The rainbow snake
see it take wing
and water fills the rivers and gullies
see it brings forth
and water fills the dry earth
see it brings forth
all life sleeping
Gwen opened her eyes.
The cobalt sky was so blue it hurt her eyes.
"Kalinda!" Old Tjupurrula was lying against a tree, his skin covered with dots and spirit that guided the lifeforce within his body, signifying his place as Singer for the tribe. "Go and sing, let the snake know."
Gwen moved her lithe and athletic figure over the red clay. She watched her long legs effortlessly cross the distance between her feet, space disappearing as though she was gliding. She raced across the scorching earth with her feet, barely touching the smouldering sand.
She entered a cavern, her bare skin glad to be resting on cold volcanic shale. The was a pool here, its waters crystal in clarity.
"Almudj! Almudj!" Gwen heard herself call out.
A serpentine head appears from the pool, formed almost entirely of crystalline water. It begins to materialise, becoming more distinct with each passing second. There was a flicker, a blink of an eye, and Gwen was looking upon the familiar face of the Rainbow Serpent, the very one she had encountered at the Royal National, in a cavern not too dissimilar from this one.
"O Almudj." Gwen felt herself kneel. She opened her arms and noted in the reflection that she was entirely naked, her skin wet with sweat that had soaked into the lines of spirit Glyphs adorning her bosoms, her stomach, her arms and thighs. Her face as well was crowded with Glyphs that allowed her to commune with the mother serpent.
The serpent's head floated closer; it's forked-tongue, as thick as her arm, flickering faster than her eyes could follow. When Almudj tasted her skin, she felt the coldness of its pink appendage taking in her scent, revelling in the warmth of her hot, sun-flushed flesh.
Gwen opened her arms, the serpent moving its head toward her. She pressed her body into the side of its enormous head, feeling its dry, warm scales that had the texture of fingernails, watching them shimmer and shine with a rainbow's hue.
"Kin!" A voice inside her head gave the scent of a brewing storm. "You are safe?"
"I am safe, Almudj," Gwen replied, in a voice that was her own and not her own.
"You are weak. You are hollow." There was the smell of rotting gum leaves after a summer squall.
"I missed you so much, Almudj." Gwen heard herself reply to a conversation that existed out of sync and out of time.
"I am alright," Gwen replied, but her dream persona said nothing. She was merely borrowing the memories of another.
"Usurpers come!" Gwen felt such disgust, as though thurst into the rotting mud of mangroves.
"Impossible, Tjupurrula said they could not come here! They couldn't get past the ley of the Dreaming!" Gwen's alter persona uttered with naive disbelief.
An explosion rocked the cavern, broken slabs of shattered shale to fall from the ceiling, peppering Gwen with shards of dagger-sharp fragments. A wayward stone sliced into her forehead, releasing an arterial spray of blood all over Almudj's shimmering scales.
Her glyphs of dreaming were despoiled by the blood, breaking the flow mana between each symbol. With the severing of her connection, Gwen felt as though ripped untimely from a womb.
There were figures of men and women in cowls— Mages, shouting incoherently at the cavern's mouth. Another spell rocked the cave; someone had altered the structure of the cavern's natural supports, and the roof began to collapse in earnest.
There was no pain, only a feeling of falling as darkness overwhelmed Gwen's alter-ego.
A sudden rage filled Gwen, a fury so primordial that she felt her skin split and the magma blood within flow out in molten chunks.
Outside, the ground split, the heavens roared, the earth shook.
Old Tjupurrula roared with laughter, even as the last of his life's blood flowed into the red earth.
Kapi Kapi Kapi
Almudj had awoken.
Almudj did not like strangers; it is known.
Almudj will attack strangers.
Yue and Elvia watched as Gwen's body suffuse with a viridescent shimmer, indicative of the atmospheric phenomenon they had just witnessed.
The Glyphs glowed as well as her body, nude but for the paint that provided questionable modesty. All she had attired was her underwear, her storage ring, and her nondescript jade necklace.
