The Divorcee is a Wicked Black Belly Chapter 116: The Gorgon's Lizard
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An Ning again awoke with a start. This time it was the eerie silence that greeted her. Beside her, Nian Zhen slept soundly, his head buried on the crook of her neck, his arms holding her body tightly to his.
An Ning shivered from the cold. The portholes she had remembered closing before going to bed were ajar, letting in the cold air that raised the tiny hairs on her body in alarm. A gray fog hang over the room thick and ominous.
An Ning sat up and shook Nian Zhen awake but he refused to budge. He didn't waken even when she shook his shoulder, his arms only slackening its hold around her when she moved. An Ning frowned and looked down. Nian Zhen was asleep but his breathing seemed to be weak and unsteady. He was sleeping curled in on himself, in a fetal position as if he wanted to disappear and never wake up again. A cold hand slid down An Ning's spine when she noticed the bluish-white color of frostbite on his lips.
An Ning's head swiveled to the open windows and instinctively her hand opened and her sword appeared at the speed of her thought. An Ning jumped out of bed and started savagely hacking at the cold fog, dispelling its poisonous breath, as she screamed at Nian Zhen to wake up. When he did, she didn't wait to explain but ran to the hall and inside the cabin Pollux shared with Kari. The fog inside was thicker and colder. The two girls slept on their backs, their faces covered with a thin coating of ice. The portholes were open and the fog was coming in, thick and fast.
"An Ning!" Nian Zhen screamed, his eyes widening when he saw An Ning, naked as a jay bird, holding her sword and twirling it in dizzying circles above her head, slashing repeatedly at the fog, which seemed to shudder then break at the impact. The gray fog retreated, making visibility possible at last.
"Check on Lux now!" An Ning yelled at Nian Zhen. "I'll go check on Cas," she ended in a rush as she bounded outside and disappeared inside the next cabin.
When she entered the room, however, An Ning screeched to a stop.
The cabin was clear, the fog was retreating and Castor stood in the middle of the room holding a large conch shell which was sucking the fog inside its flared lip.
Mother and son looked at each other without a word, too stunned for words. After a while, An Ning walked towards him and touched his shoulder.
"Are you alright?" she asked.
"I woke up and couldn't breathe, Mom. Then all of a sudden...," he stopped as he looked at the shell in his hand.
"I know," An Ning said. "I understand perfectly. Come on, let's go check on your sister."
Without another word, they went back to Pollux's room where they found her and Nian Zhen trying to revive a groggy Kari.
"I have to check on the others," An Ning said, after making sure her daughter was alright and her breathing not affected by the poison. "Cas, come with me."
As she walked, the air tautened as bandage wraps some as wide as half a foot suddenly shoot out of nowhere and flew towards An Ning. Cas wasn't even surprised when the bandages wrap themselves around his mother's naked body and started covering her delicate parts, wrapping themselves around her breasts then fashioning a pair of slim bikinis around her hips and groin area. The bandages then enfolded layers of wrappings around her upper thighs and arms, encasing her in a protective thick swathe against the cold air. The bandages disappeared as quickly as they arrived, melting like mist back into the ring on An Ning's left hand.
An Ning didn't seem to be aware of what was happening as she hurried down the hall and opened doors. Castor and her mother found Hank and the crew unresponsive on their beds, having inhaled the poison deep into their lungs.
"Fuck!" An Ning swore.
"Mom, Mom!" Castor's voice was urgent. "You have to go and save those people on the island. There's no more time. Leave them to me. I know what to do."
An Ning hesitated. She looked into her son's eyes and nodded. After giving him a quick hug and a kiss, she bounded out of the Whimsy, merely taking two giant steps that took her airborne and into the gates of Pirate City in seconds.
The thick fog had completely covered the island by now, thick and organic. It seemed to emanate from some supernatural force, like a breath being exhaled at an alarming rate. A single strip of gauze suddenly shoot out of An Ning's ring, fastening around her waist and hoisting her up in the air. The sword and a thousands copies of it followed after then Hippolyta's belt, which emanated a strange light that triggered a similar light in the swords which shoot forward like arrows released from a bow, dispelling with every swish the fog that have encompassed Pirate City like a tide.
Hippolyta's belt fastened itself firmly on An Ning's waist as she watched from her perched atop the fog. The island was not very big. On the other side was a cliff that dropped into a clear beach and on top of that cliff were the bodies of four men stretched painfully out on cartwheels. An Ning's heart missed a beat when she recognized Indian's ponytail and the yellow bandana tied around his head.
Fast as lightning, An Ning reached the cliff and dropped to the ground without a sound. The men looked to be dead, their faces swollen and almost unrecognizable after the savage beating they had received. There was a gray cast to their skin where frostbite had taken over. An Ning looked at Indian's mangled body and almost wept. Besides the beating, somebody had stabbed a knife into Indian's ribs, not to break bones but to open a wound large enough to create a hole where blood flowed and drenched the ground. Somebody had deliberately exsanguinated Indian of his blood and they did it when he was already close to dying. Dying but not yet dead as if the exsanguination was done as part of a rite.
