Empire of the Tropics – Part 5
Vasco De Fernandes was brought before the emperor. He had been training in the academy of Duke Orléan for months, waiting for spies to reveal the location of the kidnapped Viscount Dom Miguel. Vasco’s swordsmanship was unsurpassed at the academy, and he had felt charged with a superhuman power and supernatural gifts since his dedication to the seeress Leonor. Her strange lizard he kept in a pouch on his belt, always, though it could not be said that he felt trust in her. He was nevertheless an acolyte of her mystical teachings, and had been her lover, and he dreamed continually of a wild nature-spirit, an Aegipan of the forest.
The emperor has gotten word of my skills. Vasco mused privately, as he was brought to the summit of the royal tower, the Falo, which was of exquisite Manueline design, inside and out. It is my chance to press him to save Dom Miguel.
It was night, and from the vantage of the tower’s summit Rio De Janeiro was a brilliant mosaic of coloured light both natural and electric. Vasco stood impassively, armed with two curved dragoon swords, and poison dirk he kept in a sheath at his back. He wore gold and leather armour the Duke had bequeathed him for the occasion, as emissary for his school. Vasco was distracted from the view by the Empress, with nobody else there to greet him save the soldiers who had shown him up. She was naked, save for a jaguar pelt about her waist, and quite beautiful. She was posing for an erotic mural, depicting herself as Artemis. Vasco bowed when he noticed her, she did not respond, but stared at him with passing interest, smoking from a long cigarette-holder. Before her was an unusual table of iron, in the image of a scorpion, upon which she rested one bare leg.
“Do you like it?” Came a deep voice from an unseen corner, and the Emperor stepped forth, in his military vestments, a parrot on his shoulder.
“I do, your majesty. Of course.” Vasco replied. “May I ask, your excellence, why am I here?”
The emperor gave a knowing smile, hIs dark moustache was immaculately curled. “You wish to rescue your master, I know. But we have something far more important for you, Vasco, something your master Dom Miguel would approve. Perform this for me, and I shall use all my powers to save him.” The emperor was drinking absinthe, and he raised the glass to the parrot, which dipped it’s beak in. “We are on the brink of war with Paraguay, we must vouchsafe the approval of the gods for this war, and to do that, we must appease them by crushing the rise in Republican terror. Do you understand? A singular man, for a singular task, one which, from what I hear, best fits your exceptional skills?”
Vasco nodded. The emperor continued: “And you are doubly suited because one of the ringleaders, one of the traitors of this republican insurrection is a person you are well acquainted with.” Vasco looked at the emperor, surprised. “Traitors!” the parrot repeated. Vasco became distracted by the beautiful body of the empress, and looked away. Surely it is not Dom Miguel himself, he thought.
“I am sorry Vasco, but before we continue I must know for certain your skill.” At this the emperor stepped back, and Vasco became aware, via his heightened senses, of three figures creeping from the shadows, from the front, left and right. The empress did not so much as flinch, though her artist ceased his work, and removed himself with a look of fear.
Cobras, elite assassins. Vasco did not move, and hardly breathed. They were full-blooded Incans, grim and near-naked save for loincloths and black bear pelts over their eyes and backs. The front-facing one had long bone barbs strapped to leather bracers at his wrists. Vasco sensed that he should look to the right, and saw that attacker shoot a poison dart from a feathered blow gun. Vasco determined the time had come to reveal the true depth of his power. It seemed suddenly that his motion was leaving tracers, and as he moved he was in several places at once, yet none of them. The assassins were momentarily frozen in amazement, as the poisoned dart passed through this strange phantasm and struck the stomach of the assassin coming from the left, who fell to the ground.
With lightning speed Vasco drew his own two swords, the right one shooting off it’s hilt on a high-tension spring, hitting the blow-gun-holder in the neck and sending him flying backwards in death. Without hardly looking Vasco threw his bladeless hilt at the front attacker, who knocked it away with his hand just in time to dodge Vasco’s sword strike. He’s fast, this one, Vasco thought, and feigning a lunge, kicked the man in the chest, sending him rolling backwards through a glass door onto the balcony overlooking the city.
Vasco noticed the empress, unflinching in her nudity, smiling at him, as he walked onto the balcony, bringing up his sword to meet the bone-blades of his opponent, only to spin and kick again with unpredictable speed, this time in the throat, sending the man over the railing, to fall through the warm night air to his doom.
“I’ve seen Enough!” Cried the emperor, appearing again from nowhere. “Enough!” Chimed his parrot. The empress stood as before, impassive, smiling, and her artist shakily returned to his work as servants entered and began clearing the mess. Vasco looked over the railing and saw the man he’d kicked over hanging from a flagpole. He twisted a sheet from the absinthe table about his wrist, and lowered it to him. The Cobra was reticent, despite his position. “Take it man!” Vasco said, and begrudgingly the assassin was pulled to safety.
“Congratulations, boy.” The emperor said, his eyes gleaming in the dark. Vasco nodded, somberly, then took a moment to look into his belt pouch, and saw the gleaming eye on the lizard’s back staring back at him.