Vipers in the Frost (fiction)

Another quick bit of fiction. I do hope you like it! Now I have to finally go back to polishing the novel. Catch you later!

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With a quaking hand he held out the flintlock, knowing it was his one chance for revenge.

Bellem’s boots crunched snow as he stepped inside the abandoned estate, each footfall announcing his presence. Sunlight shot through broken windows on the rotunda’s other side, threading the chamber’s air and catching stray flakes like airborne diamonds.

The witch had to be here somewhere, but where were her footprints?

Icicles hung by the hundreds from the metal fountain in the room’s center, from railings and staircases. Bellem tiptoed around a flow of ice spilling out under another broken window like a giant white tongue.

He tried to not think about Danlec’s corpse outside. The old elf had died shuddering in his pale skin, the snow drinking blood as if to absorb his life and color.

Turning his anger toward steadying his grip on the gun, he knew she was probably watching him now. She must have used a spell to hide her tracks, concealing herself like the coward she was.

“Dryandra! Come on out, Dryandra!” The ruined mansion echoed his demand back to him. She couldn’t be gone. The witch had disappeared into the mansion only a few minutes before.

Icicles started to drip, each new jewel of liquid water boring a tunnel into the shadowed gray snow. But he was still chattering and frozen to his marrow, his breath sending ghosts into the frigid air. The stalactites each seemed to have an off-white core. Something more than ice was hanging from the fountain and rails.

A new chill sank into Bellem’s backbone, deeper and more painful than anything winter in this godsforsaken country had inflicted on him and Danlec. He knew what Dryandra was doing.

Thin, white-scaled bodies unlatched their jaws and dropped into the slush beneath. Snakes. Hundreds and hundreds of serpents glided over the fountain’s frozen-over basin and trickled down staircases, contorting like sidewinders when lifting their bodies off the desert sands.

Stenyran vipers. Uniquely suited to the cold, they’d hibernate while hiding from predators by hanging off of tree branches and letting ice form over their scales. Something in their blood kept them from freezing solid as they were sealed off from the world.

Bellem had stumbled right into a den of creatures whose venom could kill five grown men with every bite. Dryandra must have cast a heating spell on their icy cocoons and woken them up early.

The snakes all closed in on Bellem, a writhing living barrier between him and the doorway outside. He was trapped inside the mansion, and in order to fully wake up every one of the reptiles needed a heat source. Like him. They glared at him with yellow eyes like sparks in the reflected sun, throwing their black forked tongues at him.

All he had was the flintlock’s solitary shot, meant for the witch who killed his best friend.

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