|Seven Silver Serpents
Author: Mirateski PM
Seven silver serpents are the symbol of the Ophidian corps. Four are lost. Yours warps your compass needle.Rated: Fiction T - English - Suspense/Mystery - Words: 1,829 - Published: 05-02-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3018796
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Seven Silver Serpents are the symbols of the Ophidian corps. Four are lost. Yours warps your compass needle.
I wanted it to stop.
People are very good at wishing for the impossible.
"Receiving, just about. Got static over on my end."
"Lieutenant Galkin? Are you receiving."
"Receiving! Receiving over static!"
"Shit. Talk to me, Alyosha."
"I'm... I'm receiving."
"Do a job for me."
I glanced up at the sound of his voice. I hadn't heard the door go, which meant he'd got one up on me again. I was letting me guard down, I think.
"Not a very polite way to ask," I remarked. My guest sat in the chair opposite me, picked up the bottle of wine and poured himself a serving into my glass. There was dirt on the normally pristine white cuffs of his shirt, mostly masked by the suit he wore over the top of it.
"I wasn't asking, Galkin," he remarked, smiling as he inhaled the aroma. For a moment, the lines around his dark face lifted, but they quickly sagged back into the permanent marks of a man who had grown old on reports of the good dying young. Sometimes so young they'd not even been born. I'd never fucked up that badly, though, but it was only a matter of time.
"Then tell me what you're after," I returned. He sighed, settling back into the chair and draining the glass. His eyes were bloodshot. It had clearly been a bad day for the Shadow.
He didn't answer straight away. I couldn't tell what he was thinking. I was good at reading people, but his face stayed an impassive mask, an impenetrable wall. I could hear the clock ticking on the wall, each little click of the second hand louder than screaming in the silence.
On the table in front of me rested a Silver Serpent.
"I can't-" I began, my voice catching in my throat with damnable, shaming fear. I looked up in a panic and there was nobody in the chair, just an empty wine glass on the table and the impression of a man who had barely been there.
I swore. I said words that would have made my mother spin in her grave, if she'd been in a grave at that point.
I stood up. My legs were shaking, my hands felt numb. I think it was only dumb luck that let me spot the scrap of paper the Shadow had left resting on the seat of the chair, if luck is a word I could have used right then.
It said 'I'm sorry. Details to follow.'
"Talk to me, Galkin."
"Boss? Can you hear me? They tried to make contact but-"
"I hear you, Galkin."
"Oh, thank God. There's static-"
"Did you find it, Galkin?"
"Find... Find what, Boss?"
There wasn't much to leave behind.
The house wasn't mine. Well, it had been for the duration, but it wasn't any more. It was a safehouse, one that the Ophidian Corps put people in when they were on a job away from home.
I scooped all my belongings into a single brown, leather bag. It slung over my shoulder easily enough. It felt lighter than when I'd set out, so I went to the cupboards and filled the space with food that would keep. It never hurt to be prepared, did it?
A nerve in my check twitched at each click of the second hand around the damnable timepiece. My right hand clenched around the snake, and I felt the metal bite into my skin. It would leave marks, little impressions in my skin of the scales so delicately worked into the silver, but I doubted it would cut the skin.
The thing with this snake was that it didn't need to bite to be poisonous.
It wasn't an eventuality. It was a choice. The Shadow had made the choice and I was the one who suffered for it.
I was the one.
How many years had he been watching other people do this? Did he care?
This was my life he was destroying.
All of it was his in the end.
'Four are lost.'
'Two were found.'
'One is left.'
'Is this your last play?'
'Even if you win the round, we take the game.'
God, so much blood.
It's worse when you didn't start it. it's hard when you just have to walk straight through and hope against hope that this isn't a result, but something a colleague is going in to save. Hope that it isn't a loss we've had to concede.
So much blood.
I could feel it cooling on my skin. I'd left my bag with the Transition Officer, who hadn't said a word to me. Just held out her hand in silent demand, to which I acquiesced like protocol demanded.
It wasn't mine, not yet.
