Welcome back for the latest chapter of my 2012 NaNoWriMo novel Master of the Drunken Fist. Miss any chapters, check out the Table of Contents and catch up!
Early the next morning, Mike awoke to the loud bodily sounds of his Russian tent mate. It was disgusting, but the man, Victor, just laughed, “Yah, you should get up now Mikhael. The sun will be up soon, and we have plenty to cover today.” He laughed a bit more as he got up and dressed himself. Mike didn’t know what he thought was so damn funny, but decided he didn’t care either. He knew so little about Russians, and so little about these men that he thought it best to sit back and observe for a bit until he got his bearings.
Sergei cooked up breakfast for the men and they ate it around the almost dead fire that sat between the two tents. It was allowed to die down since they were on their way out. Wind whistled through their camp, making Mike shiver. He looked around them and saw nothing but forest. Evergreens cluttered the landscape, most with a good coating of snow on their branches. Mike wasn’t one for the snow, ever, and he couldn’t think of a worse place to be than in frozen Russia, assuming that was where they were.
The men were fairly quiet as they packed up the gear after breakfast, keeping to themselves. Mike didn’t like the silence of the men. It worried him. It was like a cat, going completely still and silent while watching it’s prey, getting ready to pounce when the opportunity presented itself. They all had an air of deadliness to them which he hadn’t experienced with his other trips to the void. He hadn’t expected that. He expected a romp in some other dimension, with no consequences or moral judgments to be made. With these men, he felt like he ought to watch his back the entire time, if only to find a knife sticking out of it and one of them grinning at him for doing it.
It took some time, but they got camp broken down and in their backpacks. Surprisingly, the tents fit easily in the packs and didn’t weigh much, as Mike was one of the two designated carriers, much to his dismay. As light as it was, it was still clunky and cumbersome to carry. Alexsander carried the other one and he seemed to not be bothered by it at all. Victor lead the way as they followed a path among the overgrown trees on an easterly course.
Walking along, Mike had time to think about his situation. He pondered the point of walking on in the snow, and what the hell they were even doing in the first place. Normally, the action in the void was immediate and the goal fairly obvious. With these Russians, they kept to themselves and he had no clue what they were about. All he knew was that it was cold. And white and green. The wind wasn’t constant, yet it made it’s presence felt often enough to chill him to the bone. He could see his breath every time he exhaled. Where on earth are we going? he thought to himself. He couldn’t figure out the plan at all. Even when they stopped for lunch, which was a wretched piece of salted, dried fish washed down with water from the stream where they stopped, they didn’t talk about anything but the cold.
After lunch, they picked up again, this time following the course of the stream. After about an hour or so, Mike didn’t have a watch on him, the stream emptied into a large river heading north. Victor continued on, following the river. At one point, he turned back to the men, “Shush,” he whispered. “I think I can hear them.” Them? Mike thought, Who? What’s he talking about? Victor motioned for them to get down, and they all did. He pointed south on the river and Mike heard the sounds that caught Victor’s attention.
From almost out of nowhere, a small covered boat appeared on the river. There were lights inside, and a couple men outside, steering it along. It had one sail, nothing like the large ship he was on with Cortez. They watched silently as the ship grew closer to them. As it did, Mike noticed they looked different. They looked Asian. He was surprised too, because it caught him off guard. They were talking among themselves, but it was loud enough for them to hear on shore.
“This river, it ends many miles up from here. We will find the market there and we can unload all of this stuff. We will come home rich!” The man on the wheel said to his fellow sailor. Mike paused for a moment, marveling at the fact that he could understand their language. The other men with him seemed to know he had the ability too, and they turned to him. “Mikheal, what did they say?” Sergie asked him quietly.
“Well, they said they had a lot of items to sell up at some market and they were going to come home rich.” Victor grinned, and it scared Mike. It was one of the most evil looking faces he’d ever looked on. It had murder in it. His eyes sparkled with it. “We follow them, and when the time is right, we strike. We’ll see who is rich my friends,” he said, laughing a little too loudly. One of the men on the ship looked around, but seeing nothing, went back to his work.
