Ten Years EarlierMature

1206-Iliathor, Capital of the Sysaran Empire

The first time that Seoc MacInnes had heard of the Serpent of the Silver Tongue, it had been a dark, stormy night sometime around midwinter.   The wind was howling in the chimney of their big, gloomy house at the base of the Twisting Terraces, and the cobblestone streets were covered in a thick layer of snow and ice.  The frigid hand of death had the city securely in its grip, and if one squinted hard out the window, peering through the flying shards of a frozen December, one might have been able to make out ghostly figures in the darkness, shadows flickering in the dull orange glow of the lanterns mounted on the walls.  Perhaps they were passersby, struggling home in the midst of the blizzard, wishing only to warm their hands by a friendly hearth, or perhaps they were evil spirits, flitting into the land of the living, slipping in through the winter-wrought holes in an invisible barrier.  Whatever they may have been, they made Seoc shiver, warm and safe as he was beneath a blanket in the fire-lit parlor.

"Eerie, is it no'?" remarked his older sister, Fiona, who was gazing though the same window as he was, a distant expression upon her freckled face.

Seoc snuggled deeper into his quilt, pulling the fabric up to his chin.  "What do you reckon they are?"

Fiona shrugged.  "They might just be people, though you'd have ta be mad ta go out in this sort o' weather..."

"What else might they be?"

The faint hint of a malevolent smile tugged at the corners of her lips, but she did not turn from the window to look at him.  "Oh, all sorts o' things.  Haunters an' crawlers and ghosties an' ghoulies...whatever has desire ta roam aboot when all o' the world's dead an' dark an' empty o' hope, empty o' dreams 'cept for nightmares.  Perhaps even the Serpent's out there."

"The Serpent?" Seoc asked, confused.

"You've never heard o' the Serpent o' the Silver Tongue?  Rezyn, lad!  How ald are you, eight?  Where've you been all this time?"

Seoc didn't know.

"Weel," she began, looking away from the window to rest her green eyes upon him and adopting the solemn expression that she reserved for telling ghost stories.  "The frightenin' thing aboot the Serpent isna that it itself is particularly dangerous.  It doesna work like other monsters an' suchlike, doesna lurk aboot in the dark, waitin' ta eat you.  No, it gets inta yer mind, an' it tells you what ta do.  Mayhap it tells you ta kill somebody, or even yerself."

"What if you dinna?" Seoc asked.

"If you resist, you mean?  Then it drives you mad."

"Oh," said Seoc, glancing out of the window apprehensively, as if expecting something large and snakelike to slither by.

"But that isna the worst o' it," Fiona continued, lowering her voice to scarcely more than a whisper.  "It isna content with takin' a few lives an' minds any langer.  It has bigger plans now."

Seoc had retreated even deeper into his blanket; only the upper half of his face was visible now.  "Like what?"

"World domination, o' course."

"World whatination?" Seoc inquired, though he suspected what her answer would be.

"Take it over, you ken.  It's tried an' tried, but it's never quite managed it. Ta control the world, see, it must first take control o' Time, an' that's a tricky thing ta do."

"Because o' the Queens?"

"Exactly."

The next year for Seoc's birthday, Fiona gave him the same old, leather-bound mythological anthology that he would open nearly ten years later on a deathly still November evening.

The End

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