Zorok pulled his sword from the body and watched it crumple to the ground. He was doing the child a favor. Its people were dead and its village burned.
He stepped over the bodies that littered the ground and paid no notice to the gruesome details illuminated by the flaming huts: tanned torsos with bloody bullet holes, looks of fear frozen on women’s faces, glazed-over eyes reflecting orange flames. His boots tread on an arrow, breaking it in half. It amused him that these villagers thought they could defend themselves against his attack with such primitive weapons. Bows and spears did little against pistols and gun powder.
The flickering orange light from the burning huts deepened the shadows in his hardened face making it look even more ominous. The top half of his dark, shoulder-length hair was pulled back showing a small hoop of gold in his right ear and the scar at his temple.
“It is time we claim what we came here for.” Zorok’s deep voice rumbled as he reached his gathered men. They cheered in agreement.
Zorok and his men grabbed torches from the pile they left in the cover of the trees on the outskirts of the village. They lit them with fire from the nearest hut and headed into the jungle, toward the cave.
It would have been easy to sneak into the cave. He could have lead his men straight there and bypassed the destruction of the village, but he had to prove a point; no one told Zorok, most feared pirate in the land, that he couldn’t do something.
When he arrived on the island, a group of men from the village told him—through one of his crewmen who knew the language—that the cave was an ancient place of worship, and only a select few from their tribe could enter. They wouldn’t allow him to go in and tried to scare him away by telling him that their god lived there and would kill them if they went in.
His men expected him to kill them and go in anyway, but instead he ordered them back to the beach where their ship was. He let the villagers think he was preparing to leave in the morning. Instead, once it was dark, he led his men to their village. They surrounded it then threw torches into the huts nearest the trees where they hid. The men came out with weapons, but it wasn’t much of a fight. They were illuminated by the flames, while Zorok and his men were hidden in the dark of the jungle.
Once they shot down the men, they came out and killed the women and children with their swords. There was no reason to waste gunpowder on something that posed so little threat. Normally Zorok would have taken those who looked strong enough captive and sold them on the black-market, but if the legend were true, he wouldn’t have room for slaves.
He could hear his crewmen murmuring eagerly to each other as they reached the cave. The villagers claimed that it was a sacred place, but Zorok knew the real reason they didn’t want anyone to go in: treasure.
The cave’s ceiling was low and Zorok had to crouch over as he led his men down the winding tunnels. The scuffles of their boots bounced around in the enclosed space, making the group of just a little over two dozen sound like an army.
In the orange glow of his torch, he could see marking covering the walls. They were all symbols he didn’t know the meaning of or words written in a language he didn’t understand, so he paid them little attention. Not all his crewmembers shared his indifference. He could hear Tom, the one who had a flare for languages, reading the words painted on the stone walls.
“’All those who value their lives should not enter.’”
“Like I haven’t heard that before,” laughed one of the men. Tom laughed with him then continued reading the rest of the writing, all of it warning those who entered the cave.
“’Take care not to disturb the great god of the island,’” Tom stopped to read, squinting in the torch light.
“Would you stop reading those,” called a man behind Tom, “You’re holding up the line.” Tom moved up to fill the gap, then read another one of the inscriptions.
“’Great evil lies within.’” He paused to translate the words in his head. “’If stirred it will devour the souls of those who dared to waken it.’”
“At the rate you’re going Tom we’ll have the treasure loaded on the ship and setting sail while you’re still standing in front of a cave wall,” the crewman directly behind Zorok said. The men laughed.
“And you’ll have us stuck in here with you,” said one of the men in the line behind Tom. Tom stopped reading and moved on.
Just as the whole line was moving steadily, Zorok stopped. There was nothing but cave wall in front of him. Someone from the back of the line cursed at Tom, thinking he was the one holding it up again.
“Well that ain’t no treasure,” said a crewman right behind Zorok.
“All this way for a wall,” grumbled another.
“Quit your whining,” Zorok said. “It doesn’t end here.” He dropped to the ground and crawled forward into a hole that his men couldn’t see because they were too busy complaining.
Zorok expected to find himself in a claustrophobic tunnel, but instead his lone torch barely reached the shadows of the cavern in which he stood. The center was filled with knee-high chests. Zorok went to the nearest one and shot the lock. He opened it. Shining gold coins filled his gaze.
“This is it boys.” He grinned. He turned around and the grin came off his face. None of his crew were there. He grumbled under his breath as he walked back to the hole. Were the idiots scared or just too stupid to find the hole, or was it Tom and his walls of doom holding them up?
