This is a fanfiction piece from the world of Cultist Simulator, by Weather Factory. If you haven’t played their frankly incredible game, I recommend it. It’s like nothing else.
Certainly the snake was a dangerous foe. The man with the knife had never seen anything like it: fiery eyes, a sonorous hiss, black, shimmering scales–and as large as a man, at least. Why it had made this place its home he couldn’t say, but it was his policy not to wonder too much. Perhaps it was drawn to the scent of treasure, the ultimate end of this expedition… another thing that the mercenary did not concern himself with. Once in the gap of a temple’s hidden room he had held a pair of bone-white manacles in his hands and felt at once that they had contracted fully around his wrists. He had dreamed that thrice since and each nightmare had ended in sweat and fevered terror. Once they held him they would not let go.
Now he simply did as he was told. It was a comfortable kind of surrender, and it gave him an opportunity to rise higher than he’d ever imagined.
The great serpent, still spasming slightly, was clear evidence of that. He was a dangerous man in a dark alley, but the snake had somehow known they were coming, had rushed at them with eyes gleaming, and his own knife was small compared to a single one of its fangs. And yet it was his weapon that dripped with wine-rich blood.
His companion held the true credit for the kill: a fortune-teller, she had introduced herself, and she had said many things about him that she couldn’t have known. All of this, Cat Caro had said, she’d seen in a dream. She’d smiled when she’d said it and the mercenary had imagined it was a joke, but before he’d pulled a board from the window to reach and unlock the door she had told him to wield his knife in his left hand. And now the snake was dead. And the man with the knife, who had for the first time wielded a knife in his left hand, was not.
“How did you know?” he asked her quietly, his voice gravel-and-glass. He was not a handsome man and his voice betrayed his nature as surely as the graceful way he flicked the blood from his blade. Cat Caro turned, her earrings jingling, and simply smiled at him. He nodded and pursed his thin lips. After a moment he went to the door and checked the windows. The street was still dark. The night was still long. The city slept like the dead and when the thrashing of the snake ceased fully still no constables had appeared. The mercenary breathed out once, clipped, and relaxed only a little. He watched the woman work.
Cat Caro had bent in her Oriental dress and was flicking through a bookcase on the wall, slender fingers nudging books aside like a butcher’s knife slicing along the grain. The dust didn’t seem to bother her, nor the fresh cobwebs. She was a slim, slender thing, seeming totally unsuited for this kind of dirty work, and if he had been a different man he might have said so. But if he had come to this house alone, he would have surely perished. It was no small thing to stand between a man and his death. He knew that intimately.
His mouth opened as he prepared to speak, but it was as if the fortune-teller had anticipated the question. Without turning, without raising her head from the pages she was now plucking through, she answered him. “I saw it in a dream,” she said once more, and a laugh was embedded in her voice like a jewel in a broach. “We came to a house like this, found a snake like this one, and now…”
“And then we found a door just like the one we will.”
He considered the idea of a hidden passageway and tried to remember what the house had looked like from the outside. It was all twists and kitty-corners and mismatched architecture, and if there was more to the inside he couldn’t imagine–
“Perhaps the space beyond will offer us a fireplace or a furnace to match the chimney,” she offered, and he turned aside from the shame of missing such an obvious omission in the rooms they had found so far.
Perhaps Cat Caro understood his embarrassment, for she continued speaking. “A woman lived here, and she put together a collection. It’s my leader’s understanding that some interesting volumes may be included in it.”
“Did you dream that too?” he asked, voice gruff.
“Of course I did,” she answered as if it was perfectly obvious. As if it was perfectly ordinary to dream of a whole day before living it.
“And I believe him.” The fortune-teller didn’t elaborate further.
The mercenary didn’t have any reason to argue that point. He had been employed for several expeditions like this one, and although he had never met the man anyone who commanded the kind of knowledge and the sorts of companions he did had to be formidable himself. It was a personal point of pride that among the many mercenaries available, it was his knife the leader had hired. With every successful mission his dreams of fortune and glory seemed to grow a little closer, like they were gradually more tangible.
Still the woman pressed her fingers against the wall and cocked her head, as if she was looking through the wood. She stepped by a painting, some dusty portrait on the wall of a woman the mercenary didn’t recognize, and she stopped to stare at it. Then she moved on. He watched her go and slid his eyes back along the wall to the portrait. “If you dreamt all this,” he said slowly, “Does that mean you dreamt where the door was?”
“And? Can’t you think back on the dream and just… remember where the door was?”
“I could,” she admitted, and he turned to stare at her. She met his gaze evenly and her eyes seemed to peer into the back of his head. It made his spine want to crawl right out of his body, this sensation that she knew everything he had ever thought. And yet he felt he was unable to look away. It was as if two metal bars connected their eyes together. Only when she looked away was he freed of the sensation. And at last, she said:
“Don’t you think surprises are wonderful?”
He waited for more, but an explanation never came. Instead she continued her investigation. The mercenary didn’t think surprises were so wonderful–after all, a surprise here almost meant being speared by serpent’s fangs–but his voice was gone. His throat was rough and scratched; he rarely spoke so frequently or for so long. It was something about this woman that made him speak at all.
He turned back to the painting and noticed, for the first time, it was slightly crooked. The house had been ransacked and the floorboards soiled, but the painting was merely nudged. It didn’t seem right, and after a moment he reached out, hesitantly, to adjust it. There was a resistance to the adjustment and when it was righted, a click. A small portion of the wall next to it, barely large enough for a man to fit in, creaked partway open to reveal a cramped set of stairs.
The mercenary grinned and turned to tell his companion, but of course she had already seen. She congratulated him with a smile and a nod and as they climbed the stairs together her knowing, crystal laughter filled the stairway and the hidden room beyond.