The Serpent’s Map (Part VIII)

Posted: February 1, 2017 in Fantasy, Fiction, The Serpent's Map
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Part eight of my continuing serial. Featuring the soldier Graciano, the physician Viktoria, and the pirate smuggler Ramiro.

Continues on from here.

Graciano leads the way down the stone stair case, guttering torches casting a flickering light to illuminate their way. The stones are slick, and the trio has to carefully watch their step lest they slip and fall. Every nerve is on edge, listening for the scuff of footsteps or the scrape of scales. Viktoria follows after him, her saber bare in her hand, while Ramiro brought up the rear.

They emerge into a rounded chamber of dressed stone, the walls decorated with interlocking snake motifs. A circle on the floor is inscribed with a flowing script in a language none of them recognize. A stone door is outlined along one wall, but there is no sign of handles or even a keyhole. More snake inscriptions covered the door, along with more of the flowing script.

“Mean anything to you?” Graciano asks.

Ramiro shakes his head. “Never seen that language before. What about you, Vikotria? You spend more time in books than us rogues.”

Viktoria sniffed. “It isn’t in any medical text I’ve ever perused. Though… something about these symbols is familiar. I think some of them were on the map.”

Graciano nods. “That would make sense. But how do we open the door?”

Ramiro approaches the door, runs his fingers lightly over the inscriptions on the wall. He traces the outline, the seams, then the inscriptions themselves. “Here,” he says, pressing on a portion of the door. “There’s a section of the door here, and here.” He gestures to another part of the door. “Stand to one side though.”

He presses his fingers on the indentations. There is a click and two darts shot out from the door, passing harmlessly through the space where Ramiro isn’t. The door swings inward on silent hinges. The hallway past the doors is dark and foreboding, the air warm and musty. Graciano backtracks, returns with a pair of torches, handing one to Ramiro. The tunnel here isn’t of dressed stone, rather rough carved, the floor smoothed not by tools but by the passage of many creatures over the years. None of the three have any doubts that some of those creatures were less than human.

The floor slopes downward as they proceed, the air becoming hotter and thicker the further they descend. The tunnel opens into a larger chamber, the ceiling and floor covered with spears of stone. Large braziers dotted the floor, clutches of round objects pressed against their brass sides.

“They’re eggs,” Ramiro whispers, a shudder passing through is body. He takes a step forward, his foot crunching down on something hard and brittle. He lowers the torch, and the three realize the floor is littered with bones and skulls, the remains of past victims.

“So those are the choices? To be made into a snake-person or fed to the young?” Viktoria whispers. Her hand shakes, the tip of her saber wavering, but her voice is still calm. “I’m beginning to think no treasure is worth this.”

“Look, there’s another passage there. Maybe that leads to the treasure,” Ramiro offered. “Can’t hurt to look can it?” He steps forward, but Graciano grabs his shoulder, holding him back.

“Shhh,” he raises a finger to his lips. He strains his ears, and he hears it again, the sound of scales rubbing against stone and bones. “There!” he says, pointing with the tip of his rapier. A massive scaled body, thick around as the torso of a cow, slithers through the cavern. It raises a massive head, tongue flickering out to taste the air, cold eyes gleaming with a malevolent intelligence.

Graciano pulls his pistol and fires a shot, the sound of it echoing in the chamber, but the bullet ricocheting off the serpent’s thick scales. In the distance, they hear shouts, cultists alerted by the sound of gunfire.

“Well that was ill-advised,” Viktoria quips.

Graciano shrugs, then leaps aside as the massive head strikes, smashing through a stalactite. He extends his rapier, aiming for an eye, but his aim is off and the tip scratches the scales with a shower of sparks. Ramiro tosses a dagger at the giant snake’s head, but it too rebounds from the scales. Viktoria circles around, moving away from the massive coils. The serpent moves, its coils smashing toward Graciano. He takes a running jump, using a small mound of stones to carry himself into the air. He lands hard on the back of the snake, but he fails to find a grip, quickly sliding off onto the floor. He rolls to the side, the serpent smashing its body against the ground where he lay a moment ago.

“Its scales are too thick,” Ramiro mutters, holding a knife by its blade and looking for an opportunity.

“You don’t say,” Vikotria responds. She sidesteps the snake’s head as it crashes toward her, her saber flicking out whip quick. The serpent doesn’t make a sound, but as it pulls its head back, its clear she was successful as where it’s left eye was a gaping wound appears. Viktoria circles around, keeping to the snake’s blind side, careful not to stumble on the uneven ground. “Try actually aiming.”

Ramiro flips the knife through the air, catching the massive serpent through its one good eye. It opens its mouth in soundless pain and rage. Graciano leaps forward, stabs upward in a graceful lunge, the tip of his rapier biting deep up through the mouth of the serpent and into its brain. The snake thrashes, tearing the rapier from Graciano’s grip. He rolls to the side, avoiding the creature’s death throes as it smashes against the braziers and thicker stalagmites, crushing its eggs under its weight. The trio back up into the corridor, Graciano reloading his pistol, and keeping an eye out for the cultists.

A cultist comes hurlting around the corner, brandishing a cutlass, with more following behind. Graciano takes his time, aims down the corridor, and fires. The bullet catches the serpent-headed man high in the chest. He falls to the ground, and the ones behind trip over him.

“We need to go,” Graciano says, slipping the pistol back into his sash.

Ramiro eyes the still thrashing serpent, but nods his assent. He takes off across the cave, keeping to the walls so as to avoid the beast’s death throes. Viktoria follows after, and Graciano brings up the rear. One cultist gets close, raising a saber high to bring it down on Graciano’s head. Gracian parries the blow with grace and drives his riposte through the cultists’ neck before running after Viktoria and Ramiro. He clears the other side in time to help Ramiro shut a set of bronze doors behind them. Ramiro drops a heavy bar across the door. On the other side, they can hear the shouts of their pursuers.

“Think that will hold them?” Viktoria asks.

“I don’t think I want to wait around to find out,” Ramiro responds. The three run down the corridor, calls for a ram, the sound of the door being battered, echoing behind them.

  1. […] Wait, are you still reading this? After a three month hiatus? You are some kind of masochist aren’t you? Anyway, continues on from here. […]

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