The hole was gone. Zorok scowled and moved his torch along the cave wall, searching for the place where he came in. It wasn’t there. He called out to his men, but it remained eerily silent except for a trickling sound on the other side of the cavern. He cursed at the wall. He knew he came in from this direction.
A small wind brushed against his cheek. At first he thought it came from the hole he was looking for, but then realized that was impossible. They had walked too far and took too many turns for wind to be coming through that hole. There must be another, one that led directly outside.
Before he could follow it, the wind grew stronger, coming from all different directions including the solid wall behind him. The wind merged into one place in the center of the room and a mass of swirling black appeared.
The wind stopped as the black shaped itself into a seven-foot, human-shaped form covered in a black, hooded cloak.
Zorok drew his gun.
“You can’t fight me,” said a raspy but deep voice from under the hood.
“Give me a reason why I can’t,” demanded Zorok. Holes that disappeared, wind that came from solid walls, and hooded figures that appeared out of nowhere made Zorok uncomfortable, but fighting was something he could handle.
“Your time is up, Zorok. You made a deal with my master, and he wants his payment,” the form said in an eerie dead-pan voice.
“I don’t make deals,” he said keeping his gun up and his stance ready. “I do what I wish and crush those who oppose.”
“You made a deal,” said the hooded figure, “Now your soul belongs to my master.”
Zorok laughed dryly. “What do I care for my soul? Tell your master, whoever he is, he can have it.”
“He doesn’t need your permission,” said the figure moving forward. Zorok was ready to hear some enchantment murmured that was supposed to take his soul, but the figure put his hand into his cloak. He drew out a sword that glowed slightly, giving off a faint white light. The moment he did, Zorok fired. The bullet disappeared in his black torso. A rumbling sound came from under the hood that could have been a laugh.
“You can’t kill me.” The glowing sword moved steadily toward him. Zorok stepped back and drew his own sword.
“Who is this master you serve—the one who wants my soul?” he asked, hoping to stall so he could look for a way out of the cavern. Never had his opponents been immune to death.
“The devil.” The figure brought his sword down. Zorok already had his sword drawn, and blocked the blow. He spun out of the thing’s reach.
“I made no deal with the devil,” said Zorok backing away slowly.
“That’s what they all say,” said the eerie voice. “But you’ve made the deal early in life and confirmed it many times since.” The thing didn’t move after him, so Zorok took the chance to look around for some way out.
“Every time you stabbed your sword into a woman, every time you shot a man, every time you ordered your men to kill children, a deal was made.” The figure thrust his glowing sword at Zorok. Their swords clanged against each other and locked. The thing was strong, and Zorok had to use both hands. His torch flickered as it dropped, but it continued to burn as it hit the stone ground. He didn’t need it anyway. He’d found his way out.
“You can tell the devil,” he said, grunting, “that my soul is mine for today.” He used all his strength to push the glowing sword off his own, and ran toward a glistening ribbon on the cave floor.
White blasts of light flew past him. One of them hit his shoulder. He faltered and cried out as hot pain filled it. He looked back and saw that the blasts of white lights came from the tip of his sword.
He froze. There was one coming at him. He reacted. His sword came up and somehow he managed to deflect the shot with its broad side. It ricocheted off his sword and hit the figure’s arm, knocking the sword from its hand.
Zorok spun around and headed for the dark liquid ribbon behind him. He was taking the chance that the river didn’t stay underwater for too long, but it was better than being trapped with an enemy that couldn’t die.
As he jumped, he heard the eerie voice call after him, “Your cannot keep your soul forever. Memento mori.”
Cold water merged over his head. He swam with the current hoping it would lead him out of the cave. After a few seconds, he tried to come up. He was met with hard stone. He kept swimming and tried again, but he was still underground. It made him angry to have escaped a demon, just to die by drowning. It wasn’t the way Zorok, most feared of the seas, should lose his life.
Just as he was sure the devil would get his soul tonight after all, his head burst out of the water and his lungs filled with air. He could see the moon half hidden behind the jungle foliage. He dragged himself to the bank and a wild laugh of relief came out of his mouth. He was Zorok, the pirate who defeated the undefeatable. He had beaten a demon. He had tricked the devil.
His laughter died. The last thing the hooded figure said to him stopped his little celebration. He didn’t need Tom to understand what those last two words meant.
Remember that you will die.
Prompt 36 from Thain in Vain