Fire and Ice, Part Two
19 February 2007
We heard a lot of stories about a lot of things around town, but very little about a serpent. What bits we were able to gather centered on strange noises and sights in the mountains south of the town, and the spirits of Lac d’Oô refused to talk about it. One thing we learned was that Michael’s information had been somewhat imprecise. It seems the word that reached the Hudson estate was that there was a serpent active in a lake in Oô, and in translation that became Lake Oô, which would be Lac d’Oô. But there were more lakes further up the mountains, and in our conversations it became apparent that the stories took place near a glacial lake further uphill. So, on the second day after our arrival, we set out with camping gear to make our way up the mountain.
It wasn’t a terribly long hike to the lakes, but it was roughly a kilometer in altitude, so we decided to take it easy on the way and camp there while looking for answers instead of going up and down the mountain. It was late afternoon when we reached the lake in question, and we decided to focus on setting up camp and sorting out dinner. We could, after all, begin searching for signs of the Brood in the evening if we had time, or morning if we didn’t. Either way, we weren’t going to be any good at dealing with them if we hadn’t eaten. Akshainie slipped away to hunt as I got a fire going and set up our tents. It took me a while to find a suitable amount of wood for the fire, and I had some trouble with the new tents, but I was still done and sitting around for what must have been an hour before she slithered out from a rocky crag nearby. She had a dead deer slung over her shoulders, the blood from its massive neck wound half dried down her outfit. It took me a moment of observing her approach before I realized some of the blood was not pouring out of the deer, but her own side. I jumped to my feet and ran over, but she just slung the deer around and into my hands.
“You know how to prep this?” she asked. I nodded, and she grunted and slipped past me toward the water. I groaned and turned.
“Are you okay?” I called after her. She waved it off and continued on her way, and I sighed and took the deer back to the camp site. There, I skinned and processed the animal, and was about to hold a chunk of it over the fire for our dinner when I heard her calling for me. I set the meat and fur aside and made my way down to the water, where she was submerged up to her neck and working at something under the water.
“Ah, there you are. Look, I can’t quite reach most of the wound, can you help me with the bandage?”
“Yeah, of course. Is that what you have there?”
“What? Oh, no,” she said, holding up her armored shirt. She had managed to get most of the blood off, and it looked as though she was actively removing the bits that had dried on pretty solid before she arrived. “I have a pack on the shore there, though, which includes some wraps and medicinal herbs.” I dug through her pack until I found what I needed, and when I turned back she had moved far enough ashore that her upper body was out of the water. I turned away from the sight of her standing there topless, and she groaned.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize—”
“I don’t mean to disturb your delicate sensibilities, priest, but I’m not done cleaning this shirt and you’ll need my skin to be exposed to bandage it anyway.”
“Right. Of course.” I removed my shoes and socks and rolled up my pants and waded into the water. I made my way around to her back, where I could see the gash more clearly, and felt a bit of her tail rise up under me.
“You’re too tall up there,” she said, which I had to admit was accurate. I sat on the portion of tail, took a closer look at the wound, and got to work.
“Why not just heal it, like you did with Henry?” I started by cleaning the wound out better. It looked like she had tried, but could only get so much done from her angle.
“It’s…tricky, with spirits. Besides, I earned this one.”
“What happened out there?”
“A stupid accident.”
“How stupid?” I reached down for two stones and used them, and the bit of water still on them, to grind some of the herbs into a paste. She sighed and lowered the shirt.
“I cornered the deer.”
“And it fought back.”
“You know, it’s been a few years traveling with you, and I haven’t had to hunt for one meal in that entire time. And I didn’t honestly do much hunting back at Iravati, if I’m honest.” She winced as I applied the salve, and we were both silent for a moment as she recomposed herself. “It was mostly fishing. So I forgot how good deer were at defending themselves.”
“And how scared animals get when cornered by a snake with swords?” I asked. She chuckled, and I began wrapping the bandage around her. When I reached around to her stomach she raised her arms out of the way so I could grab the bandage with my other hand and continue the work.
“Yeah. Something like that.”
“But this wasn’t done by antlers.”
“Not directly. He knocked me back against a stone outcropping. It was low and pushed the shirt up, caught me by surprise.”
“Is that the deer you brought back to camp?”
“You’re damn right it is.”
I finished up and stood, and she lowered her tail back into the water and ran her hands over the bandage. I made my way back to shore and repacked the materials I hadn’t used. I felt her hand on my shoulder, and turned to find her smiling at me.
“You did good. Thanks. Also, I need the undershirt you’re sitting on,” she said, pointing to a piece of cloth I hadn’t paid much attention to when I came back. I stammered a bit as I shuffled out of the way, and watched as she set the armored shirt down and slipped the cloth one on. “You enjoying the show?”
“Sorry, I guess I didn’t really think about it.”
“It’s okay, Benedict.” She slithered over and rested her hand on my cheek. “It’s probably best we start getting more comfortable around each other. Who knows where the next bandage will be?” We stared at each other for a while, and then I nodded and slid my hand up to move hers away from my face.
“Of course. But you must be famished after all that work.” I went back to the fire and grabbed the hind quarter I’d prepared earlier and held it over the flame. She arrived shortly thereafter, carrying her things, which she dropped next to one of the tents.
“Yeah,” she said, softly. “I am.”
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Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.
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