The sun dipped under the horizon after beating on the lush Mexican jungle all day. Hours of basking in the sun left Xipilcoatl warm and ready to find new prey. This emerald of a snake slithered through the tree, his long tail trailing over rough branches groaning under his weight. He glanced at his scales. He had enough in his belly to hold off on eating—perhaps he might find prey to warm his tail with for a while. It had been a while since he’d seen a nice human, or maybe a big jaguar.
Anything was possible, he believed, and once his prey looked into his eyes they would believe this too.
He stopped at two voices arguing in the distance coming closer. Now this was an opportunity. Xipil could resolve any argument, or make anyone forget an argument, which was just as good. He wouldn’t pass up two people to squeeze in his coils. He glanced around for the pair.
“We have to keep going. The village isn’t far off.”
“Aw, but it’s dangerous to travel at night.”
“Exactly.” Their voices sounded similar, but this one slightly higher, if rougher; the other sounded calmer but deeper. Sister and brother, perhaps?
“But we might not get there before night falls. Besides, this place looks lovely, and it would be nice to sleep under the stars one more time.”
“You can do that at the village where it’s safe. It’s more dangerous to stay out another night than keep going.”
Xipil spied one of the speakers walking through the jungle, pushing aside foliage with a sickle. They had a pitchfork and axe strapped to their back, and they’d tied their loose tunic tight with a belt. Xipil hoped the belt was no one he knew, but the weapons were no issue. There would be no need for violence, not once they got to know him.
He was more concerned that he couldn’t see the other person. He’d have to draw them both out, lest one notice him take their companion. He’d lay on the charm to convince them he’s a friend before having his eyes show them he’s really their master.
“I’m sure it’s safe if we’re close to the village,” said the human within sight.
“Excussse me for interrupting.” Xipil dipped his head out from the tree’s foliage. The human jumped and pointed the sickle at Xipil as if ready to strike him. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversssation with”—he glanced around for the other human—“your acquaintance.”
This human did appear to have enough muscles to do some damage with their tools, but more importantly to make them a nice firm toy for Xipil to squeeze his own scaly muscles around. The human had mismatched hair, long curls on their right and straight, short, and lighter on their left. Their eyes matched the mismatch, their right green and left blue. There would be green in both, and yellow and black as well, soon enough.
“No need to threaten, Debora,” the human said, despite pointing the sickle in a threatening manner. “It’s not every day you meet a talking snake.”
“We can be thankful for that,” said the human. Xipil stared as their voice changed in pitch, their strong face shifting from clear and open to clenched and glaring. “Would you trust a talking snake, Duval? Don’t answer that.”
“No, of course I’d be wary, but an immediate threat is a touch rude, perhaps?”
“It’s defense. A touch rude is preferable to an unsought touch from a snake.”
“Excussse me,” said Xipil, “how many of you are there?”
“Ah, perhaps what’s truly rude is not giving a proper introduction.” They waved their right hand. “You may call me Duval.” Their left eye narrowed; they held their left shoulder with their right hand, not looking away from Xipil. “Come now, Debora, at least introduce yourself.”
“They know my name.” Duval lowered his right arm.
“My apologies, Monsieur, but Debora is a suspicious one. Still, she has saved us from many a difficult situation thanks to this.” He cleared their throat. “As for your question, just the two of us. More than most, perhaps, but an even number for us; we’re quite used to it.”
Xipil narrowed his eyes. One for the price of two? That didn’t seem a very good deal. At least he only had to get one set of eyes to look at him.
“A pleasure to meet you both,” Xipil said. “My name iss Xipilcoatl.” He lowered the end of his tail to shake Duval’s hand—or Debora’s hand?—but they sidestepped Xipil and walked ahead. Duval smiled and waved to Xipil—at least it seemed to be him, using their right hand.
“I hate to cut our conversation short, Monsieur,” Duval said, “but we really must be on our way to the village now. So nice to meet you, though!”