That and an ordinary necklace they had seen Gwen wore since the start of their senior year, only now, it was no longer mundane. The jade Kirin seemed to bath in the green stream of energy that shimmered over Gwen's body, glowing with a dim, benevolent light as it went about its mysterious function.
"That's positive energy, life force, Essence." Elvia did what she could to clarify the phenomenon.
Gwen moaned, her friendly watched without words as her body suffused with new life. With every pulse, Gwen's limbs grew supple, her breasts grew full, and her complexion regained some of its natural colour. Their friend was still anorexic and diminished, but at the very least, her health appears restored.
"Shit, if I knew you could get bigger tits just by getting a paint job and doing a nuddy dance, I'd be in my birthday suit in a second," Yue informed Elvia. "Evee, I think you just missed a once a lifetime opportunity."
Elvia placed a hand on her petite bosom. She certainly did not begin the day expect to go full frontal.
"How about that, huh, Gwen told me it was from her dad."
"Oi, she's waking up!" Yue pointed to Gwen as the sorceress stirred, pushing herself from the red sand.
Gwen was indeed waking up. She seemed disorientated though, for her bodily movements were gangly and awkward, more akin to a marionette.
"Almudj?" Old Goolagong performed a double-take. "That's impossible! Gwen's a migloo!"
The Spirit Walker had seen possessions before; it wasn't that uncommon. In her tribe, Spirit Walking was a good omen, demonstrating that the serpent liked a particular Singer. A possessed body meant that they had an opportunity to directly commune with Almudj, to plead a cause or to ask for a boon.
There was also another instance where Almudj possessed a Singer. That was when the tribe would be under attack, and the Spirit Speaker had to invoke the taboo request for the Mother Serpent to bring death upon her enemies. She was reminded of the old Yirriti saying, 'the Snake is proper cheeky. It will attack invaders. It will return the bodies of the invaders to the earth.'
Old Goolagong had never performed that dreaded rite before, but she knew an angry primordial spirit when she saw one.
"Baardanginy woort koorl! Woot koor!" She cried into the night, alerting her tribesmen, she then turned to the girls. "Run! Run as far as you can!"
As if to demonstrate her point, Goolagong herself scrambled on all fours, abandoning the girls as she dug her heels into the red dirt, fleeing faster than a whipped dingo.
The remaining two girls regarded one another.
"Did she say run away?" Yue asked puzzlingly.
Elvia never had a chance to reply, for she felt the sudden gathering of mana within Gwen. It wasn't the skin tingling electricity to which they were accustomed. What they felt now was something bigger, something far older, something that etched into the land and the sky.
"Run!" Elvia grabbed Yue and pulled her aside.
Gwen raised an arm and pointed her hand toward some distant target. The girls followed the vector of her long, elegant finger.
"Debora?!" Yue's eyes were so round as to be throbbing. "What the fuck did Debora do to Gwen?"
"Debbie!" Elvia's scream rang through the night, a piercing trill of nightingale lost in the dark distance. "RUN!"
"BARBANGINY!" Gwen called out to the heavens, and there was a distant thundering despite the clear, cloudless sky.
There was no commotion from Debora's tent.
"Shit!" Yue cried out, her chest filled with conflicted emotions. She didn't like Debora, she wanted her to go away, but she certainly didn't want Debora to die. "She's not going to make it!"
Elvia could do nothing either. She just hoped that whatever was happening, there would be enough of Debora left for her to heal.
A crash of thunder rolled across the sky, a tidal wave of sound that seemed to crack the heavens itself.
The gathering mob watched with horror as a blade of green lightning, scintillating and glowing with multi-coloured hues, ionised from thin air, as though send down from the Milky Way itself. It instantly struck downwards, towards the area where the girls had set their tents - where Debora was presumably still sullenly sleeping.
There was a pinpoint flash as the lightning connected, then an explosion.
