Rise of The Snake Women
By Kim McFarland
Part 2: Hissistrata
Long hours later, the same two humans returned to retrieve Kamil. With them was a large - was it a machine, or was it a person in armor? No, a machine, she guessed; any human big enough to fit in that would find such armor an encumbrance. In its hands it carried several lengths of thick, clanking chain. It said in a calm voice, "I have been coated with a venomproof material. Please do not resist."
"I won't," Kamil said, trying not to shrink back.
She let the robot shackle her legs and chain her arms behind her back. Despite its size it moved with surprising gentleness. She offered no resistance; it looked as if it would not matter if she did. It told her in the same bland tone, "There is a device in these chains that will trigger an electrical shock, sufficient to stun you to unconsciousness, if you try to escape. Any attempt would be futile, possibly harmful to you."
"I understand," she said, her voice tight.
Man-At-Arms and Adam watched with growing uneasiness as Roboto chained the Snake Man and led her out of the prison. The heavy chains looked cruelly huge on her. She did not look like she could break through a regular set of cuffs, let alone these chains. Still, they had to be on their guard. "Now, which one is your leader?"
She lifted her arms with effort and pointed. "She is in the fourth cell from the end."
Adam went over to the door of that cell. A tall, powerful-looking, black reptile with a creamy yellow front looked down at him. It wore copper around its forearms, lower legs, and shoulders. "Yikes," Adam said under his breath. This one was as big as Rattlor, and had a faster, more streamlined look. In fact, if dragons had evolved into people they could have looked like this.
The reptile spoke. "If you will hear me speak, you may bind me too."
While Adam watched his captive, Duncan covered the cell door. Roboto entered and, as before, shackled the Snake Man without difficulty. When it emerged from the cell they saw that she was also wearing a thin, backswept copper headdress, almost like a small crown, with small blue adornments hanging from the end of each tine. On a big, dangerous-looking reptile it looked absurd. The copper "armor" that they had seen last night was now clearly only for adornment; it would be useless as protection. And, Adam suddenly thought, this one is female? Besides the copper it wore only a garment that looked to be somewhere between a kilt and a loincloth, same as all of the others...but she was a reptile, not a mammal, so it didn't matter, he told himself.
Adam led the procession. The small Snake Man followed him, then the larger one, with Man-At-Arms walking far enough back to avoid her swinging tail. He was ready to trigger the stunners in the chains should they try to attack or escape, but by now he did not believe they would. And he wanted to hear what they had to say.
They were led into a large room. It could hold hundreds of people, but right now there were only armed, uniformed guards and, at the opposite end of the room, two humans sitting on tall chairs on a high platform. Their rulers, of course.
The procession stopped at an area of the floor marked off with the outline of a square. Adam turned back and told the reptiles, "Don't step outside of those marks." He didn't repeat the threat of the stunners, or mention the armed guards, and in fact they were beginning to seem like overkill.
The larger one replied, "We understand." Then both looked at the leaders.
Adam stepped out of the way. He had to be ready to run out and transform into He-Man if things turned ugly, but he was not going to edge toward a door just yet. King Randor addressed the captives in a coldly formal tone. "You have battled the Masters and lost, and now you ask to negotiate. What do you have to say to us?"
Kamil glanced up at Kurosassan, who appeared to be unoffended by the human's unfriendly tone. Then she said, "We did not expect to be granted your attention, King Randor. Thank you for giving us an audience. You believe us to be Snake Men. We are not."
He paused, and his expression matched hers for impassiveness. "Who are you, then?"
The black-and-yellow one spoke. "I am Kurokassan, the leader of my tribe. We are not Snake Men, or their allies, though they are of our race. We call ourselves Ophidians."
"Ophidians?" Adam had heard that word somewhere before. Then he remembered - the Ophidian Tower, where King Hiss had transformed a village of Quadians, and even several Masters, into Snake Men.
Kurokassan glanced at the Prince, then addressed Randor again. "We are an ancient race. We have lived in those mountain ranges since the Mystic Mountains were engulfed in glaciers."
