Chapter 3
Sea Serpents

AT 1082 (AZ 1454) - Early Summer
The Aiolos Sea

For a tribe that had dwelled on the mountain since time immemorial, the ability to swim was never much needed. However, all that changed when Ophis Python was charged with leading his tribe across the sea to the land of Zephyr. The entire tribe from greatest to least were clustered together tightly for safety and support. There was no real opportunity to rest or to feed. It was by the power within Python that they were sustained for the long days of ceaseless swimming.
Medusa and her followers rode aboard five great human ships. Three were manned by the living, pirates who pledged themselves to the Dominion in exchange for their lives after running aground in the Darklands years ago, and the remaining two were manned by the dead, raised from the depths by the Monarch Lich's power.
Out on the open sea, with nothing but the endless blue on all sides, it was easy to get lost. It was the promise of the Monarch Lich that kept Python focused on his goal. He would follow the setting of the sun until he reached the land of Zephyr. He would deliver the lump of flesh lodged in his gullet and return to see his slain clanmates restored to the land of the living. His bloodline and his name would be secure and all the suffering, humiliation and privation of these years would be forgotten.
With his will so singularly fixed, he almost did not notice the disturbance in the cluster of his tribe huddled around him. It was Medusa herself, who had descended from her ship and slithered atop the backs of the many hundreds of serpents in the water to approach him. Were they not so close together, they could have never born her weight and they would all be drowned. It was bold of her to attempt this, even mad, and yet there was no fear or uncertainty as she approached him.
"Hail, O Lord of Serpents," she said, her tone not overtly mocking but there was no true homage in her words. "The humans tell me we are yet three weeks from land."
"I have not been counting the days," Python replied, "but in all the time that has passed, never once have you sought an audience with me, so why do you speak to me now? Whether it be three weeks or three hundred weeks, I will go forward all the same."
"Our master would be pleased at your resolve, no doubt," Medusa said. "I thought I might speak with you. Surely even you can tire of the tedium of this voyage."
"Is that why you burden the backs of the good serpents of my tribe?" Python asked her. "I have nothing to say to you. If it is company you seek, look for it aboard your vessel."
"The humans are more tiresome than these accursed seas and it would be more profitable to speak with a rock than the common thralls of the Lich. We who live under the curse of the gods ought to find common cause with each other."
"The gods are forgotten," Python replied, disinterested, "forsaken by their devotees as they forsook us."
"Does not the slayer of your great ancestor still rot away in your belly even now?"
Python glanced back at her and asked, "Did the Old Spider tell you this, boast of the kingly gift she presented to appease my wrath?"
"You have been made powerful by that gift, have you not?"
"I have," Python admitted, "and so one outrage against my clan has been avenged."
"One outrage," Medusa echoed. "Another is the great slaughter the Lich made of your clan. Will you consider it avenged if he does as he pledged? Provided you succeed in your mission, of course."
Her questions were wearying. He could see through her game and was having none of it.
"I know you are his agent," Python said. "Do you think you can beguile me into speaking the words that would condemn me?"
"Your words would only condemn you if what you held in your heart condemns you," Medusa replied slyly. "Surely a proud servant of our master such as yourself bears no such ill will."
"I am finding your more tiresome than this unending blue."
It was then that she said something that surprised him.
"The Monarch Lich is not long for this world. Did you know that?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do you not know the way of his kind? As the years pass, his power grows and as his power grows, his body decays. Before he is wholly destroyed, his power passes from him with his seed. What remains is but a husk that abides for a time and then passes away. Perhaps there is still strength enough in him to fulfill his pledge to you."
It would be a cruel twist if the Monarch Lich actually intended to make good on his pledge only to perish before Python could complete his mission.
"Why do you tell me this?" he asked her.
"No particular reason," she replied. "Caprice, perhaps. Perhaps to encourage you to do your work quickly and tarry not."
Annoyed at her blithe response, he bluntly told her, "I have heard enough. Away from me."
"So be it," she said obligingly. "I believe I can now better tolerate the days that remain until we find land."
And so Medusa returned to her ship, leaving Python to ponder what she had said. Could it be that the Monarch Lich was truly perishing and if so, would he remain long enough to fulfill his pledge? If it was Medusa's intention to further steel his resolve, she succeeded. Python would not allow the Lich to leave this world until he made good on his pledge. He could accept nothing less.