Wow … this is … not a one-shot. I might quite possibly have done something stupid. Nonetheless, although this doesn't have first priority it will be done completely. I can't live with myself without finishing a story … so
"Don Alejandro, I take it you are unfamiliar with this so called curse?" Capitan Monastario asked with a charming but dangerous smile.
Don Alejandro was unimpressed. "Of course I am unfamiliar with it, I do not believe in curses", he said, his hostility detectable. He was also not amused, he was a pragmatic man and stories of curses and the like was not something he wanted to waste any time on.
"I hear that you doubt me", Capitan Monastario said and made a disapproving noise. "How unfortunate. You see, this curse is really making my soldiers restless, it kills the men who come with their payroll."
"Well, in that case it isn't a curse, but bandidos!" Don Alejandro said condescending, as if the case was resolved. He still did not know what he had to do with anything and the only thing he really wanted to do was leave.
"That was what I thought, so I send a group of four lancers there to get rid of those bandidos. When the four arrived they saw that the payroll was still there and the men were ripped to bloody shreds. Two of the lancers hid themselves while the other two went forth to get the payroll and bury the dead couriers. Guess what happened?" Capitan Monastario said and crossed his arms, as if he had already proven his point.
Don Alejandro made a dejected gesture with his arms. "Enlighten me!"
"Before those two lancers even could reach the two dead couriers and the payroll of the soldiers they were killed", Capitan Monastario said.
"Bandidos", Don Alejandro repeated, loosing his temper more and more.
"No. The two other lancers informed me that their two now dead companions were dragged off their horses by an invisible force, then, in front of their eyes they were torn into several parts. The lancers stayed to watch, too petrified to move, and all the while they saw no one else there. It's either an invisible demon or a curse!" Monastario said , sounding more excited than was appropriate.
"What happened to their horses?" Don Alejandro asked with a frown.
"The same thing, the horses of the men all suffered the same horrible fate", Capitan Monastario said impatiently.
Don Alejandro was silent for a moment and crossed his arms. "I don't buy it."
"In that case I am sure you won't mind to go on an expedition to find the explanation to this tragic event. My soldiers don't dare anymore, they are rather shaken by the death of their comrades", Capitan Monastario said and folded his hands under his chin.
"And what about you, Commandante?" Don Alejandro asked, "wouldn't you try to find the answer?"
"Well of course I would", Capitan Monastario said, his tone falsely saddened, "but it is unfortunate that Cayetano Varela is coming to Los Angeles, he is one of the kings most trusted men, I have to be here to welcome him and while he is here I certainly can't leave the pueblo."
"So you want us to do it?" Don Alejandro said, still unable to keep his condescending tone under control. They were both playing charades, and they both knew it. "You hope that me and my friends will perish under that same curse?"
"Don Alejandro, how can you think something like that about me? Of course I do not wish you harm, I just want this curse to be lifted so innocent travelers wont be killed like that, it would be awful", Capitan Monastario said and smiled, "It is a mere request, my friend, not an order."
"Don't call me friend", Don Alejandro hissed and stood up, he took his hat and put it back on his head, "I will consider it. Adios." Angrily Don Alejandro left the office of the commandante. Even though the commandante was using the current circumstances too manipulate things to his favor it was undeniable that the facts remained.
It was true that the commandante could not leave the pueblo, it was also true that something had to be done about that curse, whatever that curse really was. The commandante's suggestion had even been the logical thing to do. Don Alejandro was not happy. Upon arriving at the hacienda he told Diego about it. Diego agreed, something had to be done, though he was not quite sure what, he was also certain that the capitan had some extra thought concerning that curse.
Of course, Diego did not tell his father that. "I'm certain that the commandante is simply worried and that he means no harm", he said instead, once again disappointing his father. He excused himself shortly after and pretended to go to bed.
"One last thing, father", Diego said before leaving for his room, "I know you do not believe in curses, but perhaps you should wait until dawn before going on such a dangerous expedition."
Don Alejandro gave a halfhearted assurance that he would not leave the hacienda before dawn, seeing as it was foolishness to walk into enemy territory after nightfall. He too went to bed.
When Diego and Bernardo were in the confinement of Diego's room he explained the situation to his servant. Bernardo did not look happy at all when he heard the explanation and made clear that he found it a very poor idea that they'd go look into it now.
"I have dealt with curses before, Bernardo", Diego said with his usual undismayed smile, "they are always mere illusions by cunning bandidos. Are you coming with me?"