A shockwave rippled through the epicentre, violently pushing away the red dirt in an expanding ring of dust.
Humpies became uprooted, boulders the size of human heads rolled. All vision became choked by dust and a reddish haze.
"Debora!" Yue expanded her Flame Barrier, her shield was a wet paper bag against pinpoint attacks, but she was at least capable of holding back a blast wave. Explosions were her bread and butter after all.
Elvia faired better beside her. She could generate a Shield of Faith, a self-replenishing shield spell that was composed primarily for those capable of channelling from the Positive Plane. The incantation served as an alternative for non-abjuration casters, having greater strength, resilience, and regeneration than the average Mage's shielding incantation. The cost was horrendous mana-drain.
Following the explosion, Gwen seemed to regain her senses. She reached behind her head and pulled out a shimmering something. Yue and Elvia observed Gwen falling to her knees, gasping and panting as the dust cloud roved over, swallowing the duo with a carpet of debris.
"Debbie!" She called out, forcing her body to move. "Yue! Elvia! Help Debora!"
Gwen had felt the last mote of life fade from her alter-ego, crushed by the fallen chunks of shale. She felt the anger of Almudj like a rising tide, like the tectonic movement of the earth. As a force of savage nature, Almudj burst forth from the cavern, its scales shimmering and refracting violently in the hot gold hush of noonday sun.
There were Mages - invaders and usurpers, fleeing before Almudj like ants, throwing ineffective spells that cascaded across its scales.
Almudj's rage reverberated, cascading towards every horizon. There was a glimmering hue of chartreuse and lime burning in the atmosphere, bright enough to be visible in the light of day, then a burst of Aurora Australis burst through the heavens.
An emerald storm swept the shuddering earth.
With the ejaculation of the first blast, she felt the consciousness of Almudj fall from her cognisance. For a moment there, she had taken on the skin of the serpent, felt its frustration and anger.
With the release of all that pent-up energy, she had shed that skin and regained her mind.
That was when she saw an emerald shard slash through the night and strike the area where the girls had their tents.
"Almudj, no!" She cried out, shock and horror overwhelming her in an instant. "Debora!"
"Invader!" A voice cried out within her mind, boiling with seething anger, the smell of bushfires thick and heavy as it spoke. "Usurper! Kill it!"
Even semi-conscious, Gwen instinctively knew what she had to do. She reached behind her neck and dug a finger into the scale embedded at the back of her neck. Both willing it to dislodge and gripping the gift with her fingers, she ripped the thing from her neck.
The disconnect came suddenly and violently. Gwen felt as though she had been severed from the world. At once, she fell from somewhere warm and filled with light into icy darkness.
In the distance, the thunderous fulmination landed.
As a lightning Mage, she knew how much power had gone into that blast. It far exceeded her capabilities; it was a force of nature, not conjured from the Elemental Plane of Lightning - it was a manifestation of old creation when the land was young.
"Debbie!" She called out, forcing her body to move. "Yue! Elvia! Help Debora!"
By the time the girls had gotten to the site, there was nought but a smouldering crater two metres wide and half a meter deep. The sand and silica beneath had already become glass, mangled and hideously molten.
The camp was gone.
The tents were vaporised, shredded, torn to smithereens.
"Fuck!" Yue uttered in disbelief. "What the fuck just happened?"
"Gwen?" Elvia approached, lowering her shield. "What happened to Debbie?"
Gwen couldn't answer her friends, not coherently, not at this moment. She still couldn't believe what had just occurred.
Did she attack Debora? Had she called that lightning?
No, that was not Gwen. That was Almudj.
Yet, it was Gwen who was accountable nonetheless. She had taken the girls here. She had wanted to speak to the Spirit Speaker. She was the one who endangered them.
And now Debora was dead? Just like that?
Gwen felt a chilling wind freezing her all over despite the shimmering heat still hanging over the air. She was sticky with the cold sweat of disbelief. She wanted to rewind the moment, to redo and reload the last minutes of her surreal reality.
