V Kariman Venom

Dr. Olivia Octavius

Evil Bill Nye
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Mesa Roja
Against the oily post-sunset backdrop of the desert horizon, a tiny flicker of orange denotes the location of a meager campsite.

Nestled into the scooped-out side of a towering mound of rock that has been worn away by Mesa Roja’s abrasive, sandy winds, the camp appears abandoned at first glance. But, the tent’s flaps are torn wide open, revealing a simple bedroll and several stacks of frayed notebooks stuffed haphazardly under a loose cotton blanket; signs of life, even if the tent’s occupant is not present at the moment. A fire is crackling in the camp’s middle in restless, smoky spurts, the black dregs of logs dampened by the cool night air and fading fast like a candle slowly eating away at its wick.

With great care and steps light as a domestic cat’s, a large shadow slips soundlessly inside the camp’s invisible bounds. The fire’s light just barely reaches the shade’s skin, soft yellow light revealing a long-bodied, four-legged creature covered in a leathery gray hide, with lighter patches of coloring over its underbelly. It is feline in shape, muscular, with strong hind legs and big paws, perfectly built for leaping and tackling prey. The creature’s big yellow eyes shine dimly as the firelight reflects in them, unblinking and focused pointedly forward as they strain to detect movement, slitted pupils narrowing further on reflex.

This beast is a Le-matya, a venomous demon of the desert. And it is hunting.

The Le-matya crosses over to the open tent, its large padded feet allowing it to walk over the ground quietly, widespread toes scarcely disturbing a single grain of sand as it draws near. It snuffles over the tent’s contents, front feet shifting and obsidian-colored claws digging restlessly at the blankets, easily sensing the warm traces of heat remaining.

Traces of prey, the creature knows, a subvocal growl chittering out from its diaphragm in its excitement. But, the prey is not here. Where is it?

Growing more agitated, the Le-matya turns sharply, long yellow-striped tail flicking angrily in the air and the excited chitter tapering off into a long, venomous hiss. The firelight streaks along the side of its sinewy body, the athletic points of its shoulders, further denoting the battered armor of its scales. As the creature hunches over to sniff at the metallic coffee percolator perched by the fire, diamond-shaped plates that line the curve of its spine are illuminated in stark detail, its entire hide colored with subtle earth tones similar to the rocky outcroppings commonly found in the desert.

Abruptly, the Le-matya freezes while still caught in a crouched position. Its sharply-pointed caracal ears swivel and turn, perfectly erect and alert. Listening.

Without a sound, the Le-matya begins to swiftly crawl backward, belly low to the ground. Resting on its forearms with its paws tucked under its chin, the reptilian feline settles into position just within the camp’s bounds, the night cloaking its frame in easily overlooked tones of gray.

It stares, rapt, at some unobservable point in the dark, lidless eyes only faintly reflecting the dying embers of the fire… and is still staring as a pink-skinned monkey spills into the camp from the dark, limbs flapping about as if it is trying to draw the Le-matya’s attention.

Strangely, this pink animal is walking upright on its hind legs-- though this is not the first creature of its kind the Le-matya has hunted, the predator realizes. The underlying scent of exhaustion and salty sweat flares around it in a wave of delectable heat as it moves, dampened by water from the nearby oasis.

Studying its prey for a moment, the reptilian predator watches as the biped twists its shaggy brown mane between its paws, forcing moisture out of it and letting the droplets get sucked into the parched sands below. How wasteful! The monkey is also dressed in several strange-looking pelts, but the Le-matya knows that this is typical of its kind. It knows, but does not understand; perhaps they don these pelts to protect their soft, defenseless hides from the harsh sun? What’s more, the pelts never smell as if they have come from a kill, always painted in thick swathes of floral scent like the flowering cacti sometimes found in the desert, sickly sweet and irritating to the Le-matya’s refined snout.

