The Serpent’s Map (Part VII)

Posted: December 10, 2016 in Fantasy, Fiction, The Serpent's Map
Tags: , , , ,

This is the continuation from this post. For a quick recap, the soldier Graciano, the smuggler Ramiro, and the doctor Viktoria have found themselves stranded on an island filled with snake people. They found a boat and could have escaped… but they decided to hang around and see if they could find a rumored treasure. That’s sure to work out well, isn’t it? Anyway, this is my take on a swashbuckling fantasy, because who doesn’t love pirates at the end of the day?

As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.

Ramiro raises a hand outside an iron bound wooden door, Graciano and Viktoria stopping behind, cleaver and knife readied. Ramiro tries the door handle, grunts as he shoulders it open, the wood warped from long exposure to the humid air of the tunnels. Ramiro rushes into the room, his companions hard on his heels. They know that if any of their captors are in the room, their only hope is to move quickly to overwhelm them.

The room is unoccupied, but far from empty. Weapons stand in racks along the wall, rapiers and heavier broad swords, pistols and muskets, and a wide variety of knives, all gleaming in guttering torch light. Ramiro grins, gestures to Graciano to close the door behind them. He does and draws a bar across it.

Ramiro helps himself to a number of knives, his quick fingers making them disappear under his clothes. Viktoria takes a saber down from the wall, eyes it critically. She finds a bit of space and spins the blade, her lips turning up in a quirk of a smile. Graciano studies the wall for a moment, the pulls down a rapier. The clamshell guard fits comfortably in his hand, his fingers tightening over the leather wrapped hilt. He thrusts, tries a quick lunge, and nods approvingly. Ramiro tosses him a pistol, and he catches it in his off hand, sliding it through his sash. He ties a pouch of powder and bullets to his opposite hip.

There is no other door in the room, so Ramiro leads them back out into the hallway. They keep pressed to the walls, damp with moisture and covered in a green slime. The light in the tunnel increases after a while, and once more Ramiro holds a hand up. He creeps forward, short stabbing blade held low by his leg. He stops again, holds up three fingers to Graciano and Viktoria.

The three rush into the room. The three pirates sat around a crude wooden table. The pirate facing the door lets out a startled cry and tips back in his chair, cards flying through the air. Ramiro’s blade spins through the air where the pirate was. The other two spring to their feet, heavy cudgels appearing in their hands.

Viktoria faces off with a short dark skinned one, her saber a steel streak in the air. The pirate ducks and weaves as best he can, lashing out with his cudgel, snake quick and agile. Lines of blood appear on his arms and legs, and he slows, blood loss and pain taking its toll before a single thrust takes him through the eye.

Graciano’s opponent swings his cudgel down hard at his head. Graciano grins fierce under his moustache, catches the blow with the barrel of the pistol in his left hand, and drives his sword hard through the third and fourth rib. He gives his sword a twist before pulling it free. He looks over at Ramiro whose face is splattered with blood. He holds up a bloody knife, the last pirate still on the floor underneath him.

Three hallways other than the one they came from spread out between them.

“Which way?” Viktoria asks.

Ramiro points down one hall, the one on the left. “Not that way.”

“Why not?” Graciano asks.

“That goes back to the cells,” Ramiro says.

“Yeah, we don’t want to go that way then,” Graciano agrees.

“So. Which of these two?” Viktoria directes her question at Ramiro.

The smuggler shrugs. “I don’t know,” he admits. “One is as good as the other at the moment.”

“So very useful,” Viktoria says. She bends, cleaning her saber off on a bit of cloth from the pirate she killed. “Take the right passage then. We follow it for a while, see if it leads anywhere useful.”

Graciano looks to Ramiro, who nods in turn. “Sounds as good as any other plan we have.”

The trio enter the hallway. Graciano notes that the passageway is descending at this point, the hair becoming close and musty. He resists the urge to sneeze, instead pulling a bit of cloth up over his mouth and nose. He sees Ramiro and Vikotria follow suit. The torches along the hallway burn low and fitful, casting long ominous shadows against the walls. Ramiro pauses for a moment, holds his hand up, then stands there for a long time.

“What is it?” Graciano hisses, but Ramiro holds a finger up to his lips.

“Listen,” he says. “Do you hear it?”

“What?” Graciano asks.

“No, wait, I hear it to,” Viktoria says.

