Continued from Part 5
The snake loosens its suffocating grip on the former owner of that liver.
The man slowly regains conscious, groaning in pain.
The snake raises its head to stare into the man’s face.
The man opens his eyes, and gravely greets the snake.
Earnest: Thank you, Nehushtan.
The snake does not acknowledge the greeting. If anything, the stare merely grows more intense.
E. Is something troubling you?
The snake says nothing for a very long time. When he speaks, the word seems painful, even pleading.
E. Why did I thank you? Because having my liver removed while I was awake would have been far more painful!
N. No. Why give the eagle your liver at all?
E. You know that. We need her to show us how to break Satan’s curse. She needs a sacrifice of food.
His answer was a little too quick, too glib. The snake rears back, annoyed.
N. You know that’ssss not what I meant. Why didn’t you sssacrifice me instead? You’ve alwaysss hated me. Even feared me. You would have been able to go further, faster without the burden of your injuriesss or my weight.
The snake thrusts its head forward until its tongue practically touches the man’s nose.
N. Why sssacrifice part of yourself?
The man stares deeply into the eyes of the snake, then looks away.
E. Okay, fine. I’m not sure I can explain it, even to myself. But such as I have, I will give you. Can you at least let me sit up first?
The snake loosens its coils almost tenderly, leaving the man lying in the dust. He sits up carefully, wincing at the pain in his abdomen.
E. You remember the reason we are here, right? The first time I looked into your eyes, I saw that the fruit of my desire to defeat Satan would only be failure and death. You hinted that the eagle might know a deeper truth.
N. I “hinted” at nothing, mortal. You inferred that all on your own. I merely deferred to the eagle as a being higher on the food chain. Which is why you should have fed me to her!
E. Wait, you wanted to die?
The snake lowers its head, coils collecting into a seething mass below.
N. I have lived in this cursssed form for millennia beyond your comprehension, O mortal. I have fed on the hopesss and dessspair of kingsss and emperorsss, sssages and sssaints. None have sssatisfied me. My hunger merely growsss deeper and colder. I… I am tired. I just wisssh for it all to end.
The man cocks his head, like a dog hearing an unseen whistle. Then he leans forward, a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
E. Nehushtan! Look at me.
N. Why? You will not see anything in me you haven’t seen before.
E. No, you dolt. I’m not going to look into your eyes. You have to look into mine!
The snake trembles, as if seized with some preternatural fear. It pulls back, seemingly ready to refuse. Then gathers courage from some hidden place and thrusts its face up to the man.
They stay there, gazes locked like lovers, for an impossibly long moment. Then the snake turns away, gasping.
N. No… it can’t be.
E. But it is. You know the truth of those visions. The ultimate fruit of your desire.
N. But I am no hero. I am the villain. The bad guy. The one who destroys others by my selfish hunger.
E. Yes. That is what you are — on this plane of reality. Or veil of illusion, if you prefer. But in the place we are going — where only eagles fly — you will discover that your dark hunger was actually a deeper hunger for the light.
The snake casts itself prone before the man.
N. Depart from me, for I am a wretched sinner.
E. Do not worship me. I am merely a humble servant, like yourself. Playing the part I have been given, marking time until the Author reveals our True Character in the final act.
N. No. This can’t be. What I’ve done. What I’ve been. What I willingly chose. He could never forgive me for that. I.. I could never forgive me for that.
There is a long pause. The man walks over and cups a soft hand around the head of the despondent snake.
E. Perhaps… perhaps you are right. Maybe there is no forgiveness for Nehushtan in this life.
The snake hisses, then tenses, expecting a crushing blow.
The snake stiffens, as if dead. Then collapses, and begins — improbably– to weep.
The man pats the snake on the head, then painfully climbs to his feet. He hobbles over to the eagle, hand still clutching his bloody side.
E. All has been made ready. When may we depart?
The eagle looks at him shyly, almost flirtatiously.
Aguila: I though you’d never ask!
She lets loose a shriek so fierce, it is not merely ear-splitting, but rends the very fabric of space and time.
The man stares into the rift, his mind unable to process what he is seeing.
A. C’mon, honey. Time for your date with destiny.
She grabs him by the shoulders. Before he or his companions can react, she lifts him off the mountainside and plunges directly into the rift.
They vanish, leaving behind nothing but the echoes of her shriek.
To be continued in Part 7