All of this is of no import, of course. The Le-matya stares flatly as the biped bustles around the camp, the smaller, more colorful pelts wrapped around its throat rustling as it performs some strange series of movements, prancing merrily around the campfire. Even more puzzlingly, the monkey is making odd noises under its breath, seemingly to itself as there are no others of its kind nearby. The sounds are repetitive, musical, even though there is no litter of young to soothe and entertain. They seem to emanate most prominently from the biped’s nasal passages, rising and falling in pitch in a way that grates on the predator’s eardrums.

Ideally, it will quickly latch onto the biped’s skull with its teeth and crush the bones of its face, fatally obstructing its means for breathing before it can do much to fight back… with the added benefit of quashing the obnoxious noises it is making.

“YO, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really-really want,
So tell me what you want, what you really-really want-”


Subvocalizing a growl as it tracks the monkey’s erratic movements, the Le-matya readies itself to pounce.

“I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna-
I wanna really-really-really wanna zigazig- AH!


The biped whirls around, mouth open to continue its bird-chirping, just as the reptile’s venom-laced claws are mere inches away from sinking into the soft flesh of its face. It screeches in terror, the whites of its eyes flashing from fear, and that is when a strong tube-shaped appendage slams into the Le-matya’s side like a freight train, sending it caterwauling backward through the air.

Yowling angrily, it rolls to its feet in a fluid ripple of muscle, gums peeled back from its hooked fangs in a snarl, legs spread wide and poised to lunge again.

Its prey snarls back with pathetically flat, slightly crooked herbivore teeth, damp brown hair frizzing up as the chilly desert night dries it. The ill-fitting white pelt lays discarded upon the ground, revealing a tougher, greenish-black hide underneath. Four long arms arch out from the prey’s back like a spider’s legs, semi-translucent and casting jagged shadows across the rock face at its back.

Never in its life has the Le-matya seen something such as this. Understandably, it backs up a pace, emitting a confused chirp as it warily attempts to keep track of the prey’s extra appendages as they twitch and frisk at the air.

The prey’s greenish eyes widen, head canting to the side in curiosity.

“Aw, aren’t you a sweet kitty,” the biped croons, hedging closer. “And just look at those fangs… like a rattlesnake’s! I bet you have a pair of lovely venom glands on you, too…”

This creature is foolish, the Le-matya realizes. Possibly mad, or maybe it was just partially crushed by its mother while nursing. Unfortunately, the predator no longer has time to contemplate this as the biped’s distended limbs appear to… lift its body and propel it across the sand in a flash of movement, feet no longer touching the ground as it flies forward.

Reacting on instinct, the Le-matya rears back on its hind legs and surges forward in kind, angling its body sideways to lash out and tear the transparent arms to bloody shreds with its claws. This backfires spectacularly as one of the arms latches onto the Le-matya’s right foreleg with enough force to grind the carpal bones painfully together, eliciting a raw howl of pain from the reptilian beast as it thrashes violently around, jerking like a fish snagged by a hook.

Before the creature can do much with its remaining three legs, another tentacle arm seals around its throat, clenching tightly until the reptile is struggling to take in air. The arm forcefully increases pressure, tightening, tightening, tightening...

As consciousness fades into a dizzy, numb black, the Le-matya hears its prey-turned-predator murmur something to itself, hardly audible over the roaring of the blood trapped inside its skull.

“Now, let’s see about that extraction...”
 

Dr. Olivia Octavius

Evil Bill Nye
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Mesa Roja
The unconscious body of the Le-matya hits the sand with a hefty thud, dense like the sound a sack of potatoes might make when dropped from a second-story window.

For a long moment, Liv stares down at the discarded Le-matya with narrowed eyes, scarcely daring to breathe lest the scaly beast wake and slice her belly open with its venom-laced claws. The heat of the sand around her is barely noticeable as the cooler nighttime air settles; a drop of sweat trickles down her back, right between her shoulder blades, and the hairs at the nape of her neck stand on end in anticipation of a fight.

When the creature remains still and seems as good as dead, a peal of cackling, manic laughter rings out, bouncing off from the natural slope surrounding Liv’s campsite. In this deathly silent part of Mesa Roja, her brief victory echoes with the same eerie sharpness a hyena’s laugh might have in the middle of a barren savannah.

