Chapter 2 : In The Flesh
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Louise Bourgoin as Serefina Fiametta
Furthermore, the cast list mentioned above is a list of people I envision to be the characters and is only provided to serve as visual aids for the reader. I have, in no way shape or form, any means to actually procure these actors to be my characters. Thank you!
WARNING! May contain scenes of hunting, but no animals were hurt during the writing of this story. Viewer discretion is advised. Reserve judgement on the topic when the story is complete.
In The Flesh
The air was thick with the spice of sweat and the sweat of spice. Wesley could hardly breath through it. There was no escaping the smell of Casablanca. He covered his nose and closed his eyes, tried to imagine himself back home in the fog and cold of London.
The woman, this Fiametta character, was such a public nuisance in the newspapers and novels of Europe. Wesley had half expected to jump off the boat and see her swashbuckling on the pier itself. But reality disappointed quite easily. He’d already been in Morocco for more than a fortnight yet there was still no trace of Serefina Fiametta. He’d spent the last week harassing the Moroccan underbelly for any trace of the woman, but still the scent was cold. Every source he’d asked had pointed him to a dead end. One thing was for certain - this adventurer did not want to be found by any prying eyes. Everyone in the port claimed to know where she lived, but no one seemed to know the truth of it.
Lying in defeat in his overheated hotel room, Wesley turned his eyes to the ceiling and watched the fan as it turned endlessly - making an effort of providing some comfort of a breeze, but failing miserably.
The clock chimed two in the afternoon. It was midday, and as it was at every hour in Casablanca, it was time to head on over to the bar for a drink.
Wesley propped himself up and collected his coat from the bedpost. If he was going to fail at this mission, then he might as well do it sodding drunk.
Opening his door was like opening the final seal to hell. The smoke and noise of the local drunkards greeted him with a resounding hurrah!
Wesley found that Morocco was nothing but a cesspool of overlooked crime and corruption. Even the French legions in residence did nothing to better the situation. They were even happy to participate in it! Patronizing gin establishments, running gambling dens, providing opium to the masses - it was all old hat. But naturally, since these were the most powerful men in Casablanca, none of them could be charged with their obvious crimes. At least not by the French.
Now if this were a colony of the Empire’s, such lawlessness would never have gone unchecked. But seeing as the snail-eating buffoons had current run of the country, Wesley made note that it could be worse. At least there were no guillotines. Not yet.
Wesley grabbed the last empty bar stool and ordered himself a whiskey. Proper Irish one, he said. Nothing less. He toasted to King, country and the Ministry before ordering another glass.
This went on for five more glasses, drawing his goals of complete inhibition close at hand. Even as the sweat dripped from his brow to his drink, he did not stop.
The devil with his career and the Minister with it! If they wanted this huntress so bad, then they should send old Spout-Hole Spavin to look for her instead. Wesley was finished.
Just then, someone sat beside him and ordered whatever he’d been drinking. Two, one for the gentleman as well, the man said.
As the barman gave them their drinks, Wesley turned to toast his benefactor only to realize that it was a woman. Gruff and dirty as any man in Casablanca, but with the distinct smell of a floral perfume that was rare in places like this.
She was dressed in a dirt covered white shirt, a man’s trousers and heavy dragon hide boots. She had a cutlass strapped to her side, a gun leaning on her stool, and a bag - that seemed to be bleeding – clasped in her hand.
“Merlin’s sodding beard!” he gasped.
Was this a trick? Did the blasted locals find it entertaining to poke fun at the drunk Englishman? He’d had half a bottle of whiskey and was not in his right state of mind. For all he knew, this was nothing but his desperate state of mind seeking for retribution in his imagination.
The woman drank her tall glass of whiskey in one breath, wiped her mouth with her blood stained glove and spoke. “You have been looking for me, si?”
Wesley did not know how to respond. All the whiskey he’d had was starting to merge in his head, forming one enormous ball of successive, ill-made decisions…manifesting in the form of a headache. None of what the woman was saying made sense.
He tried to stand, only to fall and be caught by the woman. The men around him started to laugh as she threw his arm around her shoulder and helped him up.
She muttered something in French to the barman and started to help poor, drunk Wesley up the stairs and to his room.
The woman dropped him on his bed, threw her bloody cargo to a corner and helped herself to the bottle of wine Wesley had been keeping by his bedside.
“So you’re the one that’s been poking his nose into everyone’s business. Well speak up! I did not come back from Egypt early to be stared at!”
She gave his bed a light kick, shaking him back to some form of sobriety. Wesley rallied and tried to straighten himself out. He smoothed his hair back and brushed off the dirt she’d managed to get on his clothes.
Wesley cleared his throat. “Am I to assume that you’re Serefina Fiametta?”
“Si!” She yelled. He was afraid she would throw the bottle at him. She did not. She took another drink. “You already know this. Or else you wouldn’t be staring. But for the sake of your silly English formality, yes I am Serefina Fiametta. Now, why have you been looking for me? Who sent you?”
Wesley made a move to stand up. But as soon as he got on his feet, Serefina threw her cutlass at him, nearly running him through. Wesley’s heart pounded in protest as his eyes crossed to the mere inches the blade had missed. He sat back down on the bed.
