Dancing with a Python
In a slightly panicked fit, Claude plunged the torch in his hand down into the ground and drew the short-barreled matchlock with his right hand and hammered the trigger. Only a few snaps could be heard. He just realized that he hadn’t lit the slow match yet. This short barrel is completely useless! Claude felt the sweat building up on his forehead.
The bloody, gaping mouth vanished all of a sudden. It should’ve been startled by the fire on the torch. The light of the flames helped Claude see a large, black python crawling in front of him. It was completely covered in mud and it perked up high, slithering its red, forked tongue now and then and glaring at Claude coldly with its two beady, emerald eyes.
Fucking hell… I knew that treasure hunts would never go well, thought Claude right away. He felt his two legs shiver irresistibly. I… I hate snakes the most… Even though the snake meat I had with Boss when we were hanging out with girls tasted great and Boss even claimed that they have aphrodisiacal properties… But… but this is a python! It’s not those little snakes they throw into a pot to cook!
Calm… I need to stay calm… Don’t let my thoughts wander. Claude forced himself to calm down. He still had a chance. The short-barreled matchlock was his biggest bet out of the situation. Even though he only had one chance to fire it, the small distance of three meters should be powerful enough for the gun. As long as he could get a shot at the python’s head, he would be able to kill it in one hit. Also, the python wasn’t as big as he formerly thought it was at first. He definitely shouldn’t fear it.
He breathed hard as the sweat on his forehead dripped downwards. However, he couldn’t be bothered to care about that. He glued his eyes tight on the python before him as he motioned his right hand carefully and slowly towards his gun and his left towards the torch. He was going to light the slow match.
By now, Claude was able to see the black python clearly. The cross section of its body was as wide as a bowl and it stretched around three meters long and had two razor-sharp fangs. Even though he wasn’t aware whether it was venomous, Claude relaxed at the thought that it probably wasn’t a giant python. If it were like the anaconda snakes he had seen i the movies in his past life that was more than eight meters long, he might just give up on all hope. But knowing the size of the python before him gave him the courage to fight back. Victory still wasn’t decided yet.
The slow match gradually neared the torch. Finally, a sizzle could be heard as embers could be seen on the end of the slow match. In his delight, he turned his attention away from the python to the slow match.
In that instant, the shadow leaped for him.
The black python sprang out of the mud and shot towards him like an arrow.
Knowing that it wasn’t good when the black python caught that small window when he shifted his attention, Claude couldn’t think of any other ideas and hurriedly swung his torch to block. What he didn’t expect was that the shadow that came for him didn’t evade and rammed straight into the torch.
Claude only felt a harsh collision in his hand as his torch was knocked flying. A pungent scent assailed his nostrils as a slithery, cold and disgusting object coiled around his waist and moved towards his shoulders. A huge force pressed his elbow and waist tightly together. Claude could no longer stand and he fell backwards into the mud.
Only time enough for three eye blinks elapsed since the python began its attack. Claude could only feel gratitude for the fact that both his hands still weren’t bound by the snake yet. HIs right hand still clutched the gun. Even though his left hand dropped the torch, it was still free to move. However, there was no way he could hold onto the body of the python given the mud that was on it that allowed it to slip away easily.
He kept his hunting knife on his back and he tried to draw it with his left hand, only to find that the python had coiled so tightly around his elbow and waist that he wasn’t able to draw it. At that moment, the python raised its head and opened its mouth wide before biting towards his face.
Claude hurriedly blocked with the gun in his right hand. The snake bit into the barrel right that instant. Fortunately, the gun itself was relatively long –around 60 centimeters in length– and the snake only swallowed half of the gun. The force of its bite also caused its two fangs to sink deep into the wooden body of the gun and remain stuck there for the moment.
Delighted, he tried to pull the trigger, only to discover that the slow match had been extinguished some time before during the tussle.
Shit! Why does bad luck keep coming one after another?! bemoaned Claude internally. The black python was flinging itself all over in an attempt to try to free its fangs from the gun, but Claude held tightly onto the gun so as to not let go. As it struggled, the black python’s body clasped even tighter down on Claude. He was finding it harder to breathe with each passing moment.
All of a sudden, he found the two torches he impaled into the shrubs not far away. His eyes glowed as he kicked his feet in the mud. He didn’t know what he stepped on, but it was enough for him to propel himself towards the torches, the snake and gun with him.
Feeling with his left hand, he finally managed to grab a torch. The python was still struggling to free its fangs from the gun’s body and Claude was on the brink of no longer being able to hold onto the gun.
It didn’t occur to him in the slightest to use the torch to chase the reptile away. He only tried his best to press the torch against the gun that was shaking nonstop. Sizzle! The slow match was lit once more and it was really close to the flash pan. Claude grit his teeth and bet his survival on the trigger pull…
The burning slow match was pushed into the flash pan. Bang! The recoil almost shook the gun out of his hand. The lively python froze all of a sudden following the shot. Only a short moment had passed, but it felt like eternity to Claude.