The corners of her eyes crinkling in relief, Liv allows herself to relax, the mechanized appendages linked to her spine wilting. She grins crookedly. So, she’s not so bad at this hunting thing, after all. What a stroke of luck, too, that the Le-matya ventured right into her camp, though it had been alarming to discover it there....

Her smile fades, replaced by an irritated grimace. It’s absurd!— positively insulting that she’s been diminished to gritty work such as this. Her, a brilliant scientist! But, needs must, especially in a dry place like this. A trader in Karim has offered her a deal, after all; a vial of Le-matya venom, hand-delivered in exchange for information on rumored hidden caches of technology out in the furthest reaches of the badlands. Even if the desert is hot, the sand is coarse, and her skin feels as if it will be permanently caked in grime, she wants that information. Demeaning as this disgusting little fetch quest is, she refuses to be dissuaded from her goal.

With that thought at the forefront of her mind, Liv flexes her gloved hands and looks speculatively down at the Le-matya. It is imperative that she get to work at once. She doesn’t want to spend a second longer in this hellscape than she already has.

And, well. How hard could extracting venom from a highly dangerous desert beast be, with absolutely zero experience aside from a brief glance in A Compendium of Desert-dwelling Beasts & Their Increasingly Baffling Anatomy she'd purchased in Karim, anyway?

Very hard, as it turns out. Sweet Shirley Ann Jackson. Being a word class physicist does not, as it turns out, grant one an immediate talent for herpetology.

It starts out simple, of course, seeing as all she had to do was retrieve a glass vial from her bag, strap a small section of latex over the top, and make a rudimentary cap by tying it off with a rubber band. Child’s play; just like what little kids fashion to trap fireflies in, sealing off a jar with easily-pierced materials and all. Easy as attempting to breach the fundamental laws of nature via various finicky and outrageously flammable technological elements.

She cautiously approaches the animal, but the Le-matya’s breathing is regular, even, as if it is only asleep. This close, she can see the bumpy skin that lines the angular arch of its forehead, take in the almost feline features-- once twisted with feral hunger-- now gone utterly slack.

Liv reaches out. One gloved hand turns the animal’s head to the side, her brow pinching in concentration as she feels along the sharp ridge of the Le-matya’s jaw, her touch questing from inexperience, but nonetheless insistent.

Her hand stills when she finds what she’s looking for: a fleshy lump of tissue just under the rough hide. The venom gland. Readying her trusty glass vial, Liv smiles a bit. Yes, this isn’t difficult at all.

This relative success finds her twenty minutes later, struggling to eke out the tiniest streams of venom from the Le-matya’s wickedly curved fangs. The stupid thing is slumped in her lap, its massive and heavy head resting firmly across her legs. She has the beast’s jaws pried open with a gloved hand, one fang sticking in a jagged tear through the latex as she tries to keep the rest of its body from following the skull and slumping forward too much and knocking her over. The other hand firmly massages the top of the animal’s flat skull, trying to encourage just a little drop.

The creature purrs, rolling in its sleep and drooling all over her elbow-length gloves and costumed legs in the process. Sighing in frustration, Liv reaches down to thumb at the Le-matya’s venom gland somewhere between the back of its jaw bone and strange-looking caracal ears. Slowly but surely, a thin stream of clear fluid appears, pooling at the bottom of the glass vial.

“Finally,” she mutters, already feeling impatient at her slow progress. The venom drip, drip, drips down the side of the glass… and abruptly stops, the former font of toxins seemingly running dry. “Fffff-fiddlesticks.”

Of course her plans could never run so smoothly. This is just a part of her… consistently charmed life. Nevermind that she’s been at this for the past half hour or so.

Fixing her goggles with a little more force than necessary, Liv reaches for a slender pocket on the side of her skin-tight costume. The syringe she brings out glints in the orangish-red light of her meager campfire, the thin needle flashing dangerously as she edges it nearer and nearer to the Le-matya’s skin.

With as much delicacy as she can muster, Liv punches the needle through its thick and scaly hide. A short hiss rumbles from the reptilian creature’s throat as she breaks the skin, its tail flicking upward like an agitated whip before beating out a quick thump-thump-thump against the sand.