Randor replied, "The Snake Men often boast of how ancient their race is. What of it?"
Kamil, her scales darkening slightly, burst out indignantly, "We were fighting the Snake Men! They attacked us!"
Kurokassan continued, "The Snake Men are Ophidians who follow Serpos, their demon god. They seek to dominate all the races of the world. Conquest and subjugation are their goal. We do not worship Serpos, and we do not want to conquer anyone. Our village is small, and enjoyed peace from the time the Snake Men were sealed away until they were released. Thus, it has gone unnoticed until now."
"Then why were the Snake Men attacking you?" Queen Marlena asked.
Kurokassan addressed her. "They have recently been decimated, first in battle and then by suicide after the death of King Hiss. Simply put, they need to build their numbers up again or face extinction. They have recruited some of our villagers away. Whether by brainwashing them or by luring them into their cult, I don't know. But now they can take no more of us except by force."
"This was their first open attack," Kamil added.
Kurokassan continued, "These Snake Men are your enemies and ours. To them, all non-Ophidian races are prey to be conquered and consumed. And they wish to do the same thing to us: to take us and absorb us into their ranks. But we will not follow their god, who leads his people into wars and turns his own followers into monsters to glorify himself. King Randor, even out in our village we have heard of your efforts to knit the races and tribes living in every part of Eternia into an alliance against evil. We have kept to ourselves because we believed we would be safe enough. We now see that was wrong. We wish to join your alliance. Will you have us?"
She was now standing at her full height, looking the King determinedly in the eye. Adam thought, her story fit in too well with everything that happened. Snake Men always attacked openly. They didn't have the guile to pretend to be peaceful villagers, and he was certain they would never repudiate Serpos, especially after seeing their god come to life!
Randor paused thoughtfully. Then he said, "Your tale sounds true. However, we cannot risk accepting Snake Men into our alliance. Man-At-Arms, I want you to find out if this is the truth."
"Yes, sir," he responded.
Kurokassan said, "Thank you," and lowered her head in a small bow.
Man-At-Arms and Adam bracketed the Ophidians as they left the audience chamber. Adam said, "Let's go back to their village. We should be able to find out something there."
Man-At-Arms didn't look back. "Yes. We'll bring these two along too."
Kamil's shoulders were aching from her arms' uncomfortable position and the weight of the chains, and her legs were starting to get sore. It was easier for Kurokassan to bear; she was strong enough that the weight did not drag on her. How much longer were they going to have to endure this? Of course, the answer was that she would put up with it as long as Kurokassan deemed it necessary, and she would not complain.
They went to a vehicle hangar. Just before they boarded a Wind Raider Adam said to Man-At-Arms, "let's take the chains off their legs, at least."
"You think we should."
Man-at-Arms hadn't seen how Kamil was walking. "Yeah. How can they even get into the Wind Raiders with their legs chained together? The stunners are in the arm bindings anyway." Without waiting for an answer he bent down and twirled the complicated-looking multiple dials on the lock piece of Kamil's chain, then Kurokassan's, freeing them.
"Thank you," Kurokassan said.
"No problem. Look," he said seriously, "Right now I believe you. If what you said is the truth, the King will let you join the Alliance."
"Then let's go to the village," Kurokassan said with equal gravity.
The Wind Raider set down at the edge of the village. By the light of day they could see the devastation caused by the Snake Men's attack and the Masters subsequent joining in. Most of the wooden structures had been wrecked. Adam passed by what looked like a frame for stretching and drying skins. Not exactly a high-tech civilization.
Kurokassan surveyed the village sadly. Then she tilted her head up and whistled, an incongruously birdlike trill. The Humans looked at her strangely. Kamil recognized it, as would any Ophidian: a mother's call to her hatchlings. She was telling the survivors to come out, it was safe.
