The Serpent’s Map Part V

Posted: September 12, 2016 in Fantasy, Fiction
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Being a continuation from here.

The first part can be found here (yes, I still haven’t gone back and renamed all the pieces, but then this wasn’t originally envisioned as a serialized long piece, either). I like this piece because it let me use Viktoria more and deservedly so. As always, feedback and comments are welcome (and hey, feel free to check out some of the other pieces on the site while you are at it).

Graciano wakes up in nauseating pain, his arms pulled back up behind his body and bound tight. He’s been stripped to the waist, and he notes with some detachment that his captors have taken his boots along with everything else. He forces his head up, stares through the loose strands of his hair at his surroundings. He makes out roughhewn rock in the dim light, hears a steady drip of water, smells the damp rot and pitchy smoke of a torch.

He tries to call out, but the only thing that comes from his mouth is a dry croak.

“Ah, you’re awake?”

“Viktoria?” He bites the inside of his cheek, working spit into his mouth. He twists his head in the direction of her voice, but he can’t see her. “Got you too?”

“Yes. You didn’t say anything about magic being involved.”

“I didn’t know. Besides, you invited yourself along, remember?”

She doesn’t answer.

“Any chance you can get free?” he asks.

“They bound me tight, hands and feet. You aren’t looking in any better shape.”

Graciano snorts. “I think I figured that out on my own. Wait, where’s Ramiro?”

“I don’t know,” she replies. “I saw you fall, and then was taken myself. I lost track of what happened to him. Next I know I’m here with you.”

Graciano stiffens when he hears metal scrape against metal.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” Viktoria hisses under her breath.

“Who me?”

The door opens and light pours through. Graciano squeezes his eyes shut at the sudden, painful burst of light.

“Oh, good, I found you.”

“Ramiro?”

“No, the jailer. Hold still.”

“I don’t think that will be a problem.”

Graciano hears a knife sawing against the ropes binding him, then he’s suddenly free, falling to the ground, but for Ramiro catching him, his ropy muscles straining as he lowers Graciano to the ground.

Graciano blinks, eyes readjusting as Ramiro sets Viktoria free.

“How did you escape?” she asks.

Ramiro smiles. “An old smuggler like me knows when to cut and run. I went over the side when I saw you and Graciano captured. Found a bit of wood to hold on to and struck for shore. Lucky for all of us, it wasn’t that far.”

“And the rest of the crew?” Graciano asks.

Ramiro’s smile disappears, his expression darkening. “Dead. Those bastards slit their throats, then destroyed my ship, staved in the side. So, why did they take you two alive?”

“Our charming personalities?” Graciano offers.

Ramiro snorts. “Hardly.”

“More importantly, where are our belongings?” Viktoria asks.

“How is that more important?” Ramiro cocks an eyebrow at her.

“We’re alive right now. If we want to stay that way we’ll need transport off this island. We’ll more than likely have to fight to do so. I’d prefer to do so with more than one knife to share between the three of us.”

“Hmm, she has a point,” Graciano concedes. “No chance you saw anything of the like on your way to us?”

Ramiro shakes his head. “No, but I wasn’t looking. Come on, and try to keep quiet.”

He slides out of the room like a shadow, the blade of the knife held between arm and body to conceal the glimmer of the steel.  Graciano and Viktoria follow, their bodies recovering from their recent bondage. Every scrape of leather on stone causes them to start, hyper alert for any sign of their captors.

Ramiro pauses outside a room, holding his hand up to have Viktoria and Graciano stop behind him. Inside, they can hear the crackle of a fire, the sound of murmured conversation, the occasional bit of laughter. Ramiro holds his knife blade up, uses it as a mirror to see into the room. He holds up three fingers, turns and smiles at Viktoria and Graciano. Graciano goes to grab him, but he’s too late, Ramiro has already slipped into the room. A gargled cry comes from the room, and Graciano runs in.