“Ah, that’ssss what I had thought to mention,” Xipil said, following. “I’m afraid you may be missstaken, as there isss no village at all nearby.”
Duval and Debora halted.
“Perkele,” Debora muttered. They turned back to Xipil with a scowl. The snake grinned. He had just enough doubt in their mind (or minds) to detain them until he could catch their gaze in his eyes. Debora might need more convincing, but Duval seemed friendly enough to give eye contact for both of them.
Duval considered the situation. He’d enjoy sleeping under the stars one more night, but it was true they should get to the village. However, If this snake was right, it really was for the best that they stay out another night. Sadly he could only grasp at what Debora was thinking—though closer than twins, sometimes they were further apart. Yet he’d spent his life with Debora and could often get an accurate grasp at her thoughts.
They were usually distrust.
“The map clearly indicated a village just up ahead,” Debora said. There’s that distrust. Of course Duval had seen the map too, and it certainly showed a village nearby.
“What can I sssay?” Xipil said with a shrug of his neck. “Perhapsss your map was outdated, or you read it wrong?”
Duval never liked to distrust someone without cause. Debora, on the other hand, distrusted even herself. He supposed having a headmate gave her potential cause, though. But if this snake was lying, was it a trap? Yet then the village would be close, and he thought the village would keep dangerous animals away. Duval looked at Xipil’s tail, dark scales with big ringed yellow and green spots down his back. He certainly looked strong enough to be dangerous, but looks were no reason to disparage someone. The snake could be telling the truth, wishing to keep them from traveling too late.
Debora turned and walked her and Duval away. “Either way we’re not staying here,” she said.
Duval agreed. If they didn’t find the village in the next clearing they would stop for the night, but not with this snake. Duval recalled statues from ruins they’d visited, detailed with flowing patterns, lifelike as if real snakes frozen in stone. He glanced at Xipil’s body in the tree; he was even thicker and certainly more slitheringly lifelike than the statues.
Though many had been rubble, each statue appeared to be carved with the same phrase: “With snakes, seeing is believing.” Duval interpreted that as a warning to the lies of snakes. He’d be wary of Xipil’s claims until he saw there was no village.
“Don’t be ssssilly,” the snake said. He slipped after them past their shoulder, his body squeezing like a friendly clasp. Duval felt sorry for Xipil now. “The ssssafessst place to ssstay a night in the jungle is—”
Debora swung and shoved Xipil against the tree with the sickle’s flat side. Despite the strike the snake’s grin remained.
“Let’s make one thing straight, snake,” Debora said, eye narrowed. “We are not going to be staying the night with you. I do not . . .” They blinked. “I do not trust you one bit.”
Duval opened his eye, the right eye, wide. Something was happening in Xipil’s eyes. Yellow and green and black rings flowed through his eyes like ripples in a jungle swamp. They were fascinating, almost glowing—were they glowing? Duval looked closer to see. He’d seen many paintings in his travels, but none had the vivid, striking colors of Xipil’s eyes, no painting looked quite so enchanting as this.
“I think you jussst need to ssssee thingsss from a different perssspective,” Xipil said, grin growing. “Once you get to know me you’ll ssssee I’m as trussstworthy as can be.”
“Mitä helvettiä?” Debora muttered. “What are your eyes doing . . .?”
“Fasssscinating, aren’t they? Remove thisss tool from around me and I’ll give you a clossser look.”
Those colors really were fascinating. Duval found himself staring closer, deeper, the colors flowing over his sight. Each ring pricked his brain and made him lax. He felt as if he fell through a tunnel of rings his thoughts were directed down.
Debora’s hand tightened around the sickle. “No.”
Duval felt their body twitch—Debora tried to back away but their feet remained still as lead weights. Duval’s arm slackened; Debora’s grip weakened but her arm remained raised.