Counting down from six, Liv looks between the syringe’s slow progress and the big paws nestled on either side of her legs, the Le-matya’s black claws clenching and unclenching from the desert sand in time with her counting.

Five…

Four…

Three…

Two…
 

Dr. Olivia Octavius

Evil Bill Nye
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Mesa Roja
Karim. Noontime. Hundreds of the city’s people roam the streets, and hundreds more stroll across the bridge-covered canals. The sun melts across the distant horizon, oozing warmth from the south. The dry desert air carries a slight breeze: it is a good day to venture into the markets.

Inside a gloomy drinking den high above one of the city’s bustling open-air markets, snotty noblemen with funny accents sit at tables, discussing business, power struggles, and family bonds in small pockets of conversation. The room about them is accented with brass and leathers that gleam, ornate rugs darkening the space and plush chairs strewn with furs of sable; the smell of burning incense fills the air.

This ostentatious lounge opens up onto a terrace that overlooks a vast, manicured water garden. Pearly koi swim like living watercolor in the shallows as rosy spoonbills stride through the bulrushes, long legs tracing through the water as they are lured by the ghostly shadows of fish beneath the surface. Vines and flowering plants climb the trellised walls surrounding the palatial garden like fine green lace, marbled stone keeping the outside world distant. Mysteriously, the sound of flute music floats up from the clear pools, no clear source visible...

All is cosy and dim, the sound of the street below and the bubbling of water creating a steady lull of noise. The murmur of voices is low, the merchants enjoying an evening shisha and sipping from cups of sharp Karak chai— liberal droplets of milk softening the fiery spice of the drink.

The sleepy atmosphere of the den is momentarily disturbed as the door leading out onto the street creaks open on ungreased hinges, the shouts and shrieks of children bleeding in from the market to create a cornucopia of sounds, smells, and tastes. Hawkers in the street attempt to sell bitter sash-savas fruit, new weaponry imported from Opealon, and all manners of rare finds from reclusive settlements out in the distant sands. Oddities and valuables, mostly: iPhones, caramel macchiatos, edible flowers... there’s some great pad thai down in a corner stall...

Fortunately, the door swiftly closes, and relative silence returns as the patrons of the establishment breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Turning back from glaring at the entryway, a reddish-scaled Argonian huffs and returns to his tea. With fearsome ram-like horns arching out from the crown of his head, he would seem to be all muscle and burliness— that is, were it not for the papered accounts littered generously across the table before him, and the steady hand with which he meticulously scratches notes into the columns.

The Argonian accountant fiddles with the pair of reader’s glasses hanging from a beaded chain at his throat, his mouth set in a grim line as he surveys his work. His white button down shirt and rich green vest (done up with a beautifully whimsical paisley pattern, very expensive, yes) are speckled with crumbs from his noontime tea, the plate of biscuits hidden somewhere in the papers covering his table. Pinned to his breast and glinting in the faint light is a golden nameplate. It reads, rather simply, Hakkasan.

Hakkasan sighs, rubbing at his eyes and sparing a lingering glance at the clock on the wall. He takes a long sip of his tea, relishing the strong burn of saffron and charmadon, the way the spices tickle the gills lining his throat—

And promptly chokes on it as a glass vial is slammed on the table in front of him with some force, the clear fluid inside swishing around. Recovering his wits and wheezing for breath, Hakkasan glances up and nearly leaps out of his scaly skin upon seeing the culprit.

Oh, his entire demeanor says. Oh, I hadn’t expected you to be back so soon.

A wizard arrives exactly when she means to,
Doctor Octavius’s face seems to offer up in rejoinder, a fiendishly gleeful gleam in her eyes.

Her wild brown hair is littered with debris, her once-pristine white lab coat covered with enough reddish dust to indicate at least a day’s hike across the wilds of Mesa Roja. Her smile, however, is wide and crookedly sharp.

Hakkasan clears his throat.

“Doctor,” he blurts, eyes still a bit wide, and struggles to clear his throat again. A table over, several card-playing merchants tense at the nervous note in his voice.