The black python suddenly perked its head up once more. Claude was no longer able to keep his grip on the gun and let it slip, only to see the python shake forcefully and uncontrollably. The body that coiled so tightly on him gradually loosened and slumped to the ground. In the end, the python fell into the mud head-first and rolled in it for a moment until it stopped altogether.
Claude breathed a huge sigh of relief and sat down after a moment. He pulled the body of the python away from him and supported himself on the shrubs as he stood up. He was hurting all over; he didn’t know whether it was because of the python’s tight coiling or the complete exhaustion that washed over him after the tough fight. However, he found himself rather lucky for not having been bitten even once. All his gear was still there and none of his limbs were badly hurt.
There was one torch remaining impaled into some shrubs in the mud. He could no longer bother with the muddy ground anymore; he had already rolled in it a couple of times already so there wasn’t a need for him to stand on the shrubs and branches to keep himself clean. Removing the torch and pushing it against the branches, Claude lit them up and made a fire.
Using the extra illumination, he found the other extinguished torches somewhere on the muddy ground. After reigniting them, he used them to light up the other three piles of branches.
The four fires burned brightly and provided enough light for him to get a good look of his surroundings. He could even clearly see the walls of the basement. It was really huge, around 400 square meters in area. Apart from the messed up ground on which he struggled, the rest of the basement was filled with mud.
Claude had two reasons for setting the piles on fire. First, he could see more clearly with the extra light and wouldn’t be caught off guard by other animals like before. Second, he knew that fires were threatening to animals like pythons and other beasts that lived in darkness. Having a few torches with him also made him feel safer.
After dealing with one big python, Claude really didn’t want to face another. The short-barreled matchlock was still stuck in the mouth of the python. If it had companions, then Claude would no doubt die no matter how hard he cried or pleaded.
He drew the hunting knife from his back and carefully approached the unmoving python. Even though he had shot it in its mouth, he couldn’t be sure that the python was already dead. In his past life, he had read about a person who saw the decapitated head of a snake just slaughtered by a chef and gave it a kick. He hadn’t expected that the head could still move and bite into his leg. By the time he was sent to the hospital, the venom had wrought its damage and he was beyond salvation.
The failures of the past are the lessons of the future. He thought it best to be more careful when dealing with snake kind.
He carefully accosted the head of the python and paid attention to any movements it might show.
The black python only laid in the mud without moving the slightest bit.
Holding the hunting knife to its head, Claude gave it a hard press and pushed the blade through its eyes and head. The black python’s body twitched hard a few times like it had been struck by lightning before stopping entirely.
Worried that the creature was not fully dead yet, he gauged the head with the blade a few more times and only pulled it out when he was certain. After that, he hacked the python’s mouth away and pulled out the fangs of the python.
He noted that the fangs had embedded itself deep in the aspen-made buttstock of the gun. It was no wonder the python wasn’t able to shake itself free no matter how hard it tried, affording Claude to kill it with one shot.
Only after he switched the slow match out for a spare and reloaded the gun did he calm down. He kept his hunting knife, held onto a torch and made his way through the mud back to the back of the stone steps. He no longer cared about hygiene and crouched down. Putting the gun somewhere he could reach in an instant, he lifted the jadestone chest out carefully.
He then shined a light and made sure that nothing was left behind before plunging the torch into the muddy ground. He took the jadestone chest and gun with him to the rope ladder, sheathed the gun, and began climbing.
After exiting the underground entrance, Claude slumped onto the ground now that he finally felt safe again. He put the jadestone chest lightly in front of him, rubbed the mud off his body before trying to open its lid.
The chest wasn’t a simple lid on a box that popped off. Instead, it was a sliding lid, not unlike the packages for wine bottles in his past life. There were two protrusions beside the chest. The lid of the chest was made of the same material as the chest itself. Even though it was light and thin, it was really tough and durable. It really was a wonder why such a thin piece of stone didn’t snap from sheer brittleness. Then again, it was a chest made for magi use, so Claude didn’t really ponder too much over it.
The contents of the chest were just as Landes had stated. There were two diaries and one notebook as well as a deerskin money pouch containing a sack of gold coins. There was nothing else. Landes wasn’t lying. He was indeed a pauper among magi.
Claude slid the chest shut and took a deep breath. He had managed to achieve what he came for. Even though it was a rather close call, the end result was alright. He wasn’t in any danger of losing his life either. What was left was how he should deal with what followed.
He didn’t want to let his three companions know about Magus Landes. However, there was no hiding his death battle with the python down in the basement, especially when he was covered in mud like that.
I need to think of a good excuse… Even though Boa, Eyke and Wero are 16 like me, they are far sharper than other students of my age. Maybe it’s because of how their capable fathers raised them.
Even though their grades weren’t that good in school, it was because they weren’t interested in studying. That didn’t mean that they weren’t intelligent. That was the reason the three of them got along so well with Claude. They looked down on their other classmates and thought them to be shallow and superficial.
Darn… Fighting that snake is probably gonna be easier than coming up with a reasonable excuse…