Duval wondered if he was tired from traveling all day. He felt like his brain was thinking on automatic. He wasn’t sure what he was doing or why, but he gripped the sickle with his slack arm. Debora shouted at him, though her words sounded lost like over a surging river. She sounded far away despite having the same body. Ordinarily he would discuss their course of action with her, but now he felt he should just do as Xipil told. Debora pulled against him, but Duval yanked the sickle and it dropped away.
“I . . . don’t know, Debora,” Duval droned as if the words were fed to him, “I think we can trust him.”
He could hear Debora shouting—really he could feel it, using the same mouth, but he paid no attention to her words. Xipil leaned closer and twirled his tail through Duval’s curly locks, sending a shudder through his head that made his eye droop.
“That’sss right, Duval, you trusssst me, you ssssilly boy.”
“Yes, I trust you.” Duval didn’t know why, but he didn’t need to know anything. He just had to follow Xipil and sink into the colors. He felt movement on his left side, but the only movement that mattered was Xipil’s.
“Thosse toolsss you have are sssso dangerousss,” Xipil’s voice echoed in Duval’s mind. “Why, you could hurt yourssssself with them. It’sss besssst if you got rid of them.”
Duval lifted his slack arm and pushed away another hand reaching for the pitchfork. He slid the tool off his back and dropped the axe after. That lightened his burden. Xipil caressed Duval’s cheek with his tail, lifting Duval’s mouth into a half-smile. He leaned into Xipil’s gentle, scaly tail, but something held him back.
Someone held him back?
He couldn’t, didn’t want to think through the colors, but was there someone else there?
Wouldn’t they want to relax into Xipil’s dazzling colors too . . .?
No, Debora absolutely did not.
She could tell something was happening with the snake’s eyes. Some sort of power emanated from them and tried enter her head, fill her thoughts, surround her mind; she resisted and pushed it out, blocked it, strained to keep her senses alert. Fight as she did, the snake’s eyes glowed bright; the forest grew blurry. She’d tried to grab her pitchfork to stab Xipil, but Duval dropped it on the ground and Debora couldn’t move to pick it up.
The fool must have gotten caught by the snake’s spell. Debora could feel Duval’s side of the body grow slack, she could feel his mind become cut off, engulfed in the snake’s power; it felt like tendrils surrounded Duval’s mind and reached out to hers, pushing, prodding, searching for a way in to drag her down and have her submit to those beautiful rings that would be so nice and easy to let fill and consume her—
Perkele! She had to stay alert, she had to keep her mind for both her and Duval’s sake.
“That’sss right, Duval, ssssilly boy, let yourssself ssssink into the pretty colorsss.” Xipil draped his tail on Duval’s shoulder and caressed his cheek. Debora twitched at the touch and blocked the prickling desire to feel Xipil’s tail hold her side of the face.
“You’re ssssuch a good prey, aren’t you?” Xipil said. Debora wanted to spit at Xipil the way he spoke to Duval like a pet. “Ssso quick to drop and give in. Good prey dessserve a reward.” He moved to Duval’s side. “Perhapssss a clossser look and a sssscaly nuzzle.” He focused his two eyes on Duval’s one and nestled against him. Debora released her breath and gasped as Xipil’s power weakened on her side, though still strong enough to hold her gaze as her eye followed him.
Debora cursed her curse of being trapped in the same body as Duval. If she had her own body she could have beaten this snake and saved Duval. No, don’t give up—I can still save us. Whenever she and Duval tried to split apart it ended in disaster anyway. She had to break that snake’s gaze.
“Your assssociate,” Xipil said, “however, isss being mossst uncooperative.” Debra gasped as Xipil’s tail slid behind them and over their shoulders, close enough against their neck that one squeeze could choke them. “Uncooperative prey should be punished, I’ve alwaysss thought.”
Debora tensed as Xipil’s tail tightened close to their throat. He stopped before he choked them and instead slithered around them further, wrapping his tail tight around their upper chest. Tight but like a hug: a friendly, protective hug. From a dangerous, hungry snake.
