Serpent Daughter – Snippet 07

“Then we must go to Philadelphia, and perfect the world.”

Chapter Two

Sarah looked upon the veil of her goddess’s temple and saw.

She looked from the inside, a vantage point she had held for weeks. She sat on the goddess’s Serpent Throne, with its seven lamps — through Sarah’s Eye of Eden, they appeared as seven salamanders, or the seven visible planets — or she stood before the veil. The throne sustained Sarah. She slept on it, and awoke mostly rested. She reclined on it, and did not hunger. Though her only exercise was to stand before the veil and gaze upon it, or pace the few steps it took to cross the goddess’s sanctum in any direction, her body did not wither.

She hadn’t left the sanctum for weeks, not since the day she had successfully ascended through magical, sacred space to take the Serpent Throne, as her father never had, during an Imperial siege of her father’s city, Cahokia.

She itched to get out, to breathe fresh air and feel warm sunshine on her skin, but she was afraid she might not be able to leave. Before the ascent, the magic Sarah had worked in the short months since leaving her childhood home in Appalachee had left her stretched and exhausted, unable to sleep anywhere but in the goddess’s temple, and from time to time even bleeding.

She found respite on the throne, but the throne didn’t heal her.

You cannot escape me.

She was also afraid of the door in the corner of the sanctum. It was framed by pillars that looked like vine-wrapped tree trunks, with a gnarled vine-like lintel across the top. With its vegetable stylings, the door resembled the front entrance of the goddess’s home, the Temple of the Sun, but through the door lay darkness that Sarah’s eye could not penetrate, and from the door came distant screaming, and from time to time, a voice like the piercing cry of a hunting bird.

The priestesses who tended to Sarah could not see the door, and they did not hear the voices.

You and I are bound. And I shall be master.

She hadn’t heard the voice immediately upon her ascent to the Serpent Throne, but it had come to her in the days shortly after. It was the voice of Simon Sword. Whether it was the Heron King himself speaking, or some echo from her own mind, or something else still, was a question Sarah wasn’t sure she could answer.

Sarah ignored the voice and gazed upon the veil. Since the blow of a clay-made Mocker had dislodged from her eye socket the acorn by which her father had transmitted to her mother his dying blood, allowing her to conceive three children, Sarah had had gifts of vision. She saw ley lines and could both draw mana from them and transmit her vision along them. Since the land’s great rivers, the Mississippi and the Ohio and the Missouri and the others, were all mighty ley channels, Sarah by her own power had a wide-ranging view of the Ohio Valley.

The veil let her see farther.

What she saw looked something like the magic lantern she had seen in a Nashville tent show as a child. Despite the name, the lantern had nothing of gramarye or hexing about it; in a dark tent, a man calling himself the “projectionist” had charged two pennies a head and talked up the marvels of what he was about to display until he had packed his tent, children (including Sarah) sitting on the dirt up front, then those willing to pay an extra penny sitting on two rows of folding wooden chairs, and then everyone else standing behind. The projectionist himself had stood at a wooden box on three metal legs, with a steel snout poking out the front, and a rotating steel cylinder in the middle, and at the back a powerful mirrored light. The “magic lantern” had cast still, colored images onto a hanging white sheet: angels, bogies, romantic vistas.

But those images had been still. The images Sarah saw on the veil moved, shadows that seemed to be cast by the throne’s salamanders. By force of will, she could find places she knew, and people she had connection with, and observe them. Instinctively, though it didn’t seem necessary, she moved her hands in front of her face as she watched, gripping images to draw them closer to herself or push them farther away, and sliding images from side to side and up and down as she sought the visions she wanted.

From the towers of my land, you can see the entire world.

“You ain’t got no land!” Sarah snapped. “You’re a usurper and a thief!”

I am the truest king there could be. I am inevitable. I am the one who always returns, by right as well as by nature. My people all welcomed me. Did yours welcome you?

“The goddess chose me!” Sarah barked. The words cost her physical effort, but they silenced the voice that cried through the door, at least for a time.

She had tried her arcane arts to shut the portal, and to stifle the sounds, and had failed to accomplish either.

With the veil, she could see, if not the world, then at least the empire. And Sarah didn’t need to look for people and places within Cahokia’s Treewall. Instead, she felt and heard and saw Cahokia, all at once, all the time. She experienced the city of the goddess. She was the city, and knew herself. The veil was how she looked outward.

Knowledge and vision flowed through her constantly.

She looked for her brother and sister most often. All three of them had been raised separately as foster children, unaware that their mother was Mad Hannah Penn, the empress sequestered by her brother Thomas Penn on the grounds of insanity, and their father was Kyres Elytharias, the Lion of Missouri, the wizard-king of Cahokia, greatest of the Moundbuilder kingdoms of the Ohio, or, as Sarah had learned to call them, the Seven Sister Kingdoms. Only when Thomas had learned of the existence of the three children and set out to kill them had Sarah discovered her identity, and then helped rescue and unite her siblings.

As she had many times before, Sarah watched the images of Nathaniel and Margaret, tramping along a muddy forest track, and wished the veil allowed her to see across time as well. She longed to see her mother and father before death had divided them, her brother as a foster child called Nathaniel Chapel in the care of the Earl of Johnsland, her sister as Margarida, the ward of the smuggler and pirate, Montserrat Ferrer i Quintana.

Sarah followed the line of the trail they were walking and frowned. Where were Nathaniel and Margaret going? Thomas wished all three of them dead, so Sarah wanted Nathaniel and Margaret to join her in Cahokia. Cahokia was not safe for them — no place was safe for them — but it must surely be one of the least dangerous places they could be.

Instead, Sarah’s sister and brother followed a path that joined larger and larger trails, flowing toward Philadelphia. Once their mother’s capital, now Thomas’s. She must reach out and urge them to take a better road.

Sarah and Nathaniel communicated easily across distance. As she had a gift of sight, bestowed by her father’s acorn in her eye, he had a gift of hearing, acquired from an acorn that had been wrapped inside one furled ear at birth. The voices young Nathaniel heard had left him fragile and shattered until, with the aid of an Ojibwe visionary guided by his personal spirit, Nathaniel had been healed. Sarah did not fully understand how that had happened, but Nathaniel was able to enter the realm of spirits, and had the ability to speak with some spirits of the dead. Of the dead who stayed closed to this earth, perhaps.

Also, when Sarah wanted him to hear her, he could.