Hours passed, during which time the Lord of Zalesia used magic to forge the bargaining chip he would use in exchange for his daughter. When he was done, King Hsss and his personal bodyguards, General Rattlor and Sergeant Tung Lashor, escorted the man to one of Mount Barathrum’s nearby peaks.

From this vantage point, they could see the lights of Reptillion, the large Snake city protected by Snake Mountain’s looming might. Encrusted in stone, meant to be forever coiled in an unbreakable prison around the mountain, were the trapped remains of Serpos. A giant snake, with three heads, it wrapped hideously all the way around the mountain’s base to its peak; deadly magma poured from the three gaping mouths.

The fallen Councilman could not help but be dumbstruck by the fact that the Snake Men chose to build their capital city on the barren side of Snake Mountain, while on the eastern side foliage was lush and dense. Such thoughts were suddenly lost to him, though, when he saw the cloaked figure standing in the shadows apart from the others.

Could that be the same creature Eldor spoke of? The one who stole the book?

“Do you have it?” Hsss demanded, bring things to the point.

The Lord of Zalesia lost interest in the cloaked being, and searched amongst the Snake Men for Lyn. “Yes, I have it. Where is my daughter?”

The ruler of the Snake Men hissed loudly. “First, give me the amulet. Only then will I return your s-s-squalling child.”

“Very well,” the other acquiesced, producing from his robes a golden object shaped like a cobra’s head. “Now, where is she?”

“Not yet.”

“You gave me your word!” Lyn’s father yelled, placing a threatening hand on King Hsss’ “shoulder”.

“And I will honor it,” he responded, slithering away. “But not until I’m certain this trinket is more than a worthless toy.” Hsss felt the power of the amulet surging as he lifted it towards the dark heavens, and he gave a triumphant hiss.

“Great god Serpos!” he called. “The time has come to return to your people! I command you to rise!”

With a thunderous explosion, the three-headed serpent that had hugged Snake Mountain for ages sprang to life, shaking off its cragged shackles! Serpos stretched its massive green form, and began to unravel itself from the prison.

Over the din, the Lord of Zalesia was shouting and waving his fist at Hsss. “The amulet works, just as I told you it would. Now return my child!”

The king’s yellow eyes narrowed into tiny slits. “I think not, Lord of Zalesia. Your skills have proven of use, but your superior attitude offends me greatly. I believe I will hold on to your daughter for a while longer yet. At least until you have learned better—”

The screams of Snake men, women, and children suddenly filled the air! Spinning around, King Hsss’ cold heart sank as he watched Serpos rain jets of fire upon Reptillion. Despite their begging, Hsss’ people were fodder for the so-called “god” they had long worshiped.

“No!” Hsss shouted in horror, as a cold laugh erupted from the man behind the Medallion of Serpos. “You did this!” Hsss screamed, summoning his scepter and turning to face the human once more.

“Your god is awake, Snake Man, but he doesn’t seem very happy with you.”

King Hsss fired a powerful green blast of magic at the Lord of Zalesia, but it was easily redirected to the stony ground. “That won’t help you,” he said. “The amulet roused Serpos from his long slumber, as I promised. But it does not control him. And without my help…it never will.”

As the two continued their bickering, Shokoti watched with mounting interest. It seems as if that old fool is more clever and devious than I ever gave him credit for! she mused.

“…Only then will I give you the power to control Serpos,” the Lord of Zalesia was saying. Furiously, Hsss once more summoned the terrified infant. “It’s okay, little one,” Lyn’s father promised as he caught her.

“Now give me the power to control Serpos, or she dies in your arms, human!”

Before vanishing in a thick cloud of dark smoke, the Lord of Zalesia reluctantly followed through on his end of the bargain. Using his ram-headed staff he unlocked the amulet’s full potential.

“Excellent!” Shokoti raved, her voice masked.

“It’s working!” Hsss added wickedly, as the mammoth form of Serpos came nearer to the rocky ledge where they stood. He turned to Shokoti, and she could see the look of fury in his eyes. “Allow me to s-s-strike at Zalesia first! He must pay for the destruction of my city!”

“In time, Hsss, Zalesia will fall. But, there are other kingdoms along the way that must also fall—Silence!” she commanded suddenly. “We’re no longer alone!”

With Hsss focused again on his new pet, Shokoti whirled about, striking at the returned form of Zalesia’s lord. Lightening arced downwards from the clouds, striking the jagged sword he held and knocking him to the ground.

“It is not yet time for the next chapter in your destiny.” Those words, spoken in the disguised voice Shokoti had adopted, were the last things the Lord of Zalesia was aware of before everything went from bleary to black, and he found himself crumpled on the floor of his daughter’s nursery.