The Serpent’s Map (A Chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: June 7, 2016 in Fantasy, Fiction
Tags: , , , , ,

This week’s challenge: must contain a map.

I opted to continue my story from last week, so it would probably help to read that one first. I’ve been in a swashbuckler kind of mood lately, and that’s helping scratch that particular itch. And yes, I know this ends with the promise of continuing on.

“You always bring me the most interesting things, Graciano.” Viktoria peers down at the corpse through the lenses of her glasses, hands buried in the pockets of her long coat. They stand in the basement of Vikotria’s workshop, illuminated by some of the new gas lamps coming into vogue.

Graciano smiles, a thin tight lipped affair. He never likes coming here. The specimen jars lining the shelves. The smell of something more than slightly off. The sensation of disembodied eyes staring at him.

Viktoria, as always, is all business. She brushes a stray straw blond lock out of her eyes, tucks it behind her ear. Graciano figures she might be pretty, but it is hard to tell with the pasty skin, severe dress, and eyes constantly squinting through lenses. Then again, he doesn’t come here to enjoy her feminine company.

“So who was he?”  she asks.

“Hmm?”

“The corpse. I take it you knew him.”

Graciano shrugs and shifts his stance, the sword on his hip banging against a table leg. “Not as such.”

“But you killed him.”

Graciano furrows his brow. “Of course I killed him. He killed my brother. What else was I to do?”

“And the dead man’s brothers, should he have any? Are they under obligation now to kill you as well?” Viktoria begins removing the dead man’s clothes, a sharp knife in her hand aiding in her task.

Graciano snorts. “They are welcome to try.”

“Still confident in your skills?”

Graciano shrugs. “Nearly four years on campaign will hone them.”

Viktoria sniffs. “I’m sure. Wait a minute, what’s this?” She reaches into the dead man’s jacket, produces a folded bit of oilskin of the type sailors use to protect letters and the like. She unfolds it on the table, moving aside her tools to better lay it flat.

Graciano wrinkles his nose as he looks down at it. “A map?”

Viktoria nods. “Yes, but to what? And what would a low-life like him be doing with it?”

Graciano stares down at it, tracing a finger along its lines. “This is us here, Salamander Cove.” He walks his fingers along the coast to where an island is marked. “That’s in the Serpent’s Archipelago.” He shudders. “Not what I would call a pleasant place.”

“Not scared of a snake are you?”

Focused on the map, Graciano misses Viktoria’s mocking grin. “Not at all. I can’t say I’m a fan of pirates however, and I hear tell Evaristo lays anchor near there.”

“So what do you think the map leads to? Some sort of treasure?”

Graciano shakes his head. “I doubt it is anything as prosaic as that. Probably some ship someone was refurbishing. Maybe Evaristo’s camp? Reynaldo seemed like the kind of person drawn to piracy. Scum attracts scum.”

“Ah, so this was Reynaldo?” She jabs the corpse lightly with her knife. “We weren’t formally introduced.”

Graciano sighs and rub the bridge of his nose. “Look, I’m tired. Maybe I leave the corpse and the map with you for a few days. I’ll come back and we can discuss what, if anything we’re going to do with it. If nothing else, I can always sell it to a gullible sailor. They are always on the look out for such things.”

Viktoria nods, already wrapping the map back in the oilskin. “All right. That’ll give me time to finish my autopsy anyway. Don’t get too drunk, all right? I don’t want to hear two days from now how you got drunk and did something foolish like some up for another stint in the army.”

Graciano smiles, a wolfish grin under his hooked nose. “The army pays at least. Better than any honest work I could ever find.”

“Get out of here, you fox. See me in a few days and we’ll make plans. Maybe even have dinner like civilized people.”

Graciano laughs and doffs his hat, closing the door behind him. He hasn’t walked far when he feels the small hairs on the back of his neck begin to rise. Something feels off. The streets are silent, despite the hour. He hears a scuff of a boot on cobblestone. He draws his rapier, his blade deflecting an incoming thrust. He twists the blade, feels it punch through cloth to the flesh beneath. He hears a scream  from Viktoria’s and hurries, his long stride carrying him quick to her door.

Inside, he sees her, two swordsman in between him and her. A third lies on the ground, screaming, blood streaming from a wound on his face. Viktoria stands poised, one hand on her hip, the other holding a gleaming saber. She salutes her opponents, but doesn’t attack.

Graciano’s blade skewering one of the man’s kidneys announces his presence. The other turns, realizes his mistake too late. He tries to parry Viktoria’s blade, but it slashes to quick, draws across his throat leaving a red ruin.

Graciano leans heavily against the table, panting heavily. “Friends of yours?” he asks. With a quick thrust, Viktoria dispatches the wounded man.

Viktoria shakes her head. She bends down, rolls up the sleeve of one of the dead men. There, coiled about his wrist, is a tattoo of a serpent.

“They asked specifically about the map.” She taps her hand on the oilskin, still sitting on the table.

A small smile creeps across Graciano’s face. “Seems like it’s worth something after all.” He reaches for it, but is stopped when Viktoria lowers the point of her blade at his chest.

She smiles at him. “So it would seem… partner.”

 

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Comments
  1. jademwong says:

    Awesome! Really well-written. I hope there’s a part 3 soon.

  2. legreene515 says:

    I really enjoyed this. I’m curious to see what happens. I hope you’ll continue it.

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