Hesitantly at first, Ophidians appeared at the edge of the forest and the mouth of the cliffside caves. Some had to climb over rubble from rock slides to leave the caves. They stared, murmuring, at the two Humans - one of whom was clearly the one who had cause the rockslides in last night's battle - who now held their leader prisoner. Adam suddenly felt outnumbered and vulnerable. But these Snake- these Ophidians were not warriors. Many were small or slight of build. Some looked old, others were obviously children. They had hidden from the battle and thus had not been captured.
A human broke through the line of Ophidians. He was wearing only the light clothing worn under armor. Quickly Kamil spoke to Man-At-Arms. "I stole the armor I'm wearing from this man during the battle. I would like to give it back."
He nodded acknowledgment, then said to the out-of-uniform guardsman, "Are you all right?"
"Yes, sir. Just - uncomfortable." He glared at Kamil.
Adam asked, "How did they treat you?"
"The snakes? They left me alone."
Adam and Man-At-Arms exchanged glances, thinking the same thing. Snake Men would have held him prisoner if they didn't devour him immediately. Man-At-Arms released Kamil and Kurokassan's arm chains, removing both the bindings and the threat of the stunners. Adam said to them, "Uh - sorry about the misunderstanding."
"We understand what happened," Kurokassan replied, rubbing her wrists. Kamil began removing the armor, unconcerned that others were watching. Soon, wearing only a kiltlike garment similar to those worn by the rest of the villagers, she offered the armor back to the guardsman. He took it, looked around uncomfortably, then went behind the Wind Raider to change.
One of the villagers, a smaller one bearing wounds on his head and arms, gathered up the courage to come forward. "Kurokassan - The Snake Men came back!"
Her eyes widened and her whole body went tense. "When?"
"Before dawn. We tried to fight them off. We tried to keep them out of the Cave-"
She snapped, "The Cave? Did they get in?"
The wounded Ophidian looked sorrowful. Kurokassan glanced around. The others were as unhappy. Abruptly she sprinted toward the large cave mouth at the base of the mountain. The group of villagers parted quickly to let her through. Adam and Man-At-Arms started to follow, but Kamil darted between them and the cave mouth and held up her hands. "This is a sacred cave! You cannot go in!"
"The Snake Men-"
"Have already gone! You can go anywhere else in this village, but not here!"
Kurokassan ran through cave passages that were lit by glowing fungi. Her slitted pupils widened, allowing her to see clearly by the dim light. The walls were rough, lined with stalactites and stalagmites, but the center of the passage was smooth, worn down over eons by Ophidian feet. She passed unerringly through twisting passages, all alike to the unfamiliar eye, until a brighter light gleamed in the distance. It came from a high-roofed gallery, the walls lined with waterfall-like stalactites illuminated from below by small, well-tended oil lamps set around the room's perimeter. Opposite the entrance, a high-relief sculpture of an Ophidian holding a large, oval object in its hands was carved into the cave wall. The sand that covered the floor to a depth of several feet was roiled. And, she saw when she glanced around, against the wall to the side of the entrance lay a wounded Ophidian.
Kurokassan knelt and gripped the Ophidian's shoulder, then just as quickly drew back her hand. Dead. His face and neck and one arm were grotesquely swollen and discolored. The neck and shoulder on that side bore a telltale pair of punctures. The sand around him showed that he had thrashed and bled before dying.
The crowd of Ophidians around the cave entrance parted. Kurokassan, carrying the body of a tan, hooded Ophidian, walked out of the cave. Some of them stared in shock, others covered their faces or gave way to grief. She knelt and gently laid the body on the ground. He-Man and Man-At-Arms walked up and, not knowing what to say, watched wordlessly.
Kurokassan looked up. "This was Hebi. He was poisoned by one of the Snake Men while defending our nesting ground. He was the father of one of the three eggs they took."
He-Man said softly, "I'm... sorry."
"So are we," she said heavily. She looked at the body for a long moment, then said, "They have never before dared to broach the nesting cave. They have recruited young adults foolish enough to be swayed by the prospect of power. They have kidnapped and brainwashed when persuasion failed. But they have never before attacked our children!" She stood and locked eyes with the humans. "They dared this because we left our village undefended. Will you help us rescue them?"
What else could He-Man answer? "Of course."