“I’ve acquired your Le-matya venom,” Octavius says, clasping her hands in front of her. “The animal was gorgeous, though I didn’t expect to be ambushed right in the middle of my campsite. But what can you do, eh? ...I expect that I will be recompensed for my troubles?”

Slowly, Hakkasan takes in the woman’s face-- the gleaming eyes, dorky smile on her face, and total lack of weaponry-- and thinks, What a nerd. Her clothing only makes it worse, the light fabric weighted down with grit and red desert sand.

The Argonian tosses his head back and laughs, white teeth flashing.

Once he recovers, he splutters a bit, and incredulously picks up the vial so that he might inspect it closer. “You expect me to believe that you have the precious venom of the Le-matya? You? Please, no more jokes. This is sugar water, yes?”

Octavius gives him a tight-lipped smile, shaking her head. “No joke, no joke. It’s real.”

But Hakkasan is already nodding his head, seeming to understand fully. Obviously, this meek little scientist had help. “Ah, so you hired some mercenary to take care of the beast for you! Heh, clever. I would have done the same. Bring this warrior here, so that I might pay them in full.”

“Very funny,” says Octavius. Her smile is gone, now. “No, I didn’t hire anyone. I subdued the creature, alone. I extracted the venom. The evidence is right there before your eyes. Provide me with payment for this service I’ve rendered you.”

Hakkasan narrows his reptilian eyes, looks at the vial in his hand. He rolls it in his palm, inspecting the strangely opalescent fluid inside more closely. Oh, yes. He recognizes this substance, now. This venom is very real, indeed.

His gaze cuts quickly to the far wall, eyeing one of the armed guards leaning against it. The guard catches his eye, nods infinitesimally, and Hakkasan glances back at the now quite impatient human woman. He grins, showing his sharp teeth, and gestures to the chair across from him.

“Please. Have a seat, doctor.”

The woman blinks, eyes narrowing behind the octagon-shaped lenses of her glasses. Judging by the thickness of them and the way she occasionally rubbed at her eyes during their previous meeting, Hakksan has assumed she must have difficulty seeing, and is probably near-sighted. But that doesn’t mean she misses the fact that every being in this room has a weapon, sickles and swords and spears bristling. She knows just as well as he does that, if she were to do anything drastic, she’d be dead in an instant.

After glancing around and taking in the Argonian’s least-threatening “I won’t bite” expression, Octavius seats herself. And… promptly helps herself to Hakkasan’s very fine, very delicate tea set.

Blind as a bat or no, she certainly doesn’t overlook the way Hakkasan’s expression tightens, judging by the small tug of a smirk at the corner of her mouth. The human woman seems to recall herself soon enough, however, and resumes glaring at him as she pours herself a cup with much more force than necessary, the bone white china clattering in a way that is painful to his ears.

“I won’t fall for any of your tricks, Hakkasan. I’ve completed your ridiculous fetch quest. Give me what I came to you for,” she hisses, menace illuminated by the grit of her teeth and the narrowness of her eyes.

“I wouldn’t imagine so,” Hakkasan replies. Maintaining his composure is of the utmost importance here, but Hakkasan is nothing if not a creature of spite. He knows that he really, really shouldn’t, but it’s hard not to keep smiling, knowing that it will continue to irritate this… unconventional business partner of his.

Still, the woman frowns harder at him, so he elects to… as the humans say… ‘turn on the charm.’

“Yes, I know you’re much too smart for any tricks, Octavius. But, if you would pay me that same courtesy…” he raises his eyebrows meaningfully, glancing down at the table between them, the space below.

Her face is half-lit only by the light streaming in through the slatted windows, eyes a vicious, heinously-gleaming green, but her entire demeanour switches at his words. Clearly discomfited, Octavius sighs as the mechanical arm that had been poised to strike at him beneath the table slithers back to her side. At another look, she sighs louder, her entire collection of arms unspooling from her back with an artificial hiss, lab coat now discarded, the strange appendages bracketing around her seated form like a throne.

