Part 2

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Twenty minutes in, the way through the tunnel had been eerie but uneventful so far. The craggy walls were covered in spider silk, and the shadows were as black as ink and as deep as souls, yet so far they had seen not a single spider cross their path. However, there was no mistaking they were there. The flickering light of the torches and lamps was reflected by small onyx eyes that regarded their passing coldly and indifferently. They hid in the cracks and web-covered niches, their hairy bodies just beyond the reach of light. It made Eddy's skin crawl. His rational mind told him that the spiders were more afraid of them than the other way around, that he and the others were too large and too big a group to be considered food. Yet from the sheer size of the prey that hung in smaller and larger nets or entwined in cocoons—bats, rats, and all kinds of giant insects—he started to wonder when these spiders might start thinking of them as just big enough for a nice treat.

The unspoken question was answered ten minutes later as they stepped into a natural chamber that was at least twenty feet high and wide enough to provide room for a camp of twenty men. At the other end, they saw the broken shell of a beast that made Eddy question his place in the food chain.

"Madre de dios!" one of the soldiers said in a hushed tone behind him. Eddy agreed.

It was a dragon. Twice the size of a horse, its wings must have measured at least thirty feet in flight; now it was a mummified reminder that, regardless how big, mean, and scary you are, there is always something bigger around to make your life miserable. Enshrouded in silk strands as thick as ropes, its body was an empty husk, the skin and scales as brittle as old parchment. In places the hide stretched over the mighty bones like leather on a drum. It lay on its side, half strapped to the wall between two different tunnels, its right wing broken and crushed under its own mass.

"It must have been dead already," said the Marquis, his fingers running over the lines of his razor-thin mustache in a nervous gesture. With a firmer voice and a nod to his men, he added, "Look, its wings are broken. It probably died of natural causes, and the spiders just fed on the carcass. "

Eddy thought he didn't sound too convincing, but judging from the nodding and mumbling of his soldiers the men seemed to buy it.

"Enough talk," grunted Azrael, rotating the barrel of his revolver. "Let's move on and shoot anything that's bigger and has more eyes than a dog."

Staring warily into the shadows, they moved forward.

"Which way?" asked Azrael once they stood before the mummified dragon and the two gaping tunnels.

Eddy looked at him, puzzled. "How should I know?"

"Well," said Azrael, scratching his scarred cheek, "one of these tunnels leads to the famous city of El Dorado, a place that holds more riches than any man could ever dream of. Riches that can be used to buy a lifetime of pleasure from those whores you fancy so much."

"Hey!" Eddy interrupted, looking nervously over his shoulder to see if Isabella had heard that. As usual, her face remained unreadable. Knowing his luck with women, Eddy thought she probably had.

Damn!

"The other tunnel will most likely lead to our grave . . ." continued Azrael. He grinned at Eddy. "If anybody can pick the right one just from a hunch, it is you. So, which is the right way?"

Eddy opened his mouth, closed it again, lifted his hand, and tried to speak. No words came to mind. Then he looked at the tunnels. "The right way . . ." he said hesitantly. "The right way is . . . is the right way."

Blank faces stared at him

"The right tunnel!" he uttered, harried.

"Good enough for me," said Azrael, and he walked toward the darkness.

"Wait a second. What logic is that?" interrupted a stocky soldier from the rear.

"He's good in those things," murmured Azrael, eyes on the tunnel, not bothering to look back. "He ain't strong, smart, good looking, or fast . . ."

"Hey!" blurted Eddy as his stung pride registered the insult.

". . . but he's very lucky and has good instincts," concluded Azrael. "Let's go."

"That's idiotic," replied the soldier, pushing his comrades aside and moving forward. "'The right way is the right way.' That is the stupidest thing I ever heard." He stepped in front of the Marquis. "Master Orellana, you have been cheated. This man is an idiot! Do you feel the breeze coming from the right tunnel? Most likely, it will lead back to the surface. The air here"—he walked to the left tunnel—"is stale. El Dorado is underground, so it is only logical that—"

He never finished the sentence.

As he passed by the carcass of the dragon, a concealed spider the size of a mastiff jumped from its hiding spot in the hollow chest of the beast and pierced him with two spear-like legs that were as long as a man was tall, then dragged him back into the carcass. His screams were cut short as the gargantuan arachnid sank two venom-dripping fangs the size of daggers into his face. It was over in the blink of an eye.

The shock lingered in the air like a bad smell.

"Anybody still having problems with the right way?" asked Azrael, his voice as calm as if he were talking about the weather.

"I am good with the right one," said the Marquis, his face as ashen as the cobwebs all around them. Isabella, a shadow at his side, nodded slowly.

"The right way!" blurted a soldier.

"Right!" agreed another.

"Si. Si. El de la derecha!" the others were quick to add.

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