Read the series prologue here.
Read episode 4 here.
Episode Five: Serpina
“Hurry up you stupid troll!” Fedrick growled as he and Felnar made their way down the tunnel where the humaviper was last seen.
This part of the city was damp. Mold covered the walls in places, filling their lungs with its thick musty fumes. The sound of dripping came from all sides. Every now and then a stray drop landed on their heads sending shivers down their backs. Felnar slunk along as slowly as she could, jumping at every sound, hiding at the sight of shadows.
“We shouldn’t have agreed to do this,” she whined.
“We didn’t agree to anything,” Fedrick replied. “The other goblins practically shoved us down this tunnel.”
“The humaviper will eat us for sure!”
“Let’s just hope we finish our job before she gets hungry.”
“I’m going back!” Felnar gasped, and she would have done just that if Fedrick hadn’t grabbed her arm.
“Don’t even think about it!” he cried. “I’m going to need your help. Besides, if you go back now you’ll be attacked by a mob of angry goblins. Is that what you want?”
Felnar sobbed, “Fedrick, please don’t make me go. I don’t want to see the humaviper. She wants to eat me, I just know it!”
“Stop blubbering, you coward!” said the uncompassionate goblin. “You give trolls a bad name.”
“I don’t care!”
“Well if anything will alert the humaviper to our presence it will be your whining!”
Felnar stifled her sobs until they were no more than a whimper.
“Now listen,” Fedrick continued. “The humaviper has never been out to get you, that’s your imagination. What’s more I’m not going to let her kill us. If things go wrong we’ll get an army of goblins and trolls to kill her.”
“You promise?” asked Felnar.
“I promise. Now try to be brave.”
As they continued, Felnar still moved slowly, but was much quieter. The tunnel sloped downward in many twists and turns and was cloaked in even deeper shadows than the rest of the city. Fedrick couldn’t help slowing to check the passage ahead as he and Felnar came to each new turn. Despite the courageous act he put on for his friend, every time Fedrick thought about seeing the humaviper in person his stomach felt like it was full of tiny bats flapping around without finding an exit. He had no idea what he would really do if the monster attacked them. Thankfully, Felnar wasn’t quite smart enough to call his bluff.
Watching for movement around a bend, Fedrick and Felnar turned a corner into another damp, musty tunnel. The air was filled with the smell of rotting meat and another sickly stench they couldn’t identify and didn’t want to. They continued until they came to a place where the tunnel widened into a small cavern where two lights shown in the gloom. As Fedrick stepped forward, something rustled beneath his feet. He jumped back then glanced down to see an empty snake skin which was several times longer than his body. Felnar whimpered and Fedrick saw that she was pointing at a pile of bones, gleaming in the darkness.
Fedrick swallowed then masked his fear by grunting, “Let’s keep moving.”
Skirting the bones and snake skin, they attempted to cross to another tunnel across from where they stood, when a soft voice hissed, “Take one more ssstep and you’ll be my next meal.”
They froze. Felnar huddled in a corner and refused to move. Fedrick stared at the lights shining before him, suddenly realizing that they were the humaviper’s glowing eyes.
“We’ve come to make a bargain with you, humaviper,” he said trying not to sound afraid. There were a series of short hisses which Fedrick guessed was a laugh.
“Bargain with me!” the humaviper hissed. “That’sss one I haven’t heard. Tell me, what bargain would you make with Serpina?”
Fedrick was flustered by the tone in her voice. She seemed to think this was some sort of game. He answered as calmly as possible, “The dwarves are building a new mine near one of the goblin cities. The goblins of that city have asked us to help them fight the dwarves. We thought you could help us. The more help we have the better off we’ll be.”
“If I agreed, what would you pay me for my ssservicesss?” asked Serpina, still playful.
“You must want something,” Fedrick replied. “You have only to name it.”
“You must name a price.”
“Food!” Felnar piped up in a voice which was higher pitched than usual. “If you help us we’ll give you all the food you want so you won’t have to eat us anymore.”
Serpina made her hissing laugh again. “You creaturesss are pathetic. You all make excusesss and buy time in hopesss that I won’t eat you. Well it never worksss! I have yet to catch a life threatening disease sssome trollsss sssaid they had.”
“We’re not making excuses,” Fedrick protested. “We really do need your help!”
“Enough!” shouted the humaviper. “I Let you ssspeak, you should be grateful for that. Now the time for talk is over!”
