I escaped from the village. The Snake people, convinced of my magic powers, had dropped to the ground, affording me time enough to flee. Foreknowledge of an eclipse can get you out of many a sticky situation. I waited until I was miles away before seeking out a stone with a sharp enough edge against which I could saw through the vines that bound my wrists behind my back. It took longer than I would have liked, for the bloodcurdling cries of the scouts betrayed my whereabouts back to Chief Mamba. Ahead, a sheer drop into the ocean. My only option was to take a leap of faith off the edge and trust that I would not be dashed against the rocks.
Something ran over my foot and coiled around my ankle. It was a tendril from a Hongoolian vine, a sentient plant and a carnivorous one. It must have been attracted by the blood from the lashes that streaked my back. Within seconds I was stuck – rooted to the spot, you might say.
“You leave us?” Mamba’s daughter, the Princess Copperhead, slunk out of the underbrush but kept her distance. Betrayal was painted across her features as plainly as the colourful stripes of her status.
“Sorry, doll,” I shrugged. “I’d love to stay and all but –” I winced as the tendril tightened, working its way around my calf and up to my knee.
Princess Copperhead approached, pulling a jagged, obsidian dagger from her sash. I froze. There was nowhere for me to run even if I could.
“Let’s not be hasty,” I pleaded. She dropped into a crouch and attacked the vine. It shrivelled and shrank away with a squeal of protest.
“Thanks!” I gasped in surprise. “For a second there, I thought I was going to be on the receiving end.”
Her large green eyes sought mine. “Take me with you,” she said. “Please!” The tip of her tongue teased her teeth, and her voice was a whisper, like the hiss of the waves far below.
“It’s impossible, babe,” I said. “You know me; I like to travel light.”
Commotion in the bushes indicated my recapture could not be far off.
“Then jump,” she said. “I shall say you are dead.”
I took her hands in mine and squeezed them in gratitude. “Thanks, doll,” I said. “You know, in different circumstances…”
“I know,” she said, her face regal and stoic. Membrane flickered across her eyes. “Go.”
I went. The air tore the breath from my lungs and the sea rushed up to meet me. I plunged into the roiling waves like a dart from a blowpipe. Down and down, I swam. If the professor’s notebooks were to be believed, there was an underwater cavern nearby and, potentially, a way back home.