An Ning examined the three other bodies on the cartwheels. Savagely beaten but the intention was not to kill but to...what? Only Indian was drained and only his blood was sacrificed. Why?
An Ning was frowning, trying to put together the clues the bodies were trying to tell her when a faint sound reached her ears. A gurgling of the chest and a cough. One of the men was still alive! The last man on the line...Terri! An Ning's sword immediately cut the rope holding Terri's body on the cartwheel. The body fell to the ground and Terri groaned, opening one swollen eye to look at An Ning.
"Terri! Thank god!" An Ning cried, helping him to the ground before wrapping him in the bandages then sending him back to the Whimsy. Nian Zhen will know what to do and hopefully it was not too late to save him. Hoping for another miracle, An Ning again rechecked the men's pulses more closely, waiting for a faint sign of life, a twitch of a finger or something. Anything. But Sumo, Gray and Indian didn't even move when she pinched their fingertips. Didn't even protest the slight pain she gave them.
A small sob caught in An Ning's throat. Indian and the rest of the men were happily enjoying their new incarnations before she arrived. They were content living their second chance after living as wandering souls for a long time. They had their physical bodies and their identities and life seemed good until she arrived and put stupid things in their heads and demanded somebody should go out there and basically spy on the pirates and their illegal activities.
So what if pirates pillaged two or three villages a year and sell their captives to human smugglers? This was not the modern times. Pirates can get away with anything even murder in this time and age because everybody basically sticks to their own territory and turn a blind eye to even the most heinous of crimes. There was no central government to seek justice from, there was nobody to say that this so and so were guilty and to put them behind bars or ask them to pay reparation for stealing or robbing someone. She transmigrated to the place and carelessly opened her mouth and demanded some action ought to be done and here was the result, the brutal deaths of three people, Nian Zhen's close friends, because she didn't know her place and interfered on something that had nothing whatsoever to do with her.
She didn't believe that Tsai Po had something to do with the deaths either. Tsai Po first and foremost was a businessman. You get money selling live people on the human trafficking market. Nobody pays for a dead body that was of no use to anyone unless that someone had a fetish for eating dead flesh. Or someone with an ax to grind; perhaps someone who did not want to see the deal between Tsai Po and Chengdi's monarch to push through. So, this someone created a rift between the two factions that somebody hope may trigger a war.
An Ning looked around her. The fog was dispersing. The cold air had turned slightly warm. The sun was shining. Life was coming back to the tiny island but it was not the same because three men were dead and another one was fighting for his life because she couldn't leave well enough alone.
Well then, she would plant her foot on anyone who would like to stand in her way this time. Three men have died because of her pride. Might as well add several hundred to the death tally after she gets her revenge.
Two high jumps later and An Ning was back in Pirate City. Everything was in chaos. People crying and screaming. Dead bodies on the streets. Panic and fear, just like in a combat zone.
Some people did stop bawling and weeping, however, when they caught sight of An Ning. The woman looked like a mummy wrapped snugly in white bandages. A skinny yet voluptuous woman, rather girl because her face gave away her youth, who did not walk but sat on a floating chair made entirely of bandage wraps. The young girl looked around her with an impassive face. Then she disappeared inside a large house with a gate and a courtyard. The people who saw her blinked their eyes, not sure if she was real or imaginary.
An Ning walked up to the door and opened it. Inside was silence. Not a mouse breathed or even moved. She took a few steps and stopped. The sound of someone crying. She raced upstairs and opened a door. Inside was a girl, about twelve or thirteen, embracing the body of a man who had fallen to his side dead. He Heng and beside him was Tsai Po, who was obviously still alive but barely.
An Ning dropped to her knees and examined Tsai Po's body. Unlike He Heng, Tsai Po did not die so easily because he fought off his attacker to the bitter end. And yet, there was no one around him, no blood trails or signs of struggle except at Tsai Po's face, which like Indian and the rest of his companions, was almost beaten to a pulp.
An Ning took out her knife and without hesitation, cut her finger with it. The blood flowed red and fresh. An Ning opened Tsai Po's mouth and let him drink from the cut, waiting and not saying another word when the bruises on his face started to heal and his battered face regained its healthy glow even as his internal organs closed and repaired themselves.
The girl besides An Ning stirred but even she didn't speak. They waited until Tsai Po's healing process was completed before they lifted him up and put him on the bed. The girl then sat silent on a chair besides the bed, watching Tsai Po sleeping peacefully. After making sure that He Heng was dead, An Ning covered his body in a blanket then lifted his corpse out and locked him inside another room.
The girl was still watching Tsai Po, the tears streaming quietly down her anguished face when An Ning returned to the room.
"He'll be fine," An Ning said, feeling suddenly awkward. "He'll wake up soon."
The girl nodded, sniffing wretchedly.
"Can you tell me what happened?"
"I don't know," the girl said. "I woke up and I...I found them like this."
"Is this Tsai Po's bedroom?"
The girl nodded.