Mike didn’t like where this was going. He didn’t like the cold, he didn’t like the Russians, he didn’t like the feeling he was having. There was an air of danger about these men that he hadn’t picked up on before. He cursed himself for not noticing it earlier. Looking around, he saw knives, large bone handled and definitely used, hanging on the waist of all of them. He looked down at his waist and one hung there too. He lifted it up and looked at it. The blade seemed a bit rusty, except for the fine edge, which was shiny and deadly. The bone handle looked old and worn, spotted with what he thought were rust spots from the blade, or possibly blood stained. He preferred to think it was rust. Dread filled him. Was he a killer? Were all of them? Or was the knife for hunting? The thoughts swirled in his head as he tried to make sense of it all.
This was not what he wanted from the void. He wanted adventure, not death and killing and who knows what they had planned for the rest. Of course, he could have just been getting ahead of himself and making it all up. He hoped so. However, the lust emanating from the men’s eyes told him something different.
So for the next few hours, as the sun made it’s way across the sky, the four Russians followed silently. They maintained a safe distance from the ship, but never out of earshot. Occasionally one of the men would turn to Mike, asking for a translation, but the talk on the ship was fairly common chit-chat. Mike figured they were wanting to know if the sailors had spotted them. “I’ll let you know if they say anything about us. They don’t know we’re here. If they do, they are hiding it well,” he said to Sergei. Satisfied with that, the men continued on in their stealthy silence.
It wasn’t until late afternoon that the ship made it’s way to the shore. The men on deck talked about getting on dry land for a bit and holding up for the night. Luckily for the Russians, they docked on their side of the river. Hidden by brush, the four Russians carefully unloaded their packs. Victor was the first to speak. “We have our fortune ahead of us men. By my count, there are only three of them, so this should be easy. We wait a bit while they get comfortable and their guard is down, then we go in for the kill. We get a ship and some goods tonight.” The other men nodded in agreement. Mike was taken aback. He’d never imagined this. He was about to kill another human being, something he had never, ever, ever come close to doing. And these men seemed like it was nothing, as though it were as natural as putting on your pants. “Mikhael, are you ready?” Alexsander asked him. Mike hadn’t shown his best poker face and they must have seen something different in him. “I, ummm, I’m ready. Sorry, the cold has gotten to me,” he lied. He was scared out of his mind! He’d never sign up for killing anyone and didn’t know if he could do it. He wasn’t much of a fighter back home. He fancied himself more as a lover instead. A lot of good that’s gonna do me now, he thought. This seemed crazy, there had to be another way. Looking in Sergei’s eyes, death smiled back at him. Apparently, there was no other way. They were going to do it.
The sun started it’s slow descent into the darkness of night, the time of day when shadows ruled, and things lurked about hidden. They happened to be the lurkers this night. And Mike was shaking from the thought of it. Slowly, as hunters stalking their prey, they approached the ship. Mike saw a few lanterns inside lighting the small cabin. There must have been a cargo hold somewhere because he couldn’t see anything inside that told of wealth.
As they closed in on the ship, Sergei pointed out one of the men on the bank, sitting down on a stump, enjoying a pipe. Smoke twirled in the air as he took a drag and let it out slowly. He was in pure enjoyment of his tobacco. The smoke he puffed out billowed around his large conical hat. He wore dark blue garments that Mike thought looked similar to those kung fu movie robes he’d seen so often. He half expected the man to stand up in a crane-like pose and begin a beating on the four of them. Then he thought better of it when he realized this was not a movie and something serious was about to happen.
Sergei put his fingers to his mouth as a sign to stay quiet, and he went around behind the man enjoying his pipe. Slowly, he crept closer. Mike saw the blade in his hand, pulled back and ready to strike with deadly force. Mike watched, horrified, as the man dragged on the pipe one last time. Sergei wrapped his left hand around the man’s mouth, silencing him, while with the bone handle knife in his right hand, he plunged deep into his back. Blood ran down his arm, onto the ground. He twisted the knife, making the man whimper ever louder, but the large Russian’s hand was in a tight stranglehold across his mouth, muffling the sound to the men on the ship. His eyes widened to an unnatural size before the glossy look of death swept over them. He slumped forward and Sergei carefully let him down. Now there were only two.
