Another big day for word counts as I near the 50,000 word goal! I’m about 5,000 away and have just finished Part II. As suspected, that means this book is going to be a fair bit longer than 50,000 words. I’ll work hard to get the rest finished by the end of November, but it might bleed into December!
One big change I would like to note. I’m going to rename Part II from the Bermuda Triangle to something else, as I’ve realized almost none of Part II takes place in The Triangle. That will become the heading for Part III instead.
Also, if you can, please continue to share this link around. Even if you’ve posted it before, sharing it again will help us a lot. Thank you!
Just a reminder, this is unedited, a rough draft, is the product of too much caffeine and CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR WHITEOUT AND DOWNPOUR. You have been warned!
Links to previous chapters: Prologue,
5. A Pirate’s Life for Me
For the most part our journey was uneventful. The sea stayed mercifully calm and as we had expected, following the stars west did indeed lead us to shore, and we weren’t nearly as far as we thought. James seemed perturbed by a couple of flashing lights in the sky that he seemed convinced had to be UFOs, but were clearly airplanes. All in all, it was a peaceful journey and in two hours’ time we could see the coastline of Port-De-Paix, just across the channel from the Isle of Tortue.
The real trick was deciphering the notes in my master’s book which turned out to be more akin to a treasure map than instructions. The directions given were vague, measured in paces, and entirely dependent on landmarks that we couldn’t be sure would still be there. The one piece of advice on the page that was clear told us to begin on the island’s southern tip, oddly enough, the farthest point from where the original Tortuga had been.
We docked the ship on a small sandy beach, tying it up as best we could to a cluster of stable-looking palm trees. Whether they would actually hold it was unclear, but I wasn’t sure we’d be taking the boat upon leaving anyway. Either way, it felt good to set foot on land that was not inhabited by the dead, and to do so of my own volition, rather than by shipwreck.
“Welcome to the Isle of Tortue,” I said, joyously. “The home of the once famed pirate town of Tortuga, now the site of one of the world’s largest black markets.”
“Larger than the one in Nepal?” asked James.
“Oh yes, but not nearly as nice.”
“We were nearly killed in that black market.”
“Yes, we were, had you pulled that little stunt in this market, we’d likely be dead. No masks required in this market either, meaning we have to be extra careful.” Most black markets required that the shoppers cover their heads to avoid bloodshed, vendettas and legal implications. The market in Tortuga, made no such considerations. According to my master’s notes, people didn’t care much about crime and if they so much as thought of you as a nark on a whim, they’d cut your throat without a second thought. It sounded like my kind of place.
James remained sullen and silent about his part in our expulsion from the previous black market.
“I still can’t believe you were dumb enough to fight him for climbing gear,” I added, putting a little salt in the wound. It was the nicest black market I had ever been to, and I was still a bit sour about not being allowed back. “Now, let’s see, the old man’s instructions aren’t as good as I hoped.” This was putting it mildly.
“We’re looking for a hanged man’s tree.” I looked up from the book. There were dozens of gnarled trees on the bank, any one of them a possibility for where pirates might have used to be hung. “Says it’s about a hundred paces inland. ‘Can’t miss it’”
“Great, it’s a treasure hunt then.” James may have been trying at sarcasm, but excitement crept through.
Amy remained surprisingly silent on the matter.
I planted my feet on the shore, looked perpendicular to the water, and began counting paces. At around twenty-five, we began walking into thickets of trees and low bushes. “Why does it always have to be a jungle? I’d almost prefer the top of a mountain to this.”
“No you wouldn’t,” James reminded me. “Unless we’re remembering the Vikram Wall differently that is.”
The thought of a massive ice wall in sub-zero temperatures came to view. I had nearly died on that wall. “Point taken.” We continued walking and at around seventy paces, I started seeing a long, low stone wall right along the forest floor. I pointed it out to James. “Well that looks promising. Keep your eyes peeled for—”
“Think it’s that?” asked James, interrupting.
Standing plain as day in the jungle were some tall wooden gallows where skeletons hung, still wearing the tattered remnants of their clothes. The bones looked as though they had been polished white, a stark contrast to the state of repair the low wall was in.
“Alright, smart ass.”
“Poor souls,” murmured Amy.
“Probably not. If they’re being hung outside the black market, they probably deserved it.”
“What’s the next part of the map say?” asked James, a little too eagerly.
“Calm down kid, this isn’t the Goonies.”
