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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,
10. Murder Mystery
Lopsang had acquired a small flat in a building next to the library, and while there was nothing but floorspace to sleep on, my rest was deep and dreamless. That level of calm lasted only until my first waking thoughts which were questioning what the hell we were going to do. We had made it to Tortuga, yes, but the last time we had attempted to go into the triangle, we had barely lasted half an hour, if that.
If we were going to be going back in and poking the hornet’s nest with a giant electric cattle prod, then we were going to need the firepower to back up such an intrusion. Without my gear and my weapons, I felt naked. It was time to put the CIA’s card to the test and provision up.
When Lopsang and James awoke, we walked down the street to a small café that served dark coffee and hot breakfast sandwiches made with delicious spiced pork. As we sat, savoring the food and drink, we remained silent. I was thinking through all of the potential ways we were going to die in the next twenty-four hours. It was a habit my mind tended to get into when it wasn’t preoccupied with drink. All-in-all, I found it to be woefully unhelpful.
“We’re going to need a bigger boat this time,” said James, breaking the silence.
“With more armor too. That kraken broke the other one like it was nothing more than a toy.”
“And weapons,” added Lopsang.
“And weapons,” I agreed.
“I also need to stop by the technical quarter. There’s a project a friend’s been working on that might help us get through the portals.”
“That’s quite the shopping list.” Weapons would not be hard to acquire, it was a black market after all, but finding someone willing to part with an armored ship, that seemed like a bit of a longshot. I thought back to The Captain’s Monstrosity and how it had sunk after only one volley of cannon fire. Maybe not that armored, I thought.
“Where do we start?” I asked Lopsang.
“You two should head to the harbor, see if there’s anything suitable for our purposes there. I’ll head over to the machine shop to pick up my project and meet you down there.”
“Not going to disappear on us again are you?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Lopsang smiled. “Make sure whatever you get as at least ten square feet of open deck,” he said, turning to leave.
“I’ll explain later, but it’s important. If you follow the main road here, eventually you’ll get to the harbor, pretty hard to miss.” With that, Lopsang turned and left, heading at a light jog in the direction we had come.
“Think he’ll be back?” asked James.
“He wants his powers back. He’ll be there, trust me.”
Just as we were about to set off for the harbor, Ike came running towards us, nearly knocking us into the glass window of the café.
“Ike!” I exclaimed. “Good to see y—”
Ike clamped a hand over my mouth, and leaned in close. His breath smelled of booze and stale tobacco. “Quiet, will you? I’m in a bit of a pickle here, and I’m going to need your help to get out of it.” He looked around the street, nervous and expectant.
James stepped in, prying Ike’s hand from my mouth and putting some distance between us. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“I’ll explain in a minute,” said Ike, hurriedly. Looking down the street, he spotted an alleyway, motioned for us to follow, and scurried off. As he did so, I became aware of a couple of black-clad individuals standing at the other end of the street, searching for something.
“What the hell has he gotten himself into?” I followed him, and James did the same.
Ike did not stop at the safety of the back alley, but continued to lead us down the twisting and turning side streets. Eventually, we ended up between two tall buildings that ran parallel to each other, ending in a flat wall with a squat wooden door on it. Ike eased the door open and motioned for us to follow him inside.
The building they entered was dark, lit only by red candles, with black curtains hung all around. Ike seemed content to continue forward never stopping to explain, but I grabbed him by the back of his shirt and pulled him to a halt. “What the hell is going on, Ike? And where is Amy?”
Ike looked terrified, his eyes wide and full of fear. His hands shook. “I’m going to explain alright, we’re almost there.” Pulling roughly out of my grip, he pushed aside a set of curtains and led us into an equally dim shop. The walls were lined with shrunken heads, monkey paws, and various other symbols of black magic.
Sitting behind the counter, plastered to a chair, was an old woman, very clearly dead, and desiccated nearly to the point of mummification.
“What the hell did you do?!” I asked, taking a moment to look briefly at the door that led to the streets beyond. It had been bolted shut and the open sign faced inward. At least he was smart enough to do that. The floor was littered with several empty wine bottles that I suspected mostly to be Ike’s doing.
“You told me to help her,” he stammered. “So I did, but the problem was, something went a bit wrong.”
I took another look at the crusty dead woman behind the counter. “Is that?”
“No, it’s not Amy ya daft fool. She’s fine, better than ever actually and fucked off leaving me to deal with this.” He gestured to the dead body.
“Amy did this?” James moved closer to the body to examine it.
“Not on purpose, at least I don’t think on purpose.”
“Who is this then?”