Mike shuddered at the sight of death. It was a lot to take in. He silently hoped the void would take him away, though there didn’t seem to be any sign of that happening.
Sergei waved them closer. The Russians drew their knives, and Mike did the same. Walking toward the ship they could hear the men inside talking.
“Damn, what I wouldn’t do for a woman,” he heard one of them say. “Yeah, these Russian women are nothing like our women. I cannot wait to be done and get back home,” the other replied. Of course, the Russians had no idea what they were saying, though Mike with his “gift” knew their thoughts exactly.
Alexsander walked back to the dead man, took his hat, and put it on his head. As he walked back, he said, “It will give us a moment of surprise. Should be all we need.”
Stepping on to the ship, the other two on-board didn’t even break from their conversation, obviously thinking their partner was coming back on board. Sergei followed as did Victor. “Mikheal, stay here in case they escape.” The three men stepped down into the cabin, not caring what the sailors thought. They were cornered and death inevitable. Mike heard screams and through the small windows and saw arms flailing and the glint of a blade. Blood splashed on the window, splattering all over it, obscuring his view inside. He cringed. As he stared at the ship, he suddenly felt something around his neck.
Fear engulfed him as he realized it was a cord of leather wrapped around his neck. He could feel the brim of one of those hats on his head and saw dark blue sleeves on both sides of his head, hanging on the hands that wrapped the cord around his neck. He could hardly breathe and started seeing spots mixed with blackness. No! he screamed inside, he was not going to die like this, not here. He struggled with the man. They must have mistaken the number of men on board. He fought hard to free himself from the stranglehold. He tried to find something to brace himself on when his feet slipped from under him. His attackers held on to the cord with one hand as he slipped another cord, already knotted, around Mike’s right hand. Pulling violently on it, he drew it tight against him. For a moment, Mike let go of the arm at his neck to try and free his hand, which ended up being a mistake. The man grabbed ahold of Mike’s free hand and quickly tied it to his other one behind his back. Mike gasped for breath as the cord went slack around his neck, but just as soon as he did, the man reached up and tightened the grip again. Mike’s hands were bound behind him and he couldn’t free himself. He felt death’s vile hands slip around his life. It was only moments now.
Sergei and Victor climbed out of the boat, cheerful in their victory until they caught sight of Mike subdued by the remaining crewman. Running towards him, they knocked him back. Mike felt air rush into his lungs as the cord slacked from his neck. His arms were still behind him as he fell over from the blow of the Russians on his captor. They pummeled the man senseless. Alexsander went to Mike and loosened his bonds. Mike reached down for his blade and firmly held it in both hands. Looking up from their beating, Victor and Sergei saw blood-lust in Mike’s eyes, the same thing he saw in theirs before. They stopped their beating and Mike saw that the man still breathed, though it was shallow and slowing. Victor smiled. “Have at him Mikhael,” and Mike stepped forward, plunging the knife all the way to the hilt in the man’s chest. Blood spurted from his mouth and soon he stopped breathing. Mike’s knife rested deep within his chest with his hands still on the handle. He felt the last breath leave him, felt the power of taking another’s life surge through him. And unlike what he would have guessed, he felt no remorse for what he did, but rather a sense of relief and power. He held the key to this man’s life and he snuffed it out without hesitation. It helped that he looked on it as self defense, though he wondered if that would have mattered anyway. The sick feeling he thought he would have was replaced with a sense of awe and wonder. He took this man’s life and it felt wonderful. He removed the knife and cleaned the blood off on the dead man’s coat.
Thanks for reading! I hope you’re enjoying the story. Feel free to leave a comment below. Come back tomorrow for the next chapter of Master of the Drunken Fist.