His face went red and I thought he might have been about to punch me. It wouldn’t be the first time, but his anger quelled and he returned to his sullen, sarcastic demeanor.
“To get the key, you must commit the crime he died for,” I read.
“This is exactly like Goonies,” corrected James. “It’s a riddle.”
“I know it’s a fucking riddle.”
“Would you two quit your bickering already?” Amy sighed and walked over to the gallows. With a little trouble, she hoisted herself onto the gallows and began rummaging through the pockets of the deceased. It was an odd site, one corpse robbing another, but surprisingly one of the sanest parts of the last few days. As usual things had gone from strange to stranger.
“Got it,” exclaimed Amy, pulling a large iron key from one of the skeleton’s pockets.
I skimmed through the notes on the page. Most of them were complaints about the heat and the hidden nature of the market’s door. Why they feel this market has to be so secretive, I’ll never know. I’m surprised anyone even goes through the bloody trouble of trekking through this accursed jungle. I did my best to skip past the complaints but found that they made up the bulk of the page.
“What does it say?” Amy hopped down from the gallows making a sickening thud as she landed and walked back over.
“Mostly that he didn’t like the heat and thought this was all a bit ridiculous…”
“Not helping, James. Ah, there it is. A hundred paces east, turn the key, and open the door.”
“Apparently. Here’s hoping he didn’t forget to mention any form of traps or guards.” I closed the book, turned East and once more started to count my steps. The low stone walls continued, cropping up on either side the further we walked until eventually they ended at a ruined wall with a large black hole in it.
“Well that looks welcoming.” If there was anything I had learned from the temples and tombs I had raided, it was never stick your hand in the dark hole. Cautiously, I picked up a stick from the ground and moved to poke it.
James looked at me like I was an idiot.
“If you think I’m putting my hand in that hole without checking first, you’re a madman.” I walked up to the stone wall and inserted the stick. For a moment there was silence. “I guess there’s nothing to—” There was a crunching sound as the stick broke in half. I pulled out a twig that was much smaller than what I had started with.
“Right,” I said, dropping it on the ground. “Who’s got ideas?”
“Maybe there’s a reason so many pirates had missing hands,” said James, helpfully.
I opened the book again, looking for anything I might have missed, but there was nothing. The passage went straight from Walk one-hundred paces East, to, I found myself in what can only be described as a den of sin. The book may have contained a great deal of knowledge, but it wasn’t always helpful.
“I think we both know what we have to do here James.” I hadn’t had an opportunity to look at our ledger for over a year, so there was a fifty-fifty shot of success.
“This does not fall under the category of ‘bait’! Are you insane?”
Part of me didn’t really believe I’d lose a hand, and I was willing to chance it if it was my turn. “I think this explicitly falls under the terms of our agreement.” I pulled out the notebook I always kept in my breast pocket.
“God damnit, no, Nick.”
“You signed in blood, James. I don’t think I need to remind you again.” I turned to the last page of the ledger. A long time ago, James and I had agreed to taking turns in acts that brought with them the potential for bodily harm, more commonly referred to as ‘being the bait’. My heart sank as I looked at the ledger. January 1st, 2017 – James waited in a field holding a carrot trying to draw out a hoard of angry animated snowmen.
“What does it say?”
“It’s my turn…”
James let out a sigh of relief. “Well in that case, go for it.”
I was beginning to still myself for the inevitable dismemberment when Amy walked by, paying no heed to our argument, stuck her hand, holding the key into the hole and turned it. She looked back at us, triumphant, and then screamed bloody murder.
“Oh god, James, quick, we need to help her.”
Both of us rushed forward. I wasn’t sure how much pain a corpse could really feel, but having one’s hand cut off is never a pleasant experience, or at least, so I’m told.
As we approached, the stone wall split in two parting at the middle and revealing a small passageway. As the rocks moved apart, Amy’s hand was revealed, unscathed. She began to laugh at us. “I wasn’t sure that would work, but figured I was already dead. What’s the worst that could have happened?”
James and I looked at each other in disbelief and then started laughing right along with her.
“That was one hell of a gamble.”
“Well I figured if we waited for you two to quit your arguing we’d be here until I died all over again. This just seemed quicker.” She smiled at me and gave the same odd wink as before. “Now, I believe there’s a pirate city you promised to show me?” She tried to bat her eyelashes, but merely managed an odd twitch.
“You opened the door,” I said, impressed. “That means you get to go first.”
