The Serpent’s Map (Part X)

Posted: October 24, 2017 in Fantasy, Fiction, The Serpent's Map
Tags: , , , , ,

So I don’t think I’m going to get this piece to 25k words, and more than halfway through even I got sick of the present tense voice (though for the sake of this experiment I’m keeping it for now). Consider this a zero draft of something to come back to later. And if you don’t like it, well I’d be happy to refund anything you paid me to read it.

Previous piece is here.  But a short recap is that Graciano, a soldier, returned from a campaign to find his brother hand been murdered. He killed the scoundrel responsible, but discovered a map in the process. His physician, Viktoria, forced her way into the schem to see where it led, and they hired the not-quite-reputable captain Ramiro to take them. They arrived at an island populated by a snake-cult. After escaping, and a few harrowing fights, they are trying to escape… but that’s not nearly as easy as it would seem.

 

“What now?” Vikotria asks. The trio stands at the bottom of the tunnel, their passage brought to a halt by an inky pool of water, the light from the torch reflecting off the surface, the depths obscured.

“Well, I didn’t see any branching passages, did you?”Graciano asks.

Shaking his head, Ramiro points back up the passage. “It won’t take them long to get through, and I don’t relish the thought of seeing how well a snake man can swim. So. We can make our final stand here, or take our chances in there. Way I see it, there’s even odds on something terrible down there.”

“And we have no way of keeping our powder dry, and I don’t relish the thought of going for a swim with a rapier strapped to my body,” Graciano remarks. He leans over, peering into the water, but it remains impenetrable. The air feels heavy down here, ripe with the musky stench of reptiles. “Should be all right with daggers though.”

Viktoria sighs before checking to make sure her boots are laced on tight enough. With reluctance, she sets aside her saber. Graciano and Ramiro make similar preparations.

“I’ll go first,” Ramiro offers.

“Why you?” Graciano asks, eyes narrowing, and his mouth taking a downward turn.

“How much swimming have either of you done? Less than me, I’d wager and win easily. So I’ll go first.”

Before either of the other two can respond, Ramiro tosses aside his rapier and dives into the water with only a small splash. They wait, ears straining for the sound of pursuers coming down the tunnel, eyes straining into the ink dark water for a sign of their companion.

Graciano jumps in the air and Viktoria arrests the swing of her saber when the surface of the water breaks and Ramiro’s head emerges. The smuggler grins, teeth flashing white in the torch lit grotto.

“Nice to see you as well,” he says as he emerges from the water, pushing his hair back out of his face. A rope is coiled around one shoulder, one that wasn’t there before he descended into the black pool.

“Is there an exit?” Graciano asks, sliding his blade into his belt.

The smuggler’s smile grows wider. “Even better. There’s a sloop! Well, several of them in point of fact, but we only need the one.”

Vikotria repressed a sigh. “And the bad news?”

Ramiro shrugs. “Could be one or two people between us and it. Nothing we can’t handle though. And it’s a bit of a swim, so…”

“So a couple of guards. And we have to swim. So we can’t take our blades.”

Ramiro taps the side of his nose. “I gave it some thought on my swim. The tunnel is fairly smooth.” He tapes the rope. “We can tie the blades to this, drag them after us after we swim. Besides, I know Graciano doesn’t need a full-sized blade to do a bit of killing.”

The soldier shakes his head. “You’re not lying, but it does help. All right, how far we going to have to swim?”

Ramiro shrugs. “Far enough, I suppose. I mean, I didn’t find it difficult, but…”

“But you do a lot more swimming than either of us, yes, we get it,” Viktoria snaps. “You should take the rope then, correct?”

Ramiro nods, and, taking their weapons, ties them in a thread to the rope.

“You want to go first?” Ramiro asks Viktoria.

“Better, I should,” Graciano interjects. “If there’s trouble on the other side, better I’m the first one through so you two can make it. If they block the other side…”

“Good point,” Viktoria replies, and Ramiro shrugs his acquiescence.