It's a tricky thing, Transitioning. You have to stay right on track or it can go so horribly wrong nobody can rescue you. It's more than just scaremongering, more than stories. Even the best could lose their way. I'd lost friends to it, more than one. Good friends.
I watched my feet, not the blood. I kept the compass held tight in my gaze, but the needle kept skipping from side to side, flitting indecisively from east to west as if North was a figment of my dying imagination. My hand tensed around the serpent.
This is your fault.
It was easy to blame the Shadow. Easy to put all the pain at his feet, make him the cause of it all. Because he could have chosen anyone, but this time he had to choose me.
Four are lost.
Blood ran down my skin, hot blood. I took my eyes off the compass needle for long enough to regard it in horror, where the blunt head of the Silver Serpent had slipped so easily beneath the skin of my palm and torn a welt in it.
When I looked back, the needle pointed straight.
There hadn't been any instructions.
"Did you find it?"
"You really found it?"
"Yes, boss. I found it."
"Then why the hell are you still out there? Bring it back! If you're telling the truth, you know how important-"
"No? I wasn't asking, Galkin."
"I know, boss. I'm not bringing it back.
"Neither of you deserve to win."
Fire burned in my veins, creeping its painful way up my arm from the hand the snake had bitten.
It was my fault, for choosing to be an Ophidian.
It was my fault, for running from my life instead of trying to change it.
It was my fault, for taking the Shadow at his word.
I'd walked through the snow again.
It had brought me back round full circle again.
In my father's cold hand, this time a Serpent.
In my brother's last, gurgling breath, the word run in my native tongue, choked out.
Corpses in the snow.
Snow thickening, melting into red water, knowing that it would be replaced by a fresh blanket from the sky to hide its shame. Light blossoming in the distant horizon, a second, fake, sun.
This is all your fault.
The snake wasn't meant to bite another when its teeth were locked into its own scales, swallowing its tail. Futile, bitter, beautiful.
I wanted it to stop
I hooked two Silver Serpents around my fingers, and looked at the compass in my bloody hands.
The game is mine.
The choice was never the Shadow's to make.
"Lieuteant Galkin? Come in, Lieutenant. Do you copy?"
"Pull back. Abort mission. It's too late, you hear me?"
"I hear you, but I don't agree."
At my feet, a Silver Serpent. I bent to pick it up, and found it attached to a doorway. I hauled it open, and walked inside.
It was my fault, for choosing to run away.
On the screen in front of me, a Silver Serpent. Underneath it, the words 'two are lost'. In my hand, three rings of metal snakes clanked and chinked against each other.
'Two were found.'
'Three are left.'
On the wall, a clock went tick, tock.
My grip tightened on the silver. Blood pooled in the cracks of their scales.
This was your fault.
My eyes went to the compass. Very deliberately, I placed it down on the keyboard, and shut off the stuttering, crackling radio.
"Fair play, boss," I murmured, turning and leaving the bunker. Outside, the sun was starting to rise. The real sun, not the lost light of a war I could never have won.
In the end, I had chosen to be an Ophidian.
In the end, the Shadow had chosen me to take the last of the serpents. He hadn't been hiding them, he'd been giving them away.
He hadn't wanted to fight this battle. I knew how that felt.
The snow crunched under my feet.
It was only fair.
The Shadow's enemies were monstrous and we fought them from within, not without as he claimed. But he was just as monstrous as they, in his own way. All of us were.
We had all chosen to be Ophidians. All of us wanted to find a way to wind back the clock. All of us saved the oblivious with the selfish hope to save something that was also part of ourselves.
But no. We had given that up, when we chose to be Ophidians.
I'd know exactly what it meant.
'Seven silver Serpents are the symbols of the Ophidian corps.'
'Four are lost.'
'If we lose another, they'll take the game.'
I couldn't take a side. I couldn't give either of them the win. All I could do was draw it out, into an eternal, bloody stalemate. Sealing the fate of each and every one of my comrades, all the people I'd fought with and all the people who would fight after me.
I couldn't wear those lines of age on my face, of growing old watching good men die.
Without my compass, I Transitioned.
In a cold, dark room, the Shadow smiled.
No. The game is mine.