She dug her hands into the earth, still hot with the bombastic energies of the blast.
"Debbie—" Gwen began to wail. "I am sorry, I am so sorry—"
"Fuck!" Yue couldn't believe her eyes either. Did Gwen just blast Debora to kingdom come? Did her friend just murder their non-mutual friend in cold blood? For what reason?
"Gwen…" Elvia's tears were bubbling from her luminous blue eyes, falling over her face like a string of pearls. It had happened all too fast for her to comprehend rationally, but she understood the immensity of the traumatic moment with dreaded clarity. "Debbie…"
"Jesus Christ!" A voice exclaimed behind them, ascending from a lower section of the plateau, "What the hell happened here?"
"Debbie died!" Elvia's words escaped her quivering mouth before her eyes could accurately register who she was seeing.
Debora was dripping wet from head to toe, on now her toned silhouette was covered with a layer of red dust that plastered to her skin like clay.
"I died? That's news to me," Debora answered, water dripping from her face. "I was taking a dip at the billabong there, and there was this sweet Aurora, then a huge blast shook the camp so I came as quickly as I could."
Yue regarded Debora with mixed feelings. She had to admit when it came to it; she preferred Debbie alive and Gwen un-traumatised.
The girls turned to regard Gwen, who was striking the earth and bawling her eyes out, howling incoherent cries of grief toward the heavens.
"Debbie!" Gwen screamed with a pitch that struck their ears with a ringing tinnitus.
Good—God! Gwen exhaled. She had never felt so exhilarated to see someone so alive and well. Leaping from her kneeling position, she ran towards Debora, arms and legs akimbo.
Yue and Elvia watched Gwen embrace Debora bodily, hugging her so hard as to press her own body onto Debora's.
"What's happening?" Debora still seemed to be somewhat confused. She looked as though she was about to protest Gwen's motives with a little teasing. Then Gwen pulled Debora close and squeezed the words out of her lungs.
Gwen violently kissed Debora's still wet forehead.
"Whoa, hello!" Debora struggled to break free, grappling against the softness of Gwen's unexpected gift.
Gwen pulled herself back, wiping tears from her face.
"See, I told you guys you shouldn't be doing primitive magic with these people." Debora placed a hand on her waist and struck out her hip critically. "Look at Gwen. She's butt naked crazy."
Then Debora's jaws fell through the floor. She just realised that beneath all that body paint, Gwen was in fact in a state of complete undress, her modesty preserved by nought but the meagrest layer of cotton.
Without resistance, Debora leaned in for another hug, resting chin on Gwen's shoulders, smeared Gwen's paint across her face.
Yue and Elvia felt a tingle of awkward discomfort.
Elvia watched Debora's arms fold arch over Gwen's perky buttocks and wrap around her narrow waist. She didn't like that Debora was taking such liberties just because she almost died. After all, she didn't even get injured; it was all a misunderstanding.
"So what the hell happened?" Yue was more interested in why Gwen had suddenly turned a green and psychotic.
The rest of the village was now returning to the fold. From the expressions of shock and fury, they did not take to Gwen's actions to mean well. Gwen had disrupted a consecrated ritual. The corroboree was the sacred rite of the land, its rules and history, its stories and its legends. Now, these migloo magicians had once again destroyed their home, disrupted their camps, interrupted their Dreaming. Without the corroboree, the bora ring, the encampment would be prone to invasion by the evil spirits of the night. They would find no peace, only more displacement and uncertainty in the Green Zone.
The girls backed away from the gathering mob, now seething with a wave of dark anger/
"I think we better get the hell out of here." Gwen heard Yue mutter beside her. "Are the horses still alive?"
"Tommy?" Gwen incanted into a short-range Message spell. "Tommy, are you safe? Loudly whistle if you are!"
There was a loud whistle from not far.