She finally sips at her tea, holding onto the saucer with her real hands as one mechanized arm detaches from the bunch to bring the cup to her lips. This gains them additional wary glances from the tables closest to them. Hakkasan elects to ignore it.

“Now, I will tell you why I cannot outright give this information to you. I may have been a bit… disingenuous… during the formation of our contract,” he tells her, folding his hands on the table before him. He gazes at her serenely. “I don’t actually know where the tech you’re looking for is.”
 

Dr. Olivia Octavius

Evil Bill Nye
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Mesa Roja
A curious mixture of emotions passes through Liv’s mind at Hakkasan’s words. Disbelief. Disappointment. Enough fiery-hot anger that her vision is briefly consumed with red. And, strangely enough, embarrassment. This last emotion unsettles Liv the most; she cringes as soon as she feels her face begin to heat up, resenting every second of outward-facing weakness. She should not be embarrassed. She should be furious! She should tear this whole damn bar apart on the hunt for what is owed to her! Yet, her traitorous body continues to run hot, the fires of her rage stoking to a fearsome height, then unsettlingly cold as those same fires are doused with shock, horror, embarrassment.

The woman’s eyes focus like chips of ice on the reptile sitting before her. Her throne of mechanical arms remains relaxed around her as she carefully sets her teacup and saucer down, the substance inside still swirling and hot despite the numbing cold that suffuses her body.

Hakkasan eyes her up carefully, taking in her stillness and the myriad of emotions manifesting themselves across her features-- little microexpressions that flit by in the blink of an eye. After a moment, he continues speaking… perhaps aware that he is treading dangerous ground.

The Argonian clears his throat. “Don’t misunderstand me, now. I want to help you. But, there are other forces at work, you see, and--”

“What other forces?” Liv cuts him off, already tiring of this pathetic specimen’s quibbling and bartering.

Embarrassment. As if!

Feeling distinctly better about his chances of convincing Octavius to take on yet another menial task, Hakkasan sinks smugly into his chair. Ah, so he’s kept her interest, after all. For a moment there, he was worried she might storm off in a huff-- maybe even attack him! Which, despite the excitement of that prospect, would be quite unfortunate. He wouldn’t get what he has ultimately set out to gain, for one, and besides that, Dr. Octavius’ body would need to be cleaned off the floor. This is much easier, less messy.

“My employer would like to see you, for one,” Hakkasan replies cheerfully, already tidying up his papers and tucking away various pens into his pockets. “She is very interested in meeting all of her clients, but you have really caught her attention. Before we move forward on this transaction, she insisted on meeting you herself! An honor, it is.”

Liv narrows her eyes. “I won’t settle, Mr. Hakkasan. Mark my words.”

Hakkasan smiles and takes a sip of his tea. “Noted.”
 

Dr. Olivia Octavius

Evil Bill Nye
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Mesa Roja
The water garden, which Liv had glimpsed only in passing through the drinking den’s window, is more akin to a flooded palace when viewed up close. The soothing sound of running water, accompanied by the strange, inescapable whistling of flutes, creates an atmosphere of uninterrupted calm— that is, until Liv catches sight of the flute players and promptly recoils in disgust.

Clad in blue robes, they sit squatted down on giant lily pads and resting in the shade of willow plants, wooden flutes clutched in their long-fingered hands, their fingers seeming almost amphibious from afar. In addition to this, all of the flute players appear to have hideous, fishy faces, with stringy hair hanging over them like clumps of whitish, wispy slime. Their black eyes, which seem to jut out from the flute player’s faces from sheer bulbousness, stare blankly into the middle distance. Regardless of how far she follows Hakkasan into the water garden’s innermost parts, the flutes continue to play in an endless cycle, never once dampening in volume.

This palatial garden seems downright ostentatious in the middle of a desert society. Liv had nearly balked at the prospect of following Hakkasan into it, certain he was trying to off her somehow, but the desert had been so hot, and the garden was so… not. This does not mean she isn’t willing to cast doubt on her Argonian guide’s intentions, however. If this little detour reveals itself to be a nuisance and nothing more, she is certain he will learn to regret it.