“Well follow me then.” Amy turned and walked into the dim tunnel beyond.
Many markets are built to amaze with the sheer quantity of items they showcase, or dazzle with their quality. Tortuga aimed for none of these things, and instead settled for showing the seediest underbelly possible from the first step into its muddy, piss-stained cobblestone streets. It was a bustling pirate town, reminiscent of what the original Tortuga had been in its heyday, right down to the scurvy, violence and low life expectancy.
Before us, clerks sold strange items from roadside stands, tavern lads and ladies beckoned from balconies, and I’m pretty sure somewhere in the distance I heard the mournful sound of a hurdy gurdy. The ceiling above was almost too high to see, but it looked like a naturally formed cave, with massive stalactites dripping down from the ceiling. Off to one side, a waterfall pounded on a waterwheel, powering a large generator likely responsible for everything that wasn’t torchlit.
The tunnel that had led from the jungle had taken us about twenty minutes to walk, sloping downward the whole time. It was the most inconvenient black market I had ever been to, and the least impressive visually, but there was an allure to the place that I couldn’t quite nail down. Perhaps it was the possibility that anything could happen there, good or bad, but almost certainly bad.
Amy made no effort at hiding her disappointment. Her skin looked especially taught and her eyes narrowed. “I left the island for this?”
“This,” I made a sweeping gesture to the bustling city street before us, “is just the main thoroughfare. What interests us is going to be in the city’s mystic quarter.” Most black markets were divided into sections based on what was sold there. I tried to stay away from anything that didn’t pertain to myths and legends. There was one exceptionally memorable evening where I had accidentally ended up in an Assassin’s Quarter, but that’s a story for another time.
“How are we supposed to find the mystic quarter?” asked James.
“When possible, I like to start all excursions to the black market in a similar fashion.”
“Setting an apprentice to an impossible task?”
I scowled. “No, that was just a bit of fun. The proper way to start is by heading to the nearest tavern and getting a pint of the strongest stuff they offer. It’s the only real way to clear my head.”
“You want to get drunk?” asked Amy.
“He always wants to get drunk,” replied James.
“I do not…”
Amy cocked her head at me.
“I just think we should get a little buzz going is all. It’s going to help.”
Neither Amy nor James said anything.
“Oh Christ, what are you two, the mission? Give me a break.” Settled in the matter of getting a drink, I walked out of the tunnel mouth and into the full stink of the streets. James and Amy followed, albeit a little more reluctantly than I would have hoped.
Walking through the town, the sounds of meat frying, drunks cheering, and fights breaking out were omnipresent. The buildings on either side had been carefully crafted through mixtures of wood and stone to look in keeping with the town’s pirate architecture. We didn’t have to walk far before we found one with a swinging sign labeled: Tavern.
Without asking for a second opinion, I stepped through the swinging, wooden doors. Inside was chaos. Immediately I found my attention caught by a handsome man, dressed in a full suit, drinking a comically oversized bottle of rum, while hanging from a chandelier. The rest of the tavern was much in keeping with this first image.
“My kind of place.”
James grimaced. “We’re going to die here.”
“Too late,” said Amy. With no hesitation, she walked up to the bar and began trying to get the bartender’s attention.
“She’s got the right idea,” I said, and followed.
The man behind the bar was portly with a belly extending well out of his shirt, likely from sampling too much of his own grog. While he was bald, it seemed that most of his hair had migrated into a long, scraggly beard that fell almost to the floor. “Oh dear,” he said, looking at Amy. “You don’t look well. Here,” he reached behind the counter and pulled out a frosty pint of mystery liquid. “That oughta sort you.”
“I doubt it,” replied Amy, “but thank you.”
The bartender looked at her concerned until she took a hefty swig of the pint glass. He then turned his attention to me. “What about you? Something stronger?”
His perception was true. “Rum, or something stronger if you have it.” It had been a long series of days and we were coming on twenty-four hours without a drink. It was time.
“Grog it is.” The man laughed heartily and disappeared behind a curtain momentarily. When he returned it was with a wooden stein filled with amber liquid. “Tastes like a lizard’s ass, but it’ll do the trick.”
As he handed me the drink, it occurred to me that I had not checked my pockets to see if we were still in possession of any currency. By the time I had thought about it, James was already ordering a drink. If we were caught in a tavern with no form of currency, we were likely to end up as the next dead men upon the gallows by morning. Luckily, when I patted myself down, my wallet, and the CIA black card concealed within it were still there. All things considered, our luck had been pretty fair.
