The smilodon slashed past the bars of its cage too quickly for von Wartenburg to avoid. Its thick claws struck his chest and pulled away, taking long ribbons of black leather with them. He stumbled a little as he stepped out of the cat’s reach, three deep gashes bleeding freely from his shoulder. Yet his chest was unharmed. Maia caught a glimpse of something under the torn mess of his shirt, something golden—no, not gold, she appraised. It was too red to be gold– this was bronze armor, marked with ceremonial designs she was too far away to read.
The smilodon roared, and von Wartenburg stood back to watch it, seemingly unperturbed as red blood saturated what was left of his sleeve and dripped from his fingers.
“STILL,” he pronounced the words in the mystical Atlantean language. Without even a whimper, the creature sat like a well-trained dog.
Grimacing only slightly, von Wartenburg lifted the ebony skull in his bloody left hand while he ripped the remaining shreds of his sleeve away with his right. Then he strode to the slave who had first dropped the chain. The wretch trembled at the commandant’s approach and tried to seek shelter among his peers, but the others backed away from him.
“You failed in your duties,” von Wartenburg said in Atlantean. This time it was not a command, but the words acted upon Maia’s mind as if she had known them since birth.
The commandant raised the skull to face the slave and began chanting softly. These words, too, Maia did not know, but they sounded vile and cruel and they seemed to chill the air like a piercing wind on a starless night.
At first, Maia thought it was a trick of the light that made the slave’s cheeks seem to pull inward. But in the moments that followed, the transformation accelerated and he seemed to starve to death before her eyes. His limbs withered, fell from his head, and his eyes clouded. He sagged as he stood, unable to hold himself up any longer and yet still powerless to look away.
By the time he collapsed to the floor, he was little more than a skeleton shrouded in dry skin. His chest shuddered in one final attempt to draw breath, and then he was still.
Von Wartenburg wiped the blood from his shoulder to reveal that the bleeding gashes had disappeared. His skin was whole and unbroken, without so much as a scratch to mark the smilodon’s attack.
Maia grasped the bars of his cage. Using the lost Aztec language, she called to him. “A curse upon the hand that takes my treasure!”
“This hand does not suffer curses,” he answered in Aramaic. “This hand deals them.”