Bernardo's dislike was evident on his face, but he nodded nonetheless. There was no curse or other horror that could scare him from Diego's side. Diego had however seen Bernardo's fear and smiled gently. "Bernardo, it is not shameful for you to want to stay here. Perhaps you should, just to be safe."
Bernardo started to protest, but then changed his mind and nodded. He would not dismiss a gesture of kindness when it was handed to him. Together the two men found their way into the secret passage and minutes later Zorro was mounted on Tornado. He said a quick goodbye to his servant before riding of.
The soldiers and couriers were laying exactly where Monastario had said they would be. Zorro had not approached from the road and he could see the spot from quite far away. He dismounted and told Tornado to wait for him. Slowly he made his way closer, at all times spying for Monastario's soldiers, he saw none. Perhaps Monastario had been telling the truth?
The scene was truly horrifying. One of the horses and two of the men had been decapitated, all horses and soldiers were missing limbs. Those limbs, strewn over the scene, where sometimes cut in several parts too. It was as if they had been slashed with a very long and thin sword at random, horses and men alike. Whoever had done this was truly merciless.
He was cautious, instead of simply walking over to where the dead soldiers were lying in a ground soaked by blood he thought a while. Then he broke of a branch from a nearby tree, with all his might he threw the wooden stick towards the soldiers. It landed on the ground, between the front legs of one of the horses. Nothing happened to it.
Zorro wasted no time. He dove into his saddlebag and conjured a chicken, its beak was bound to keep it silent and its feet were bound to keep it from running. He undid the bindings and then threw the chicken towards the scene, it flexed its wings to keep from crashing to the ground at full speed and even though it could not fly, it managed to land somewhat gracefully next to a human foot.
Then, faster than either Zorro or the chicken could react, it was parted in three uneven bits. The bird never even made a sound as it lost its life. Zorro, for one of the first few times since adopting that identity, gawked. There, in front of his eyes, something invisible had killed a living being. This was alarming.
For a split second he wondered if the Commandante's words had been true? Perhaps it really was a curse. Then he shook his head. He did not believe in curses. There had to be some sort of logical reason as to why these things were happening.
He took some more time to plan what he would do now. He would not dare to come close, there was no telling how far that killing force reached. He made a lasso from the rope he had brought with him, throwing it he hoped that his theory on only alive things being affected would hold.
Although he was not as skilled with the lasso as he was with the whip, he was competent enough to use the lasso to retrieve the corpses of the men. At least they could be buried properly. Zorro had to admit that he was repulsed by the job and he refrained from trying to find out which limbs belonged to whom, he'd leave that to the lancers. He could do nothing for the horses, they were too heavy, even in bits. On the tree under which he had gathered the corpses he carved a Z.
Then he made two signs that said 'Beware, mortal danger'. He placed one of these signs on either side of the place where the soldiers had been killed to make sure no one else would dare himself too close. On those signs he did not put a Z, even though it would make the villagers even more certain too heed the warning, it would also make soldiers and important people ignore it.
On one side of the road there was a large grassland with trees and bushes, on the other side were mountains. Zorro had already established that the grassland was safe, although he had not dared to come within a ten meters radius from the place where the blood colored the ground.
He decided to search the mountains consisting of boulders. It was perfect for bandidos and he hoped to find bandidos there and have them explain what had happened. Yet again he did not dare come too close to the place where the men had been killed, but he searched the mountains as careful as he could, leaving no rock unturned.
At last he found the bandidos. A hidden cave revealed the five sleeping thieves. Zorro could see them from where he was standing a fair bit above them. He made his way to the cave but stopped dead in his tracks when he noticed that the bandidos weren't sleeping. They had suffered the same horrible fate as the soldiers.
So why was there a fire burning?
As with the soldiers their valuables had not been stolen. Zorro took the burning fire as a sign that someone was still alive, probably the one responsible for all those deaths. He hid himself and waited for someone to return.
When early dawn approached still no one had arrived and the fire was still burning, even though it had been hours since Zorro had arrived, the fire had not faltered one bit. It surpassed strange. He sighed and wondered what he should do now? With dawn approaching he had to be home before his father missed them and get a message to the commandante before his father set out.
A scream from the road made him leave his position. A woman was standing a bit from his warning sign and she had caught sight of the dead horses. A man was standing next to her and held her in a way that indicated the he was her husband. Zorro recognized the man, he had once come across him in Spain, it was CayetanoVarela.