One pirate is down on the ground, his neck a red ruin from Ramiro’s knife. A second pirate is slumped, clutching his stomach as his blood pools out on the stone. The third faces Ramiro, a cleaver held in one hand. Ramiro clutches his right arm, his hand still holding the knife, teeth bared in a savage display. The two circle each other, each looking for an opening. Graciano stands, helpless, uncertain how best to help without getting in Ramiro’s way.

A knife appears in the pirate’s chest. He looks down at it, dumbfounded, before pulling it free. He stares at the gaping wound before slumping to his knees. Ramiro launches a kick, snapping the wounded man’s head back and shattering his jaw.

“You threw that?” Graciano asks, turning to see Viktoria.

She shrugs. “Someone needed to do something,” she replies. She walks over to the dead man, retrieves her thrown knife. “Are you really going to argue over who was supposed to kill him?”

Ramiro looks at Graciano and simply shrugs. Looking around, they are in a kitchen. Strings of sausages and salted meat hang from hooks set in the stone ceiling. Stained chopping blocks sit on wooden tables. Earthenware jugs of fresh water are arranged alongside one wall. Ramiro tears a strip of cloth from one of the dead pirates and uses it to bind the cut on his arm, and Graciano arms himself with a heavy bladed cleaver. The trio help themselves sparingly of the food and indulge on the fresh water before moving down another passage, once again with Ramiro in the lead.

Ramiro pauses at a corner, once again using the blade of his knife to check around the corner. He frowns, holds up to fingers and gestures for the trio to move back up the passage.

“We have a problem,” he whispers once he is confident that they are outside of earshot.

“Just the one?” Viktoria asks.

“Two guards. Both armed. Swords looks like, and more alert than the three in the kitchen. They’re standing in front of a door. Could be locked, I didn’t get a good enough look at it. Passage is wide enough that they can fight side by side without being flanked.”

Viktoria bounces her knife in the palm of her hand. “How far down the passage would you say they are? More than thirty paces?”

Ramiro shakes his head. “No more than that.”

“All right. Here’s what we’re going to do…”

Reis leans heavy against the wall, willing time to move faster. Next to him he can hear the labored breathing of the new guard they assigned with him. He tries to think of his name. Killian? Kieran? Something foreign like that. He shakes his head. It’s getting to remember things as time goes by. So many new faces, so few names to go with them. He blinks. He remembers a woman… a child. Then the fog rolls into his mind and they are forgotten again. Ever since he pledged service to Evaristo it becomes harder and harder to think. All of life being reduced to its simplest components. Eating. Sleeping. Killing. Strange he should feel the most alive when the hot blood of prey spurts on his face, fills his mouth. Something about that should seem wrong, he knows, but he cannot remember what.

Something moves at the corner of his eye. Two men rushing at him, something about them looking familiar. He opens his mouth to warn the new guard, but something rams its way between his teeth. He tries to talk around it, but the cold hard metal of the thing stuck in his mouth won’t let him. Strange how he can’t feel his legs anymore, can’t feel his arms. His sword drops from lifeless fingers and he falls. He doesn’t even feel it when he hits the ground, the impact forcing Viktoria’s knife out through the other side of his head.

The other guard looks up, startled, and brings his sword up. He catches Graciano’s down swing, the steel ringing out from the blow. He doesn’t have time to react to Ramiro, the smuggler’s knife slicing up the inside of his thigh, the thin protection of his linen trousers no barrier to the blade. He falls to the ground, clutching the death wound, and Graciano finishes him with a crushing blow to the head.

Ramiro studies the lock on the door as Graciano and Viktoria help themselves to the guard’s swords, Graciano discarding his cleaver, and Viktoria sliding her knife through her belt. Viktoria looks down at the guards, narrowing her eyes.

“That’s odd,” she mutters, peeling back an eyelid, then forcing open the mouth of one of the deceased.

“What’s that?” Graciano asks, backing up to give room for Ramiro to work.

“Look at these eyes. They’re slitted. Like a cat’s.”

“Or a snake,” Graciano mutters.

“And look at these teeth.”

Graciano shudders. The canines are more pronounced, and when Viktoria presses her blade to them a clear fluid leaks down the tooth.

“What would cause that to happen?” Viktoria wonders.

“Magic,” Graciano spits.

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