The Serpent’s Map (Part IV)

Posted: July 20, 2016 in Fantasy, Fiction, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

You didn’t think I’d forgotten about this, did you? So yes, the continuing adventures of Graciano, Ramiro and Viktoria. When last we left our intrepid adventurers they were on board a ship, headed for the Serpent’s Archipelago. In their possession is a map, and unknown forces are after it as well. They’d been suddenly becalmed when pirates caught up to them. Surely this won’t end well.

As always, comments and feedback is welcome. If nothing else, I might pull these disparate posts together into something resembling an actual… well novel might be a tad ambitious, but surely a novella is within the realm of possibility.

“Get down!” Ramiro shouts as a plume of smoke erupts from the cannon of the pursuing ship. Graciano, Viktoria and the other ship hands follow his lead, hugging the rough wood of the deck. Graciano hears the splash of the ball hitting the water, is quick to get back to his feet.

“They’re taking the range,” he says, hand shielding the sun from his eyes.

“And we’re a sitting target.” Ramiro slams his hand into the railing. “Hurry up there!” he shouts to one of his deckhands who sets shot and powder on the deck near the swivel gun.

Viktoria raises an eyebrow. “They are well outside our range.”

Ramiro flashes a grin. “Knowing Graciano here, they won’t be content to simply sink us. They’re going to want to take us. Maybe they want the two of you alive, hmmm? So they’re going to try and board us. That means they have to get close.” He pats the long barrel of the swivel gun. “And that means getting in range.”

“I still want to know how they have wind and we don’t,” Viktoria mutters. Graciano looks over at her. Somewhere she found a pair of pistols, stuck them in the wide sash of her belt along with her saber.

Graciano brings the spyglass to his eye again, sweeps it along the deck of the approaching ship. He sees what he takes to be the captain, standing tall near the prow, his own spyglass set to his eye. He sees the enemy sailors, crowding the rails, teeth bared, weapons in hand, shouting insults at their prey. Then he sees what he fears the most, his heart sinking into his stomach. There, near the mast, a figure with a shaved head and a staff waving over his head, his body moving erratically as if in the throes of a seizure.

Graciano lowers the glass and hands it to Ramiro. “Magic,” he spits.

“Shit.”

“You’re not serious?” Viktoria says, peering over her glasses at the two men. “Don’t tell me the two of you buy into such superstitious nonsense.”

Ramiro snorts. “Not nonsense. All too serious. And keep your fucking voice down, will you? The crew gets wind that the enemy has a wizard they might just slit our throats for them in the hopes they’ll be spared. So, Graciano, I have to ask, whose mother did you have the bad judgment to fuck?”

“I think Evaristo.”

Ramiro stares hard at Graciano, his smile disappearing like morning fog. “I could kill you for this.” His words come out as a hiss.

“You are free to try.” Graciano’s grip tightens on his rapier.

“Gentlemen, I think we should get down again,” Viktoria remarks. At some point, she’d taken the spyglass from Graciano, and heeding her own advice, hugs the deck. Graciano and Ramiro stand facing each other, neither moving. The cannon ball splashes in the water again, closer this time, the spray from the blast washing over the trio.

 

Standing, Viktoria looks at the two men and shakes her head. “So, shall we slit our throats and save them the trouble?”

Ramiro’s smile reappears. “Of course not.” He busies himself, loading the swivel cannon. “As I said, they are going to want to try and board us. We’re going to let them get close enough to try. Are you still a steady hand with a musket?”

Graciano snorts. “Do you still enjoy expensive wine and cheap whores?”

Ramiro holds a hand to his chest. “You wound me to the quick, Graciano. You know it’s the other way around.”

Graciano smiles and sheathes his rapier. “You there,” he points to one of the sailors. “Get me three muskets, all loaded. You know how to reload, don’t you?”

The sailor looks to Ramiro, who nods.

“Good. Your one job is to keep handing me loaded muskets. I’ll fire, you reload, I had you a spent musket, you load it again until we’re boarded.”

“We’re going to be boarded?” the sailor asks, looking from Graciano to Ramiro and back again.