She let down her retractable fangs which gleamed slightly. Felnar screamed, Fedrick took a step backwards. Both felt that this was the time to run. Before they could start for the tunnel, however, Serpina wrapped a thick coil around Felnar’s legs and grabbed Fedrick with the end of her long tail, which she could use like a third arm.
In an attempt to buy some time Fedrick asked, “Why did you come to our city? Is it because it’s a good hunting ground?”
Serpina, who had never liked the city in the least, couldn’t help answering, “Your city is the worst hunting ground I’ve found yet! Goblinsss are ssso ssslimy they are my last choice of food. I only eat them to ssstay alive.”
“Why are you here then?”
“I came here by accident. I ssslithered into the mountain and couldn’t find my way back out because all your passagesss look the sssame.”
“I could help you get out.”
She smirked. “Of courssse you could, only you won’t. The moment I loosssen my hold you’ll run away.”
“No, I won’t!” Fedrick cried. “Listen, I’ll make you a deal. If you’ll let me go and promise to help my people fight the dwarves I’ll make sure you get outside where you can find a better hunting ground.”
“We’re back to the dwarvesss again,” said Serpina. “Have goblinsss become ssso pathetic that they can no longer fight their own enemiesss?”
“We could finish them off quicker if we had a humaviper to help us. No goblin can match your skills.”
“Ssso they sssent you to ask for my help, did they?”
She stared at him for a minute, trying to decide whether or not to believe him. Finally she asked, “Isss the troll a friend of yoursss?”
“Well, um, yeah,” replied the confused goblin.
“Perfect,” she hissed. Keeping her hold on Fedrick, she turned and grabbed Felnar with one of her human-like hands meanwhile unwinding the coil imprisoning the troll. Felnar screamed again and tried to pull away. Serpina was stronger, however, and soon had the troll in her firm grip, facing Fedrick.
“Now listen carefully, goblin,” said Serpina. “You are going to take me to whomever sssent you. If you try to run, or if I find that you were lying, I will kill your troll friend, and then you. You cannot escape me. Even if you were to get away for a time I would ssstill track you and kill you. Ssso, lead me to the onesss who sssent you.”
Felnar gulped, “I told you she was after us!”
Fedrick led the way to the central chamber with Serpina pushing him along. The humaviper propelled herself with her tail. Her upper body was lifted off the floor so that she could pull Felnar with one hand and push Fedrick with the other. Wide eyed goblins and trolls ran from them as they approached. Word soon reached the goblin council that the humaviper was coming to meet them. By the time Serpina and her hostages reached the chamber a crowd had gathered. Everyone parted to let the trio pass.
Serpina stopped before the council members and said, “The little one sssaysss you want to hire me to help you with sssome troublesome dwarves, isss thisss true?”
“Yes. Of course it’s true,” the council stammered to assured her.
“Then these are the termsss I will require in exchange,” she continued. “First, you will give me a place to live outside your city, I will choose where. Sssecond, your people must not disturb my new home. Third you must not ever ask me to return to your horrible city. And fourth, you must not even think of double-crossing me. Do you agree to my termsss?”
The council knew better than to deny the humaviper anything. Besides, the terms she had asked for were easy to meet. They replied immediately, “We agree.”
Serpina turned to Fedrick and whispered, “Sssince I sssee now that you weren’t lying you and your friend may go. Yet perhapsss we may meet again sssomeday.”
She grinned. Fedrick was relieved to see that she had pulled in her fangs. Still, he wasn’t sure he would want to meet Serpina again in the future. Felnar dashed off in the direction of her cave as soon as Serpina let go of her. Fedrick, however, mingled with the rest of the crowd for a while, listening to the council ordering preparations for the journey to the dwarf mine.
The dwarves had only recently begun work on the new mine. All the miners were still living in tents littering the mountainside around the shafts because no permanent homes had been built yet. In one of the shafts a group of dwarves piled up their tools and pulled out lunch pails.
“Nothing makes you as hungry as hammering rocks all day,” said one fat dwarf slapping his belly and pulling out his roast beef sandwich. “I don’t think I’d care if someone gave me a bucket of grease for lunch. I’m hungry enough I’d eat it!”
The others grunted their agreement as they fished out their own sandwiches and bit into them. Meal times always seemed a little too quiet after the constant noise of hammers and chisels. In the quiet, one of the younger dwarves heard a faint rustling noise as though something was sliding over the stones.
“What’s that?” he asked nervously.