"I sometimes take my breakfast with him after he comes back from a trip. He Heng, too. We..we've been together for some years now. My mother...she left me with my uncle before she became ill and died. He Heng...He Heng," the girl sobbed.
An Ning let her cry. It was no use talking to her when she was still in shock so she made a decision and carried Tsai Po and the girl back to the Whimsy with her.
Nian Zhen was already going insane with worry about her when she arrived. The swathe of bandages unrolled the bodies of Tsai Po and the girl on the deck, startling the little group of people who gaped at them like they were phantoms who suddenly fell out of the sky. They stared at An Ning, at her crazy looking outfit and gulped soundlessly.
"How's Terri?" she asked, motioning to the girl, who got up and walked soundlessly towards her. "This girl is Tsai Po's niece. He Heng is dead as well as Indian, Gray, and Sumo."
Nian Zhen looked at her as if he didn't understand what she was saying. Hank and Kari looked stupefied, their mouths open but no sound was coming out.
An Ning walked towards the twins and after making sure that they were okay, she motioned for the girl to sit down on one of the lounge chairs. The girl obeyed, still quiet, still in shock. Pollux poured water on a glass and gave it to her, smiling encouragingly as the girl took a sip then emptied its contents in one large gulp.
"Ning Ning," Nian Zhen finally came out of his stupor and hoarsely asked. "What happened?"
"I don't know," An Ning said. "Terri and the rest...they were attacked and beaten so badly and tied to cartwheels and left on top of the cliff on the other side of the island. Indian was...Indian was drained of his blood."
"Drained of his blood?" Kari asked, her mouth shaking from shock.
"Someone stabbed him on the rib which opened a wound that made him bled continuously. I think...I think he and the rest were offered as some kind of sacrifice during a rite."
"A sacrifice?" Nian Zhen was stunned.
"There was so much blood on the ground," An Ning said, "but only Indian was drained. And there were writings on the cartwheels that even I don't understand."
"And He Heng? How did he die?" Nian Zhen asked.
"I don't know," An Ning's smile was pained. "I found them inside Tsai Po's house. He Heng was already dead when I arrived and Tsai Po..."
"What about Tsai Po?" Hank demanded.
"He was close to dying. He was also beaten badly. They shattered his face, cracked a few ribs and broke one of his legs."
All of them subconsciously turned to look at Tsai Po, who was lying on the ground still asleep. His face looked healthy and normal. There was no bruising on it. He didn't look like someone smashed him to a pulp either. He looked like a man who had one or two drinks and went to bed slightly intoxicated.
They looked at An Ning, a question in their eyes.
"She made him drink her blood," the girl suddenly and woodenly said. "Then he healed rapidly and we just waited for him to get better and she carried us here." There was a stunned silence as the group tried to grapple and wrap their minds about what she said. "If only she could have arrived earlier. He Heng would have been still alive."
The girl's iron control finally broke and she sobbed and wailed and wrapped thin arms around herself like an abandoned kitten left out in the cold to die. Pollux met her mother's eyes helplessly then went to the girl and gathered her in her arms. The two of them, both girls about the same age, clung to each other. Pollux again threw her mother a scared look but it was Tsai Po, who, awakened by the sound of this keening, went to the girl and took her in his arms.
An Ning watched them without an expression on her face. She stood a little farther back, somewhat isolated from the group. The sun shone through her lithe tall figure, the long hair gathered in a band in the middle of the black waterfall. The bandages around her suddenly tightened and sprang to life as An Ning leapt, her body suddenly blocking the sun as she free-falled, sword at ready, and went straight for the girl sobbing in Tsai Po's arms.
There was a loud cry, an alarm, and screaming as the swathe cleared the deck of chairs and tables, and people, then snatched Tsai Po away from the girl, who suddenly emitted an earth-shattering shriek that almost split the Whimsy and the entire island in half.
An Ning's sword struck down but the girl was quicker. In one surprise move, her body flew on air and she attacked An Ning with a broadsword that was as big and tall as she was. In her hand, however, the broadsword seemed light and thin like a toothpick. The broadsword again swung towards An Ning who surprisingly met it head on. At the last moment, however, before the blade could reach and inflict some damage, the gauze around An Ning formed a formidable and unbreakable barrier. An Ning's sword swung and in one deadly stroke, the end of the blade tore through a golden bracelet the girl wore on her right wrist. The bracelet shattered. An ear-splitting howl that reached the heavens thundered and almost broke their ears.
And the girl who was fighting viciously with An Ning was no more. In her place was a giant snake-like creature with twin heads at both ends of its thick, slimy and elongated body. The two heads differentiated themselves from the other by their color. One head with a small crown was red; and the other end with the figure of a knight on its forehead was blue.
The massive body floated as it coiled and uncoiled in the air, hissing viciously at An Ning as she tried to escape its poisonous breath.
The snake-like creature then slithered down to drop on the water, causing a massive wave that threatened to smash the barge along with the Fancy against the craggy face of the island. The thick wall of gauze, however, prevented the ships from colliding against the rocks. The gauze then recoiled as it flew back to An Ning, whom the serpent had trapped inside the writhing cage of its massive body.
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