Ramiro shrugs. “We might not be. I’d say the likelihood of us not being boarded is about equal to the sun not setting in the West today.” His smile gets a little wider. “I mean, just because it’s always done it in the past doesn’t mean it has to do it today.”

The three wait, along with the rest of the sailors, as their pursuers grow closer. One of the cannonballs from the pursuing ship slams into the back of Ramiro’s ship, but it lacks enough force to penetrate the thick oak of the aft and bounces back into the sea. Their pursuers are close enough that individuals can be made out now. Bare-chested, tattooed, blades and clubs and pistols openly brandished. Their shouts are still an intermingled roar, but one thing they all have in common is their heads are shaved smooth.

Ramiro fires the swivel gun at the opposing ship. The aft castle is higher than the prow of their pursuers, so he is able to angle the cannon down. His aim is true, splinters flying up from the deck, sending the pirates scattering. Graciano takes his time with the musket, resting the barrel on the rail as he aims. The musket bucks against his shoulder, and he grimaces as a sailor to the right of the weather wizard collapses, blood blossoming from his chest.

“To arms, to arms,” Ramiro shouts. His sailors form up along the rails. Graciano frowns at their haphazard formation, wishes he had a few solid marines instead of this motley crew. He hands back the spent rifle to his loader, takes another in its place. He sets up a solid rhythm. Aim. Fire. Pass back. Take another. Aim. Load.

“Prepare to repel boarders,” Ramiro barks nearby.

There is the crash of wood on wood, sailors sent sprawling despite bracing against the impact. Graciano tries one final time to shoot the wizard, but his shot is deflected somehow, kills another sailor.

“Fucking magic,” he says through gritted teeth. He drops the musket and draws his rapier. He spies Viktoria, saber in her right hand, pistol in her left. He sees her discharge her pistol into the face of one of the boarders, drop it and pull out the second. She parries a cut at her head from an axe, blows the pirate’s arm off at the elbow with her pistol. She catches a cutlass with the barrel of the pistol, whips her blade across the eyes of her attacker. He drops, screaming to the deck, soon trampled by the other combatants.

Ramiro has a pair of curved knives, held loose in his hands. He dances among the opponents, urging his crew on. He slices at wrists and at knees, his enemies screaming in pain and dismay as he dances among them. His crew is quick to follow him, dispatching the sailors he brings low.

Graciano drops over the rail onto the enemies’ ship. He jumps back, narrowly avoiding a slash from a cutlass. He feints, executes a thrust through the pirates’ throat. The prirate steps back, hand clutching what is already a mortal wound, but Graciano has already moved on. He keeps his eyes on the wizard, still standing near the mast, carved staff in one hand and a bone rattle in the other. A pirate engages him, swinging a musket at his head like a club. Graciano bows under the blow, steps in close, smashes the pommel of his rapier into his opponent’s mouth. Takes another three steps toward the mast. Behind him, he hears shouts, the roar of battle. He dares not lose concentration. If he doesn’t kill the wizard, it doesn’t matter how the rest of the fight goes.

Two pirates step in his way. They separate, trying to flank him. He knows they expect him to step back, keep both in front. Instead he attacks. The pirate tries to parry, manages to get his club up in time, but Graciano is too quick, the blade slipping past the clumsy parry and into the pirate’s chest. The pirate opens his mouth wide, giving Graciano a glimpse of teeth like a snake’s. He doesn’t have time to ponder, as he pivots around his deceased opponent. The other attacks with a half-pike, the razor sharp point punching through Graciano’s impromptu shield. He beats the tip aside, executes a perfect lunge that takes the pirate through the eye. He turns back to the wizard close enough to touch with the tip of his blade, sees him smiling.

Graciano tilts his head to the side, wondering what he finds so amusing. Then the wizard opens his mouth, purple smoke billowing forth and enveloping Graciano’s face and head. He tries to hold his breath, tries to escape the cloud, but it is too late. He feels his limbs go numb, hears his rapier drop to the deck, followed by his body. He tries to speak, tries to shout, but unconsciousness swallows him. His last thought before darkness is how much he hates magic.

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