“What’s what?” snapped an older dwarf.
“I thought I heard something moving in the tunnel.”
The other dwarf shrugged. “Perhaps you did. We’re not the only group down here, don’t be so jumpy!”
They went back to eating for a few minutes until the younger dwarf said, “Look, I think I can see two lights in the distance.”
“I see them,” said the older dwarf, “I’ll go see what they want.”
He got up and walked a short way down the tunnel, only to stop abruptly. As the old dwarf crumpled and fell, the others noticed the gleaming fangs of the humaviper. Serpina moved into the light of their lanterns before the other dwarves had recovered from their shock. She lunged, biting those nearest her. The others tried to run, but she whipped her tail around, tripping them. She wove between them biting dwarf after dwarf. They fell dead around her as the poison set in. Finally there were only two dwarves left. These fought Serpina in a state of panic and desperation. She grabbed at them; they pulled away, jumped her tail, and ran down the tunnel as fast as they could.
“Good work,” said one of the goblins stepping out of the shadows behind her.
“They were easssy prey,” Serpina replied.
“Why don’t you go after the last two?” asked the goblin.
She turned her glowing eyes to focus on him. “Are you truly sssuch a fool?” she hissed. “What those two will ssspread will make our job here easier.”
“What will they spread?”
“Fear,” she replied and the word seemed to echo off the rocks around them. “Besidesss,” she added. “I ssscratched them, they will die in a few hoursss.”
“With you around these dwarves don’t stand a chance!” the goblin laughed.
A few weeks later Fedrick found himself at the gaping entrance of the underground city with a crowd of goblins and trolls. Stars and a slice of moon shone on the mountain, their pale light mixing with the shades of night. A cheer rang out as Serpina appeared accompanied by several goblin warriors. The goblin council rushed ahead of the crowd to be sure they were the first to reach Serpina.
“I’d like to congratulate you, humaviper,” a councilor announced in a voice loud enough for all to hear. “There are few who could create such panic or cause the dwarves to close a mine so fast, but you’ve done it!”
The crowd clapped and cheered until the councilor waved for silence.
“You can ssshow me your appreciation by finding me the finest home in the mountains,” said Serpina.
“You will have it and more,” replied the councilor. “We would also like to offer you three chests of treasure.”
He snapped his fingers and the chests were brought forward and opened so that Serpina could see the sparkling contents. A greedy look entered Serpina’s eyes and she flicked out her long forked tongue before answering.
“Very well, I accept.”
“We were also hoping you would consider working for us as an assassin.”
“Perhapss, if the price is right,” Serpina answered, flicking a speck of dust off her scales. “But once I move into my new home I don’t want goblinss and trollss bothering me all the time. You must only send your people to me with instructions on who I am to kill, understood?”
“Of course,” said the councilor. “You have a deal.”
The council assigned several goblins to accompany Serpina and carry her treasure for her while she went house hunting. While the crowd was distracted with Serpina, Fedrick slipped back inside the city and down a short tunnel to the left of the gate passing troll caves until he reached the one he wanted. He rapped the stone doorway with a claw.
“Go away!” called Felnar’s voice. “I have a terrible cold. You wouldn’t want to catch it.” She faked a sneeze.
“You’ve been saying you had a cold ever since we met the humaviper,” Fedrick called back. “Maybe you’ll get better now that she’s moving out of the city.”
“I doubt it,” said Felnar. “This is probably the worst cold a troll’s ever had!”
“She won’t come back to get you.”
Felnar’s only response was to blow her nose very loudly.
With Felnar continuing to remain in her cave, Fedrick turned to other goblins for companionship. Many goblins snuck out on the mountains to harass the dwarves who had survived Serpina’s attacks and were moving to work in other mines. They told exciting stories about these expeditions, laughing over the fear and confusion of the dwarves. Then one night their mood changed. Several goblins stormed into the city with anger sketched on every line of their faces.
Fedrick and a few others crowded around them and asked, “What happened?”
“The dwarves have been given protection by a group of meddling fairies!” was the reply. “It’s no use attacking dwarves now. The fairies have revived an ancient legend. Their mine is now guarded by a monster almost as bad as Serpina.”
“How dare the fairies get involved!” growled Fedrick. “We should make them sorry they ever left their forest!”
“Yeah!” agreed the other goblins. “How can we do it?”
“Maybe Serpina will help us. I have some experience with her. I’ll go to her new home and ask her about it.”
Continue to episode six.