“When I agreed to meet your employer, I had not expected you to bring me to someplace quite so close. Or so wet,” Liv remarks to Hakkasan, gesturing emphatically at their surroundings.

Hakkasan chuckles, following one of the paths of smooth stone leading further into the garden. The willow trees and greenery grow thicker here, shielding whatever lies past them from sight.

“My grandmother is very particular about her home,” the Argonian says, maneuvering around an overgrown patch of vines that blocks his path. He glances back at Liv once, ensuring that she does the same, before adding, “I don’t expect she will ever leave it.”

Liv pauses, intrigued. “Your grandmother?”

“Ah, oh, yes. I had neglected to mention that. Don’t let her age fool you. She’s a slithery old bat.”

Before Liv can ask anything more, her Argonian guide parts a curtain of willow vines, ribbons of green slithering aside to reveal what appears to be the epicenter of the garden.

The air is especially cool here, Liv notes, the very antithesis of Mesa Roja’s burning sands. As she steps past Hakkasan to get a better look, she is treated to the sight of a large, rounded pool. A few dappled koi swim in lazy circles just below the surface, their finned backs carving streams of parted water in their wake.

Hakkasan steps forward, closer to the pool. He keeps a healthy distance between his feet and the water’s edge, as if wary of what might be concealed within its depths.

“Grandmother?” Hakkasan calls out over the water. He waits, expectant, and for a moment Liv does the same, sucking in a sharp breath as she waits for something to happen.

There is no answer, of course. The pool remains still and clear, only the shifting forms of the koi fish within challenging its stagnancy. Looking at the Argonian without bothering to conceal her disdain, Liv opens her mouth to speak— only to pause at the sound of water stirring, some of it splashing against the stones surrounding the pool in soft plop, plop, plops.

Blinking in confusion, Liv turns to look. The water’s surface roils with violent bursts of bubbles, some motion from within causing white froth to gather at the edges of the pool. Quite suddenly, the flute music that was once so calm and clear shifts in tone, all at once shrill and piercing—

A gigantic head tears from the water’s depths in a torrent of movement, showering the two with water droplets. The body that follows the head is immense, scaly, and mostly black, with faded brown bands of color that would make it difficult— no, downright impossible—to distinguish from the pool’s muddy bottom.

Liv staggers backward a step, the mechanical arms linked to her body bracketing around her frame, braced for a fight against what appears to be a downright colossal serpent.

Chomp! Massive jaws spread wide and swallow one of the smaller koi fish down in a single, vicious gulp. Shuddering violently as the fish slides down its throat, the snake’s broad arrowhead-shaped skull wavers in the air above its coiled body, searching…

The fearsome creature’s eyes, which sit in shallow pits on either side of its skull and have long, black stripes extending from their corners like dark kohl, follow the head’s movement. Meanwhile, the remaining koi in the water flop around in a panic as the creature’s sinuous length spreads to occupy the limited space left in the pool. Several golden fish slide against the body’s coils, either getting crushed against the stone sides of the pool or pushed out of the water altogether, left to twitch and thrash miserably in the open air.

A jet black tongue flickers out of the snake’s vast and deadly maw, tasting the air. Going stone-still, Liv watches as the snake’s cat-like, elliptical pupils finally come to a rest… zeroing in on Hakkasan. The Argonian accountant trembles, and the snake begins to talk, revealing the pale, pinkish-white of its mouth as it speaks.

“Hakkassssan…” the snake hisses, its voice smooth and sibilant like sand sifting through cloth. “Have you finally brought my granddaughter to see me?”

Hakkasan falters, casting his gaze nervously at Liv; the woman stares dispassionately back at him, still on the defensive. His lips part in a forced smile.

“Ah. No, no— but I will soon, grandmother,” Hakkasan hastens to explain. “She’s very occupied with her learning, but I will be sure to let her know you would like to see her.”

“I see,” says the snake on a sigh. “My grandson?”

Seeming pained, Hakkasan shakes his head.

“You, er… you ate him, grandmother.”

The snake shows no outward reaction, instead settling for a simple tongue flick. “Bring me my granddaughter then, child. Perhaps I will prefer her company.”