The bartender handed James a dark cup of liquid on ice and I handed him the card. Without question or so much as a second glance, he ran the card through a machine behind the bar and handed it back. There were no receipts in the Black Market, for obvious reasons, only the guarantee that if someone ripped you off, they wouldn’t be in business for long.
“Rum?” I asked James, looking at the swirling liquid in his hand.
“I couldn’t agree more.” The tavern was rowdy, full of life, but most importantly felt safe. For the first time in a few days, my heart stopped going a mile a minute. “I think a toast is in order.” I raised my glass of grog.
Amy and James did the same.
I was about to toast to life, but thought better of it. Amy might have been enjoyable company, but her condition was still one I was getting used to. “To continued existence.” It was a bit awkward, but served the purpose.
“To surviving a kraken attack,” said James.
“To a bar that’s filled with the living,” added Amy.
We clinked our cups together and drank deeply. It was a good feeling to just sit. For a while, we did just that, sat, and drank, not saying a word to one another. I used the silence to mull over the peculiarity of our attack. I pulled out my master’s book and read through the section concerning them. As I suspected, most records indicated that they had gone extinct nearly four centuries ago.
“What is it?” asked James, peering at the book.
“I can’t shake the fact that something was odd about that attack.”
“You mean aside from the fact that our boat was sunk by a sea monster?”
“A kraken specifically.”
“You saw a kraken?” Came a drunken voice from the chandelier above us. The man who had been sitting there drinking when we entered had apparently also taken up eavesdropping. He took a hearty swig of whatever mystery he was drinking and swung down, nearly tearing the chandelier out of the ceiling.
“Hoy!” yelled the bartender. “Ike, what have I told you?”
The man landed on the floor with the nimble grace of a cat, hardly stumbling. “I know!” he slurred. “And you don’t have to tell me again. If I break the chandelier, I’m paying for it.” He made some rude gestures to the bartender who just laughed it off and returned to serving.
“Eavesdropping is dangerous in a place like this,” I said, slamming the book shut.
“Oh, come off it. Eavesdropping is the only way to get good information around here.” The man stood to his full height taking another long gulp. He wore a shabby tweed jacket, dress pants that might have at one point passed for professional, but were tattered beyond recognition, and a collared shirt to match. “Professor. Bartelby, at your service.” He gave a low bow, and then looked at Amy quizzically.
“I thought the bartender said your name was Ike?”
“And I thought you were among the living for a minute.” The man drew closer to Amy, looking her up and down as if examining a research specimen.
“That’s quite rude.”
“Ike is a nickname, short for Icarus. Some bastards would say I flew a little too close to the sun, but I like the name, so I keep it. Call me what you like.” He continued to examine Amy.
“Do you mind?” I asked, hoping Ike would take the hint and leave.
“I do actually. I’m quite interested in the ‘kraken’ you saw, and this here woman is dead.” The tone he used was matter-of-fact. “That’s two things that have quite peaked my interest.”
“Well you haven’t peaked ours,” said James flatly.
“What if I told you there’s a member’s only bar upstairs and I can get you in?”
This was intriguing, but I still didn’t trust the man. “Thanks, but I think we’ll pass.”
“What if I told you I’d buy you’s all a round?” Ike grinned, appearing for a moment to be genial rather than stinking drunk.
“Lead the way,” I said. Long ago, I had made a policy of not passing up free drinks unless I thought it put my life at risk. Ike appeared to be a drunk, but not of the murderous sort, and though the drink in my hand was only half gone, the promise of another was enough to inspire me to movement.
Ike turned on his heel and walked towards a staircase at the back of the bar, weaving back and forth through the crowd as he went.
“Are you really going to follow him?” James asked.
“What’s my one rule James?”
“You have a thousand god damned rules.”
“What’s the most important one?”
“Don’t get killed.”
“Alright, fine, the second most important.”
James sighed. “Never turn down a free drink.
“That’s right. Amy? Do you have a problem with it?”
She looked slightly conflicted and a bit offended, but not aggravated. “It’s a good rule, and he might be rude, but he didn’t run away screaming when he realized what I was. As far as company goes, we could do worse.”
“It’s settled then.”
Ike waved to us drunkenly from the stairwell. “Come on, don’t just stand around when there’s good conversation to be had!”