The trio stands there, and then Graciano here’s it. It starts as a quiet whisper, like silk rubbing over stone. The more he listens, the clearer it becomes, a sibilant hiss, a steady cadence of a chant. He doesn’t recognize the language or the words, but the intent is clear. It crawls over him like a snake, worms its way into his heart. Whatever whispers those words in the dark is not human, does not belong to the daylight world. He shakes his head, tightens his grip on pistol and rapier.

The trio move further down the hallway, the hissed chanting growing louder with every step until they come to a balcony looking down on room below. There, strapped to an altar with chains of iron shot through with green, is a man. He’s stripped naked, eyes wide in terror. Around the altar, swaying in time with the hissing chant are the other pirates, all of them stripped to the waist, curling tattoos around their arms, traveling down their backs. Over the altar stand the priest, a snake headdress prominent on top of his head. At least that’s what Graciano thinks at first. Then the bile rises in his throat when realization dawns. What he took for a headdress was the priest’s head, a flared cobra hood, deadly fangs flashing.

In one hand the priest holds a knife. In the other hand he holds a chalice. As the trio watches the priest draws the knife across its own chest. Fluid, thicker, slower than blood, oozes from the open wound, and the priest catches it in the chalice. The sailor on the altar bucks against the chains, but he his shackled tight. Graciano finds himself holding his breath, heart hammering in his chest as he anticipates what will happen next.

“We need to do something,” Ramiro hisses, his eyes wide as a spooked horse.

Viktoria grabs his arm, and despite his attempt to pull free holds him fast. “We are too late for him,” she whispers back. Her voice is clear and calm, but Graciano can see the white of her knuckles.

The priest tips the chalice down to the restrained man. He thrashes, keeps his mouth closed. Two of the cultists approach the altar. One grabs his head and holds it still. The other pries his mouth open with a flat bit of metal, holds his nose closed. The priest tilts the chalice, ichor oozing into the trapped man’s mouth. His body bucks against the chains again and again, his whole body trapped in a fit until finally he is still. Graciano can see his chest rising and falling shallowly, sees his eyes flickering. Things seems to squirm under the trapped sailor’s skin and he opens his mouth in a wordless scream. As the three watch, the trapped sailor’s teeth grow explosively, canine teeth erupting into fangs.

Graciano twisted his mouth in distaste, spat some of the bile that came out onto the stone. “We should move,” he says.

Ramiro stares down at the altar, his eyes bright, the knife in his hand cutting through the air. Viktoria grabs his shoulder and turns him toward a set of stairs heading down. They come into another room, this one nearly empty save for a few crates. Graciano closes the door behind them, and Ramiro cracks open the door opposite, peers down the dim corridor. Satisfied that they had a moment of privacy, Ramiro slumps against a wall.

“I counted twenty of them to our three. Including my sailor. Jamarr was a good man, even if he was a lousy drunk.” Ramiro let his knife dangle from two fingers. “How are we to fight a monster like that?”

Graciano sniffs. “At least they die like men, don’t they? I’m more concerned with their numbers. And we still don’t know where they keep their gold. Or where Evaristo is. Though more and more I feel like he isn’t the answer we are looking for.”

Viktoria gave a small smile. “And how many have seen Evaristo? How do we know that snake headed demon isn’t the very person we seek? But it was never about Evaristo, was it? I for one came for the promise of gold, which the two of you seem to have forgotten about.”

Ramiro coughs. “Dead men can’t spend.”

Viktoria smiles. “Which is why it’s important we don’t get killed. Any of us. Now, if I was a certain snake-headed pirate, where would I keep my stolen loot? Not near the entrance of my lair, that is for sure. No, I’d hide it deep in the ground. Especially if I thought like a snake.” She points at the door. “We need to keep going down.”

Ramiro frowns. “And if we run into that snake headed bastard?”

Viktoria’s smile grows wider, her eyes sparkling behind her glasses as she taps her hand against her saber. “Then we cut off his head, don’t we?”

  1. Fascinating as always =) Just a thought, I’m not sure present tense works well for this. It seems to cut down almost too much on the thoughts of the characters. Particularly at the beginning of this section, it feels too much like a list of actions instead of connecting the reader with the character’s emotions and desires. ?

    • I don’t disagree. Part of it is that all of the other parts are written in this style. When I go back and put it into one story, I’ll take a long hard look at that component. Thanks for reading and commenting! It is appreciated.

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