A/N: My god, all writers are insane, and I of all people know this…all I can say is, the professionals must be crazier than me. So here goes nothing, four updates in the space of a week or so.
His father looked at him, his eyes gleaming in the firelight, his pupils momentarily shifting as he paused. Nathair shrank back, wondering if he had asked a bad question. His mother, when she was alive, had been the one to tell stories. Songs of the elders had fallen silent- for the one who shared those songs had departed from them.
"If you don't want to tell a story, we can go to bed…" Nathair trailed off, remembering that his mother had always done this.
"It is fine." His father sat down, leaning forward, "You should know how the naga came to be. It is your destiny to follow the imperial family, to protect them."
Nathair shuddered, looking away from his father's eyes. They were fully naga, and his father was no longer looking at the two brothers. It was as if his father was no longer in the same room. His eyes were distant, gleaming with the reflection of the fire.
"The naga descended not just from the current imperial family…"
Nathair closed his eyes, listening intently to his rise and fall of his father's voice. "There was a band of hunters, created by the east wind and western sky falling into the ocean; and as they rose again, they left a mark upon the earth. This mark hurt the earth, and she cried out, bringing the attention of the father sky. In his pity for her, he washed away, the mark, leaving behind several rocks."
Nathair had never heard this before, only remembering his mother speaking of her childhood and her own parents, dead from a flood long past. He opened his eyes, trying to stay awake. Turning to his brother, he realized that his brother had fallen asleep; his chest was rising and falling peacefully with every breath.
"A group of hunters stumbled upon the rocks. The earth, in her pain, had neglected those living from her. The trees and the rivers had fallen ill; and so too had those living depending upon the trees and rivers. The earth benefitted from the kindly eastern wind, but still she suffered. To ease her pain, in hopes for finding quarry, the hunters gently removed the stones that had so painfully caused the earth to ail."
His father's voice began to shake slightly. Opening his eye's Nathair looked at his shadowed figure trembling against the play of shadows in the room. Shuddering slightly, his father spoke again.
"These rocks were not as they seemed. They…were magic, a trick against the band of hunters, and against mother earth. In her gratitude, they were given a bounty unlike any other. The hunters foolishly brought the rocks into a gathering, planning to leave them as they were. In the turn of weather; these rocks changed, shattering to pieces in the hands of the hunters."
Sighing, Nathair's brother shifted, in turn making his father hesitate in the telling of the story.
"These hunters felt a pain unlike any other; it felt like poison, the most potent of any, emerging from the fangs of a legless beast. It was given another name, so that no other would ever again suffer from the mistakes of the hunters. It was venom."
Nathair's father slid the sleeves of his shirt up his arms. In the light, his flesh was exposed, and Nathair could see bone white marks. His father's skin was marked with the scars, everywhere that was left bare. Quickly, his father moved the sleeves back into place, concealing the marks.
"The earth mother, she heard the cries of the hunters. She could not remove the venom; it was too deadly. Instead, to save the dying hunters and repay the favor they had bestowed upon her, she transformed the hunters. If they had the form of legless beasts, they could not die from the venom. And so, given a second form, all the hunters survived, bearing the marks of the legless beasts that had nearly destroyed them. And this tribe of hunters, they bore young; and in this way, all had the forms of legless beasts and of man."
Nathair's father stood suddenly, his expression turning to one of rage. Fangs out, eyes fully slit, the pattern of scales shadowing his skin, he hissed out, looking beyond his sons.
"A hierarchy hasss emerged. The blakcessst of sssnakesss, have the mossst power. And we, the white sssnakesss, will ssserve them loyally; asss it wasss ssso long ago. You of all ssshould know thisss duty, Areiya. You traitor, daring to ssshow your faccce ssso sssoon after your betrayal."
Nathair turned quickly, eyes widening at the sight of his Aunt Areiya even as he lay still, pretending to be asleep.
"Quiet, you will wake the children." She hissed back quietly.
"You refussse to ssserve asss you ought. You are not welcome here." His father stood, leaning forward in edgy anticipation of Areiya's next movement.
"I refussse to fall in with tradissshion. Take it asss you will, asss the actionsss of a traitor. I only wisssh to sssee Cccerissse'sss children one lassst time." Breathing in deeply, Areiya spoke again, fangs retracted. "Cerise would let me look upon them once more. I swear upon the maker of us all, I will not ever willingly return to this place. I will be gone to disturb you nevermore."
Natahir's father relaxed his tensely set muscles, closing his eyes. He began speaking tonelessly. "I am still distraught because of Cerise's death, to the point that I see a figure strongly resembling her before my eyes. It must be an apparition of her departed spirit, or that of Areiya, a woman dead to the tribe, and forever excluded from its safety. No action can be taken against one without earthly existence, regardless of the spirit's motive. If I wake and the fire is cold, such a spirit will be no more, gone from my presence."
Nathair's father left the room, turning his back on Areiya and his children. Areiya carefully walked over to her sister's children, taking care not to wake them. Eyes kept closed, Nathair listened closely, following the rustling of clothing. Areiya murmured in the old language, filled with hissing and fluid words. Nathair felt her drawing closer to him, moving away from his brother.
A scent filled his nostrils, one of flowers and rain mixed with damp earth. He kept his eyes closed, still pretending to be sleeping. He felt Areiya reach out to him. Before he could stop himself, he tensed up trying not to flinch from the suddenness of her movements. He then felt her hands holding onto his, placing something cool and metallic in his palm before gently closing his fingers around it.
"Nathair, keep your eyes closed for me. I know you are awake." Areiya continued speaking. "I must leave, abiding by the laws of our kind. One day you will understand why your mother had to fall to sickness, why I could not stand by our customs. On that day, you will know the reasons for my last gift to you. Have care dear nephew, for the venom that abounds among our kind."
Nathair tried desperately to think of anything he could say, keeping his eyes tightly shut. Tears splashed onto his face, and Areiya departed, taking with her the scent of spring. Nathair turned to his brother; eyes still shut, and fell into an uneasy sleep, filled with dreams of his lost mother.
Nathair opened his eyes slightly, his right hand grasping for his left; making certain with the last of his strength and consciousness that he still had the ring. Struggling to hold his hand up, he gazed at the ring adorning his otherwise bare hand. Crafted in the shape of the Ouroboros wrought in white gold and the purest ivory of snake fangs; it cunningly resembled the smallest of snakes. Along its back, inlaid in the center of the scaled pattern, lay a number of blue-violet gems. The eyes were of the same color, blinded by smears of blood.
His last thought before the venom ran its full course through his veins was that Euan had always looked too much like his own son; by dying for the prince, he had fulfilled his duty, drawing his last breath in proof of this.
A/n: I still need a beta, if anyone thinks they're up for the task. And please review? Pretty please?