“But no, a punishment would be too cruel,” Xipil said. “I can’t do it.” Debora tensed again as Xipil moved closer to her sight. “Why don’t I insssstead give you an incentive to be a good prey? That ssssoundsss nice, Debora, I’m sure you agree.” Xipil nodded, and Duval and Debora nodded with him, much as Debora stiffened not to. After all—as the colors in Xipil’s eyes rippled across the blurry forest—Xipil was so kind; instead of choking her he let her willingly relax into his enchanting—
Perkele! No, he wasn’t nice! He was a bastard! Debora had to escape his beautiful colors before she fell like Duval into his wonderful soothing spell and he could wrap them up in his soft caressing coils . . .
Oh god, she could hardly think straight. His spell was gaining control. Xipil’s tail grew thicker as it looped lower around them in a coiling hug. The snake’s coils weighed so heavy on Debora that they tired her as much as his eyes did. He squeezed their arms against them; even if Debora could reach her weapons she couldn’t grab them now. She was trapped, trapped by Xipil’s eyes and tail.
Wait . . . god.
Through the encroaching thoughts telling her how cozy Xipil’s tail felt and how safe she was with him, Debora remembered her studies of old religions. She recalled a snake god—specifically a snake charmer god. There were old incantations used to keep snakes in check for rituals. Could she remember one?
Xipil chuckled. “Oh, little morsssel, you’re sssstill thinking much too hard. You musssst let yoursssself ssssleep.”
Debora twitched. Did he just call her a morsel? That was enough to lift her and bring an incantation to memory.
One canceling sleep magic.
“Sto ap sg—sgl—sg—sgelee . . .loep, sto ap s . . .sgeleeloep.”
“Oh dear,” Xipil said, frowning before smiling, “you’ve thought too hard, you’re ssspeaking gibberish now.”
“Snap . . .ilc—ilctele mut ebl!” Debora mumbled. She wouldn’t let this snake get the better of her. “Ecete . . . nra . . . ips.” The forest became harder to see through the shimmering colors in her eyes swirling through her mind, her thoughts slowing, a dizzying tingle spreading through her head. Her eye drooped, she was so sleepy, but she had to finish the incantation.
“E–Elllllp–p–p . . . e–ellsssee . . .ee . . .eee . . .psss.”
Xipil beamed. “Are you all done? Wh–” He yelped and the flow of colors broke. Xipil clenched his eyes shut, scrunching his head. “What wasss that?” He squinted and strained. “What did you do?”
“S–So much f–for your ssp–pellll,” Debora slurred.
“Oh, very clever, whatever you did.” Xipil’s face dropped as he turned away. “It sssseemsss you’ve besssted me here.” He peeked at Debora and grinned. “Except you ssseem to have forgotten . ..”
Xipil’s tail coiled to Debora and Duval’s legs, close and tight from neck to knees. Xipil lifted them off the ground, separating Debora’s senses from everything but Xipil, and he tightened the coils. Debora panicked through the haze; without his hypnotic spell Xipil would simply crush them, squeeze the life out of them, caress them, massage them, Oh wow this was so soffft, relaaaxing, such a cuddly embrace, this wasn’t so bad, this was good . . . goooood . . .
Between Xipil’s scaly massaging embrace and the growing enchantment in Duval’s part of the mind Debora’s thoughts slowed, her mind faded, and Xipil became her entire world. Her eye drooped shut before popping open, both her and Duval smiling widely.
Finally, they were under one mind.
Xipil squinted and strained. Something that girl did—whatever she said—it put some sort of lock on Xipil. He couldn’t release any hypnotic rings. He could feel something in his head, some sort of pressure, as if an incorporeal hand held part of his brain. He frowned. It gave him a migraine if he thought too hard about it.
He beamed at his catch. At least that worked out. Now he had somebody to squeeze and fondle and snuggle, to hold around his body and later hold in his body. Once he was settled in the tree he would find out from the girl how to undo what she did.
Once he was done with them he would need to hypnotize his next prey, after all.