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Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off: Dead Woman's Hand by Brian Barr

Dead Woman's Hand by Brian Barr

This is an excerpt provided by the author for the Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off Competition

After nearly a decade of sailing with El Cráneo Negro, a familiar vessel owned by a pirate hunter appeared. The Captain and his crew knew the hunter as Admiral Antonio Cristian Velasquez, a military official who had downed many pirate ships in his service to the crown. Antonio’s ship was La Paloma, truly a huge and impressive vessel with its iron plated borders painted gold and red sails. Alejandro and his pirate crew were ready to confront the murderous dog head on, to let him and his ruffian comrades know that the pirates of El Cráneo Negro would show no fear.

The Admiral had attacked first. Cannonballs came from the military ship, then from the pirate ship. Parts of the deck and sails were ripped apart.

When the ships drew nearer, the military men hopped aboard the ship, ready to conquer and apprehend the resisting pirates. The male and female crew of El Cráneo Negro fought with integrity against the troops, swords clashing, muskets firing. Barrels of ale and rum broke and spilled, mixing with fresh blood. Bodies fell as blades and gunpowder ripped through them.

The pirates should have all died that day. The Admiral was supposed to be victorious. Surely, he outnumbered the pirates. His ship possibly had more weapons with the funding of Spain behind them. All aboard El Cráneo Negro should have been finished.

The pirates fought viciously. Perhaps that was why they had intimidated the military men so, why they were proving to be just as difficult an opponent as their enemies. Maybe the Admiral was low on ammunition after other battles with previous pirate ships. Either way, the cannonballs soon stopped firing, and the soldiers aboard the pirate ship were falling with the same frequency as their enemies.

Bana fought with all of her heart, her sword ripping through flesh, bone, and guts as scarlet stained her dress and face. Her family, El Cráneo Negro, had sacrificed so much for her, and she would always do the same for them. They taught her to sail a ship, how to stock vessels for long trips, how to fight with the sword and gun. Just as she had taught them the dances and the customs of her people, they had taught her the pirate ways, to pillage and plunder, to take property from military ships with force and might. She had become a lethal force in less than ten years, and she never showed her enemies any mercy.

The fighting went on for so what felt like hours. A well positioned cannon caught La Paloma at an opportune spot, striking a hole in the ship below the water. The vessel began to sink as soldiers aboard yelped and screamed, trying to board El Cráneo Negro and join their comrades. Aboard the pirate ship, the military men were losing, facing the fierce buccaneers and collapsing to their doom. Heads rolled, limbs detached, and tongues danced along the deck like fish drawn from the vast ocean around them.

The numbers of military men and pirates had dwindled fast as La Paloma disappeared to the depths. In her peripheral, as Bana raised a musket from a fallen comrade and shot down a final soldier, she could see Admiral Antonio and Captain Alejandro duking it out with clashing blades, cutlass sabres ringing with harmonious music so discordant in their rivalry.

As the Captain drew his sword into the Admiral’s side, the Admiral stabbed the pirate in his heart. Captain Alejandro’s eyes grew wide, his blood gurgling almost immediately from his throat before it spewed from his lips.

Frantically, Bana looked around for any other friends or foes, realizing the sounds of fighting and dying had grown relatively quiet. No one but she, the Captain, and the Admiral remained.

The Captain fell with a choking cough as crimson leaked from The Admiral’s side. Antonio twisted his body slowly away from the fallen Captain, his body growing weaker with each spilling second.

Bana screamed, tears flowing from her eyes. She stared the Admiral dead in his face as she rushed towards him, her stained sword drawn.

The Admiral raised his cutlass, ready to meet the crazed Indio female.

In a swift swoop, Bana’s sword slashed through The Admiral’s neck before he could guide his sword arm towards her. The Admiral’s head was flung to the left from the quick impetus of the blade, flying towards the ocean.

A pity. Of all the carrion left on the ship, Bana wanted that head as a trophy, or a ship ornament.

The sights and smells of death were all around her now. She couldn’t escape it, not here in the middle of the ocean where the only exit was suicide. The Indio pirate had too much of a will to live for that, whether it meant slitting her throat or jumping from the ship’s rails, meeting the ocean’s depths. Bana wanted to continue, and she didn’t know how she had survived that week without going insane. Maybe she had gone mad, standing at the bow, trying to guide a destroyed ship in the middle of nowhere.

El Cráneo Negro was her ship now, a shallow wreck of what it used to be only a week prior. Bana sailed the ship with some remaining pride, some lingering ambition, but her friends were gone now. Their blood, along with the blood of their enemies, stained the deck of the ship. The bodies of the deceased littered the ship as well, rotting flesh filling the ship with a rancid, overwhelming stench.

Bana had gotten used to the atmosphere of corpses lying around her. Though she could toss some of the lighter bodies off board, it was impossible to remove the nearly fifty or more that remained all by herself.

Ruling over the ship in solitude, there was very little Bana could do to guide the ship the way she wished. The sails were ruined, the sheets in tatters.

Love Brian's Battle?  Purchase Inanna Rising: Women Forged by Fire over at Amazon.