Serefina smiled and wrenched the sword out. “My aim seems to be faltering, signori. Maybe you can try and avoid my questions again? That will surely improve it.”
Wesley’s face reddened like a rip tomato but he bit his tongue as he always did. If working at the Ministry had taught him anything, it was to bite his tongue when trying to negotiate with stubborn mules. It would be hard to recruit an offended madwoman with an archaic weapon. Almost as hard as trying to convince the Ministry’s treasury to give him a raise in his pay. Wesley swallowed his momentary inclination to rebel and nodded like a good boy should. “The British government is willing to make an offer in exchange for your services.”
“And what services do I offer? I’m afraid I am a woman of leisure and am not employed to any specific occupation. I’m sorry to disapo---”
“We want you to hunt something for us.”
“Hunt something? For you?!” she laughed loudly, banging the now empty bottle back to the table. “I hunt only for myself, signori. Not for hire.”
“But we are prepared to offer you a significant amount of money!”
“Money, I have. I doubt you have anything to offer that I cannot get for myself. If you have not noticed, I am independent of the need for any man’s help. If that will be all, I shall take my leave.”
She stood up, picked up her bloody bag, gave Wesley an imaginary tip of her hat.
As she went for the door, Wesley panicked. He sprung from the bed, ran after her and blocked her path before she could touch the doorknob. “It’s a manticore! A manticore,” he yelled.
As it turned out, his impulse was correct. From a look suggesting bloodlust, she bit the corner of her lips, hiding a smile that threatened her fearsome features, and seemed to look intrigued – if only for a moment.
“Manticore, you say?”
Wesley nodded. “Yes. It is loose in London and must be caught as soon as possible.”
“I’ve seen nothing in the papers.”
“The government has worked very hard to keep it that way. Minister Spavin does take a shine to widespread panic.”
“But doesn’t your government have provisions for such things?”
He laughed bitterly, wishing she’d not finished all of the wine. “The government feels a loss of confidence towards the Beast Division. They’re more inclined to search for other solutions.”
“And that would be me?” she pointed to herself.
“Yes. That would be you.” He pointed at her, though her sudden snarl made him recoil, wiping the guilty finger on his shirt.
“Your Ministry is more competent then most. Manticores are not an easy thing. They are quick, poisonous, impervious to most spells and as maddening as tourists in Florence. No one has ever faced a manticore and lived.”
“You must be joking.”
“No. Quite honest, I’m afraid. Met it twice and lived.”
Technically, Wesley had not been in the front line of the attack. He was more of an administrator than an actual Trapper. But many of the more experienced Trappers were lost trying to control the first two attacks. Getting promoted became easier what with the occupational hazard of dying in service. The manticore had brought the life expectancy of the average Trapper down to twenty minutes.
“I was one of the lucky ones, I suppose,” Wesley said. He pulled up his shirt, showing the large scar the manticore had left on his stomach. “Tail grazed me during the retreat. Lucky it was just a graze. If the bugger had stung me…well then I’d be pushing quills in God’s waiting room instead of talking to you.”
“Then you have not faced it, signori. Facing a creature like that means that one should end up in God’s waiting room. For both to survive…it is not a true clash of beasts.” No doubt she had far more scars and close calls than Wesley could ever dream of. Little trifles like his must have been no more extraordinary than a morning pot of coffee.
Serefina petted the hilt of her cutlass. “There’s money, si?”
“Yes,” Wesley nodded.
“And I will get to choose my own men?”
“Ahh…well I’m not to sure about that---” But he didn’t seem to be listening to her. She was lost in her own thoughts. Perhaps in her own twisted fantasy of glory and danger.
“Killing a manticore. I must say, signori, that sounds very intriguing.”
Ah. “Well of course, you wouldn’t be killing it in the traditional sense. Actually, you won’t be killing in any sense at all. The mission is to capture the manticore and surrender it to the Department of Regulation and Control for Magical Creatures.”
Her smile fell straight into an expression of wild rage. She looked as if were about to draw her sword again. This time, to hack Wesley to pieces. He took a step back from her as a precautionary measure.
“No animal escapes Serefina Fiametta with breath still in it. If you want me, then you take this beast dead, or not at all.”
“I’m afraid that is not a compromise the Ministry can make,” Wesley stuttered. He took another step back. Then another. He was backed up to the bed again. Wesley fell down, sitting, anchoring himself on his elbows. Serefina towering over him like some childhood nightmare. “It is imperative that the manticore lives.”
The Minister had made that very clear when he first gave the mission. Alive and unharmed or heads would roll. And being privy to Minister Spavin’s less than cordial nature, Wesley knew better than to question him there.
“Then I cannot help you. I mount these creatures on my wall, signori. They deserve better fates than to be locked in a cage. Why? What do you plan to do with them? Have them be broken? Petted in a cage? They are creatures of power. Due more respect than that!” she spat.
“I assure you we will do no such thing. We plan to put it in a proper reserve where it can grow and be kept safe, but far from harming the populace. You would be giving the creature more respect by allowing it to live…”
“Through the shame of defeat!”
“Civilized men call it mercy,” he pointed out.
“Luckily, signori, I am not a man. Tell your ministry that they will have none of my help.”
She walked out of the door, the drips of blood on the floor being the only traces she left behind.
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