"Señor", Zorro said as he made himself present with a little bow, "I suggest you do not continue on this road. The grassland on your right is safe for passage. When you reach Los Angeles, inform the commandante that his soldiers can be buried and that the bandidos who lived here are dead too."
"Did you kill them?" señor Varela asked and drew his sword.
"There is no sword that can inflict such injuries. I did not kill them, neither the bandits or the commandante's men. I do not know who did, but something strange is going on here", he said dead serious. He himself was close to believing in a curse, had he not seen all the oddities occurring himself?
"Señor, who are you?" Cayetano Varela asked, his sword still ready.
"Does it matter, señor?", he asked, "I am here to help. If you allow me I will lead the way so you can come across safely."
"Right into a trap?" señor Varela asked condescending, "I am not that foolish! Do not underestimate me, bandido!"
"Señor, you are insulting me. I am no bandido. I was merely taking the señora's well-being in account. I gathered the corpses of the men who died here and put them underneath a tree. It would be unfortunate if you would ride across them, they are not in presentable shape." For once Zorro was not smiling, as he usually did, laughing at his enemies. This situation was gravely different and did not call forth any smiles.
What in the world would kill both bandido's and soldiers of the king and not take anything of value? Perhaps more importantly, what could kill like that? It had even killed the chicken that innocently enough had landed on the spot. Perhaps it just killed, without knowing what it killed. Perhaps it simply enjoyed killing? A frightful thought.
"You two", señor Varela said and pointed at two of his five escorts, "go with him and confirm his words, if there is any sign of a trap you kill him."
Although the two soldiers did not like the arrangement they did not dare to oppose señor Varela. They followed the masked man and soon found themselves standing wide-eyed in front of a pile of body-parts. One of them looked like he'd go sick.
On their way there they had searched the bushes and trees carefully to see if there was anyone else around. They had found no one. Now, while returning, they did not bother. "This is horrible!"
"Sí", Zorro said, "I have been searching for an answer, but have not yet found one."
The horror the soldiers had witnessed was still apparent on their faces when they returned to the carriage. "We should follow him, señor", the one who had taken it slightly better said when returning. "He did not do it, no human could."
Señor Varela stood silent for a little while before making up his mind. "Sí, I will follow you, but you will go by foot and two of the soldiers will at all times have their musket loaded and pointed at you. If you try anything it will be the last thing you do."
"As you wish, señor", Zorro said and bowed a last time before crossing the road. "This way, please."
It took them a little while before they were back on the road, a little past the second warning sign. The sun was slowly starting to become visible. Silently he prayed that Bernardo was able to make his father believe that he still slept.
When they were back on the road señor Varela stepped out of the carriage again. "Thank you, señor, whoever you are, I had not expected you to be an honest man. Are you no thief?"
"No, señor. I protect the people from tyranny", he said, a small smile falling into place.
"Tyranny?" señor Varela repeated surprised as he was joined by his wife.
"Sí, señor, our pueblo is held in an iron grip by a cruel man, commandante Monastario. I am the only one who stands between the people and his tyranny."
"I was told that all the trouble was caused by an outlaw named Zorro", señor Varela said confused.
"Darling, if the Commandante is a tyrant, isn't that exactly what he would write in a report? Blame all the things that happen on an outlaw and leave out his own parts?" Señora Varela said with a small smile. Zorro liked her voice, it was under no circumstance as sweet and gentle as that of the señorita's in pueblo, but it witnessed of a good mind and deep insight, hinted with justice and conviction. It was a pleasant voice.
"I am impressed, señora", Zorro said, "not everyone thinks that far. Many people have written letters to the governor in Monterey, but no one is heard. That is why I, Zorro, have to protect the people."
The señor made an involuntary gesture towards his sword and now every one of the escorts had their muskets pointed at the outlaw. "You are Zorro?"
"Sí", he confirmed and was ready to move at once if they attempted anything.
Señor Varela lifted a hand as a gesture for the soldiers to lower their muskets. "I am in your debt, señor Zorro, so I will let you go. Next time however I am required to capture you and I will attempt so. I will however take your words into account, not all people of the king are blind, if what you say is true I will do my best to change things."
"Gracias", was all Zorro said, he bowed and returned to the mountains. He heard the carriage leave and returned to the place from where he could see the cave. Nothing had changed. The fire was still burning brightly. Leaving the unsolved mystery as it was he returned home.
Review, it will certainly enlarge the chance for a quick next chapter :)