Graciano kicks off his boots and plunges into the water. The sheer cold shock of it nearly causes him to open his mouth. He fights the urge, teeth clenched to the point of aching. He feels the stone wall of the water filled tunnel, pushes off with his legs. He keeps one hand on the hilt of his dagger, using his other arm and legs to propel him through the water, feeling the walls of the tunnel scrape along his shoulders, forcing down the panic threatening to overwhelm him, lungs burning from the effort of not breathing, until he feels air against his fingers, pushes up and then he’s out. He resists the urge to gaps for air, instead taking a short breath through his nose, eyes picking out details.

He’s under a dock, the wood weathered and worn, and inside a cave, light from outside reflecting off the water. There’s a tread of boots on the dock, the unhurried conversation of men at work. Graciano slips his dagger from his belt, grabs the rough wood of the dock with his free hand. A dockworker passes nearby, a tuneless whistles piercing the air from pursed lips. With a quick kick, he shot up from the water, dagger slicing up the inside of the worker’s thigh. The worker yelled, dropping the crate he carried and nearly bashing Graciano’s head in. The soldier dropped back into the water as other workers came running, dropping what they were doing and grabbing gaff hooks and cudgels. Graciano realizes he should have asked Ramiro how many dock workers were on the other side, as he might have revised his strategy if the answer as more than two.

He climbs up from the water, the wood slick under his feet. The dock is narrow, only letting one of the workers come at him at a time. He sways back, narrowly avoiding a swipe from a hook, and he pushes forward, driving his shoulder into the man’s chest. The dock worker stumbles, his foot finding only open air over the water before he falls in with a splash. Graciano takes a blow on his shoulder, and he curses as the pain radiates down his arm, but he holds onto his dagger. He feels a rush of air past his head as the follow-up blow narrowly misses, but his return strike bites deep, the blade sliding into his opponent’s chest. The worker looks down, disbelieving, at the steel sticking from his body, clutches at Graciano’s arm as he falls back to the water. He yanks desperately at the arm, trying to dislodge the man’s death grip before he’s dragged back into the water. He flails his arms, only just keeping his balance. He looks up to see another man facing him, this one armed with a long wooden pole with a wicked hook mounted on the end, only now Graciano is unarmed.

“Big mistake,” the dockworker says. He takes a step forward, then stops, looking down. A blade sticks out of his side, and he takes another step before stumbling, and falling into the water. He takes a half-hearted swipe at Graciano as he falls, but the soldier s agile enough to avoid the hooked pole.

“Having trouble?” Ramiro asks, pushing himself up onto the deck. He hauls in the rope he carried through the water. Behind him, Viktoria emerges from the water. Graciano tore his eyes away from the very interesting way her shirt clung to her body, looking instead for any more obstacles.

Ramiro hands him his rapier. Viktoria is belting on her saber. “Time to go, yes?” Ramiro asks, heading to the small sloop. “Good. Already food and water in there.”

“Are you hurt?” Viktoria asks, noticing Graciano rubbing his shoulder.

He nods. “One of them got me, but lucky for me it wasn’t a blade. Let’s go.”

The hear shouting in the distance. Above them, they see figures descending a stone staircase carved into the stone. Ramiro is casting off lines as Viktoria boards the sloop. Looking around, Graciano gets an evil grin. He grabs a torch off of one wall and kicks over a barrel of pitch. The sloop is already pulling away from the dock as he leaps, tossing the flaming brand behind him. As they sail off, the pitch catches fire, and they feel the waves of heat coming from the dock, the other ships soon consumed as well.

The trio hears the distant shouting from above as their pursuers go back up the cliff, away from the choking cloud of smoke threatening to engulf them. Viktoria and Graciano settle in the sloop, keeping out of Graciano’s way as he steers the sloop toward home.

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Comments
  1. Present tense is definitely tricky but I’ve found changing tenses helps my writing overall. Somehow it helps me hear flow issues. Good job keeping with it!

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