While the old woman’s face was barely recognizable beyond the visage of a skull with skin strapped tightly around it, her shawl was dark and adorned with hanging bones. Her tuft of white hair, which had miraculously stayed up during the process of rapid decomposition, was likewise filled with other trinkets, showing her status.
“This is one of the most famous dark priestesses in Tortuga. She was real nervous about trying to perform the resurrection spell, but Amy convinced her.”
I stepped up to the counter and looked over it. Open on the table was a book with dark pages, characters barely visible in slightly darker ink. The binding was black, leathery, and stretched, as if it had been coerced into place. “Don’t tell me that’s a—”
“Yes, it’s one of the books of the dead, and apparently a pretty nasty one.”
I had encountered a Book of the Dead once before in a city of gold, and had never truly felt comfortable in its possession. As always, black magic was highly effective, but always carried unwanted side effects. Such was the nature of true power, and why for the most part I tried to stay away from it.
“What happened?” asked James.
“I’m guessing the spell gave Amy her life back, but at the cost of hers.” I pointed to the old woman. “This, James, is why we never fuck with black magic.”
“Great, you know, I’m glad we’ve all learned a lesson here,” Ike was sweating profusely, “but the dead woman isn’t exactly the problem. I mean, she’s the source of the problem, but she’s dead, so it’s not her,” he amended.
“Speak clearly Ike, I’m sensing that we’re short on time, and by pulling us in here you’ve put us all in danger.” It was a classic move and one I had used many times. When up against insurmountable odds and alone, implicate someone else in the wrongdoing, then they have to help too.
“Yes, well, you see, being a dark priestess, she had hired one of the local clans to protect her.”
“Don’t tell me,” I started.
“It was one of the assassin clans.”
“Shit.” My heartrate instantly began pounding, listening to every minute sound in the shop wondering if it was the footsteps of impending doom. The assassin clans were well known for never failing to collect their targets. “How do they know it was you?”
“I don’t think they do yet, but when she doesn’t check in, they’re going to start to suspect, and Amy, the source of truth here, just up and left.”
“She’s smart. She just got her life back, probably doesn’t want to lose it immediately. Do you have any idea how much trouble we’re in?”
“I know, I know, I’ve hired them before,” babbled Ike. “Not to kill anyone, just to injure, but, they’re quick, and they don’t mess around.” Tears began to stream down his dirty face, leaving pathetic streaks in the grime that had accumulated there. “Please, I don’t want to die.”
“Quit your blubbering,” I snapped.
“Come on, Nick.”
“James, shut up. We’re going to help him, but it’s not because I want to. By bringing us into this shop, we’ve both left traces that the clan can track. As far as they’re going to be concerned, we’re as responsible for her death as he is.” My head was spinning. What was supposed to be a relaxing day looking for weaponry and spending the CIA’s money was quickly turning into a cluster fuck.
“Does it work the same way as the other market? If we escape will they leave us alone?”
The thought of being banned from another black market brought fiery rage into me. “It doesn’t work like that here. They can see your face, which means they’re going to be just as willing to pursue us out there, as in here.” We didn’t have many options, but one thing was clear, we needed to move. “Our best bet is to provision quickly and split up.”
“I’ll die out there alone,” exclaimed Ike.
I slapped him hard across the face, nearly knocking him to the floor. “Shut up, or you’re going to bring them here faster than expected. You’re not going to be alone, you’re going to come with me to get weapons. Do you know where we can find weapons to kill a kraken?”
Ike nodded, weakly.
“Good, you’re going to take me there.”
“What about me?”
“You are going to go find us a boat and get it ready to leave. Something tells me we’re going to be leaving in a hurry.” I shot Ike an angry look. “If Lopsang gets there before us, have him keep a lookout. They’ll be looking for you, but that lucky bastard took off at the right time.”
“Alright, let’s go then.”
“Don’t forget we need a boat with enough armor to withstand heavy attack.”
“And don’t forget the open deck space.”
“I won’t,” said James, growing annoyed.
“Put down the monkey’s paw.” I had seen him pick it up almost absentmindedly halfway through our conversation. “I know you’re thinking we need all the luck we can get, but that thing is just as apt to strangle you in the night as it is to bring good fortune.” Monkey’s paws could be dead helpful in a pinch, but only if you got the left one. The right paws were known to have a mind of their own, and were usually possessed by the monkey who had been dismembered to create them.
“Alright, fine.” James set it back on the counter.
We left the shop, careful that no one saw us going, but even in the empty street, I felt eyes upon me. It might have just been paranoia, but there was an odd feeling about the place.