"Whistle twice if the horses are alright. Otherwise, we're leaving on foot!"
There were two shrill whistles.
"Alright, to Tommy!" Gwen grabbed Elvia, and the group began to make their way towards the edge of the forest escapement. The tribe silently glared as they escaped, but choose not to pursue in fear of retribution from the migloo Mages.
Gwen summoned some visibility once the girls were a safe distance away from the now destroyed campsite. Tommy soon reached their sides with the horses.
To their surprise, Old Goolagong was with him.
"What… what happened?" Gwen questioned the old Spirit Speaker as soon they were close enough to speak. "I felt the serpent take over my mind for a second. It was so angry, so overwhelmed with grief."
Old Goolagong shook her head.
"Can you tell Old Goolagong what you saw in the Dreaming?"
Gwen materialised the serpent's scale in her hand. She had stowed it in her ring after the incident. She couldn't just dispose of it, after all, this was three months of Opa's work, even if it did bring on something that had overwhelmed her ego briefly. Again Almudj, her mind was a gum leaf caught within a whirlpool, bore away into the vast psyche of a being far older than herself.
"Missus Boss," Tommy intoned with the utmost respect, his eyes bulging from their sockets and his dark face several shades redder. He licked his cracked lips respectfully, taking in the moment as best as he could, burning it into his memory. "Would you like Tommy to lend you a shirt? I know it's hot, but you butt naked, your migloo skin def get burnt come sunrise."
Gwen spun and ran a distance before materialising a pair of shirt and shorts, slipping into them with haste, heedless of her grimy body paint. She returned with a face smeared with faint hues and rubbings, her white shirt a technicolour of earth.
"I saw… Kalinda? Someone— was called Old Tjupurrula? They were in a cavern. I think Tjupurrula was tired. He was resting outside. Kalinda went into the cavern. There was a pool, Almudj came, then there was an explosion. Mages came, they collapsed the cavern, then Almudj was angry as Kalinda died…"
Gwen blurted out the entire ordeal without pausing for breath. She too wanted to know what the hell just happened. Old Goolagong didn't seem to have the answers she was looking for; she was instead as cryptic and mythical as ever.
"Almudj will attack strangers," she replied. "It knows a usurper when it sees one."
Goolagong turned to regard Debora.
"Oi, fuck off with your Necromancy," Debora snapped back. The girls sensed earthen mana channelling through her as the sand around them began to swirl. "This old bitch is trying to blame it on me now, Gwen, she's trying to blame her dodgy magic on you. I told you they couldn't be trusted."
Gwen placed herself between Debora and Goolagong.
"Debbie, calm down, please."
"No, this has gone on long enough. I am sick and tired of this bullshit. If you want me to leave this old witch alone, promise me we're leaving right now. We're going back to civilisation and leaving these savages to their own miserable fucking lives."
"Alright, Debs," Gwen promised with a sigh. "We're leaving."
"I am sorry, Goolagong, I don't blame you. Please forgive us for ruining your encampment and disrupting the corroboree."
Old Goolagong glared at Debora but spoke instead to Tommy.
"Tommy, take care of the guests, take them home," she commanded, turning to Gwen. "Thank you, Gwen, who sings of Almudj, remember that Almudj is your friend, it is kin, not enemy."
Goolagong had stressed her final word.
Debora looked as though she was about to launch a catapult spell towards the old Spirit Speaker.
They watched Old Goolagong disappear over the hill.
"Good riddance," Debora spat distastefully.
Tommy said nothing. Gwen didn't blame the young man. It was how Mages treated NoMs, not to mention people from the Wildlands.
"This way Missus Mages, we need plenty of lights for night travelling. We make for highway, maybe get picked up from there, faster."
"Alright, Tommy." Gwen touched her face, feeling the caked dirt in the fine sediment of the red earth. "Let's go home."
She still had the New Years party to deal with, the monster that was her mother to be slain. Her mare gave its harness bells a shake, for there were many miles to go.