Hakkasan nods vigorously.

“O-of course.”

With that settled, the snake’s gaze shifts to Liv. “Who is this, then, if not my grandchild?”

“Ah,” Hakkasan straightens a bit, smoothing his clothes of any imaginary wrinkles. “This is Dr. Olivia Octavius, grandmother. She’s brought the Le-matya venom for you.”

“Has she?” the snake seems only mildly interested by this fact, giving another dispassionate tongue flick. “Hmph. And where is my venom?”

The Argonian startles, then reaches into his pocket for the vial Liv had given him. “Oh! Yes, it’s right here, granny—” he says, approaching the snake with the vial held up for her inspection.

Catching sight of the vial, the snake shifts closer, something flickering in her dead eyes. Eagerness, perhaps?

Liv shakes her head, tiring of listening to this familial nonsense. She could care less whether Hakkasan is fearful of his family’s matriarch or not, and she knows that what she has delivered is, in fact, genuine Le-matya venom, as requested. Squaring her shoulders and with her mechanical arms bristling around her, Liv decides to address the serpent directly.

“Hakkasan said you wanted to speak before giving me my payment,” says Liv, seeking to catch the snake’s eye while also watching as Hakkasan uncaps the vial. “While this has been just lovely, I really must insist—“

She abruptly chokes as the snake opens its jaws wide, revealing a set of brass brackets attached to the roof of her mouth, nothing more than a plate with two hooked “teeth” connected by silver alloy springs. Some kind of adhesive holds them there, black and tar-like, and a set of two rubbery pouches with thin tubing connected to them rests at the corners of the snake’s maw.

Stunned into silence, Liv watches in morbid fascination as Hakkasan takes the vial of venom and gently drains it into the pouches one at a time… and once he is done, the upper mandible flexes, the artificial fangs drop, and the rubber pouches swell to full capacity, ready to deliver a dose of stolen venom to some unsuspecting creature.

“Yes? What do you insist?” the old snake asks, words slurring around her false fangs.

Hakkasan returns to Liv’s side and, noting that she still appears a bit shell-shocked, takes pity on her.

“Grandmother cannot hunt larger prey without them,” he murmurs lowly, gesturing with one shoulder and a meaningful tilt of the head.

He needn’t have bothered. The gears have already begun turning in Liv’s head, an idea slowly but surely taking shape. Her eyes gleam, a combination of fiendish brilliance and genuine delight.

Coming out of her stupor, the human woman scoffs. “That is such a rudimentary design. I could fashion you something much better.”

Dead eyes flicker to her. “Could you?”

Liv grins internally; she’s caught the snake’s interest, alright. Hakkasan’s eyes bore into the side of her head, so maybe he recognizes what she’s pulling, but she can hardly bring herself to care. After all, it’s his granny’s word that matters.

With that thought in mind, Liv puts on her best I Am Very Concerned About Your Quality of Life face, a friendly expression that she’s practiced many times in the mirror and honed to a sharpened point, and ignores the hell out of Hakkasan’s glaring.

“Oh, yes,” she nods, smiling agreeably. “Easily. A much higher grade of metal, a smoother activation… I would do it pro bono just to get those dreadful things out of your mouth, but, well…”

The snake’s coils stir in agitation, her tongue flickering out several times in quick succession. “Yes? What isss it?”

Deciding there’s no use in beating around the bush, Liv cuts to the chase: “Well. You have something I want, don’t you?”

Silence. Liv holds her breath as the snake regards her, the massive reptile utterly lacking in facial expression save for the agitated flicking of her tongue. Just when it seems that the silence has gone on for too long, however, the snake lets out a long, drawn-out exhale, more of a frustrated sigh than a hiss.

“Hakkasan, give the woman what she came for.”

Hastening to obey, Hakkasan reaches within his vest and produces a rolled-up scroll. He hands it over with a disgruntled look, behaving as the very act pains him.

Liv unfolds the scroll, her eyes roving over it hungrily. Sketched on the page is an ink drawing of a strange, alien creature… and a rudimentary map.
 
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