crushing impact and she went flying. Her back hit the ground, and she used the momentum to roll back to her feet, panting imperceptibly. Her eyespeak cursed. As I had anticipated, she had forgotten about the Mauthau, which always provided me with a firm field of vision at any angle I chose.
:::Grand Mistress of the Disciples of Crizox still making an elementary mistake not worthy of such position nor Priestess,::: I tauntingly signaled.
Her heart stilled -- there was no heartbeat -- her breathing evened -- a facade for machines do not breathe --
:::Focus,::: I warned her -- it -- as I shifted my coils and slithered toward it. Or was I warning myself? Citaral lifted her blades, reversing her grips. This time -- I had not waited the previous time either -- I did not wait for her to strike first. I launched myself at her in a whirlwind of sword strikes, made even more disorienting by the Twins’ whipping blades.
Slowly but surely, I forced her backward. One step, two --
:::Enough,::: I caught her eyes flashing, as she leaped, spun, and kicked--
-- and lost her balance as I turned into stone. It lasted for only a second, but it was enough. I reverted back to living form, my momentum preserved--
--and I swung the Twin around, slicing her shortsword out of her hand. It spun in a horizontal arc and embedded itself into the Muragi’mauchau’s head with a clank.
She recovered and whirled -- too late. The second Twin wrapped itself around her neck. She caught the curved end with her fingertips before it could skewer her throat, but the battle was over. One twist and the Twin’s edge would take her head clean off.
She stood stock still, cold and unfeeling.
She did not.
Citaral twisted her head and -- before I could release the Twin’s grip -- decapitated herself.
I stared at her head, which sparked and sizzled at the neck. Not real, I reminded myself. And yet--
:::The Outsiders are coming.::: Citaral’s eyes flashed eyespeak, glaring at me accusingly. Even as I watched, its marble and metal began to twist and straighten themselves, as unknown forces drew the construct’s broken form together.
:::I will stop them,::: I said.
:::The Jungle will burn,.::: signaled Chau’iyeura’matou’cula.
:::Silence.::: I swung my Twin and sliced off its jaw, sending it clattering down the marble walkway.
:::The Root will consume,.::: signaled the Muragi’mauchau, the shortsword still embedded in its head.
:::It will not.:::
:::They will turn,::: signaled Citaral.
:::No.::: I slammed my blade down on the reforming construct. Before the edge reached her -- it -- the floor simply opened up.
Colors swirled around me, in a curtain not unlike the haze of the Cintau’s aroma.
Lightning flashed, tearing the sheen apart, burning it away. And as it burned, the world shifted, collapsing on itself, like the Root infected slugs as they joined together into a single amorphous blob before springing forth into a creature anew, or a horrible, twisted flower.
I sheathed my blades and retracted my Kousa, away from the lightning which could permanently injure it. I prepared to harden, but that proved to be needless
I was deposited, none too gently, into a cavern composed entirely of black crystal. They lined the walls in jagged, random patterns and also formed four great pillars, not unlike the temple complexes of Kihororu. The cavern might as well have been shrouded in pure darkness save for a few colored shards hidden amongst their darker brethren, which gave off faint glows. Not that that mattered; Durdaunta Saupa did not rely on merely our eyes to see.
I was not alone. With me were four others, seemingly arrived at the same time. Above their heads, symbols flashed. For two of them, along with myself, a white wheel with straight spokes floated, bright against the cavern’s darkness. Above the other two floated black wheels with spiraling spokes.
They flared and vanished. A single crystal on the ceiling exploded, raining down green liquid like a Root pustule. The acidic droplets splashed against the stone floor, hissing and evaporating.
The voice called, laced with venomous fury.
An ancient tale among Durdaunta Saupa nearly forgotten. A scale of Order and Chaos primordial forces use chosen pawns to battle for cosmic superiority.
I am the 499th of the Durdaunta Saupa, and I am no longer helpless.
I am the 499th, the Warrior Snake, the Sorcerer’s successor.
I am the 499th, once a god of the Jungle, and now a Pawn of the Field of Crystal.
I am the 499th, and I was not ready.