Thursday, March 18, 2021

A Device Infernal III


A Device Infernal
Chapter III: To the Crimson Bayou

Now Pyere Barouse, known by everyone as the Com'dor, was not a bad man.  He was proud and he could be foolish, particularly in thinking he had more control over things than he did.  But everything he did was for the love of his children. And when he died, it was in the saving of them and just about everyone else in Salteon. 

For had he not sacrificed himself and blown up that big ironclad boat, none would have gotten out there.  As it was, they had just enough time to load up on the Virago. Matre Viltote and Post Master Mercier got everyone on to the canoes, and bateux and anything else that would float and headed them on up to Matre Viltote’s secret place on Green Leaf Bayou.  

Now they were about a half a league up from Salteon, whose fires lit up the whole night. Matre’s canoe, with Vangeline still motionless inside it, was lashed to the Virago, and Leon was saying some mighty powerful conjuring to keep that boiler hot as the fires of Hell.  

They had just passed Kobold’s Bend when they see coming up from a deep cut a big steam launch pulling a couple of big batueax and in the bow of each of them boats, there was a trapeuse turning their long rifles toward the Virago.  

And across the water, they could the spellcasters in each boat, mumbling their incantations about to bring some big magic down on them.  And in the middle of that big launch there was Shad Le Duc, and two his time-jumping dogs and him fiddling away at the watch that controlled them so that as they got close enough, he was going to send them forward a minute or two to be inside the Virago.

Servan took some shots at the oncoming boats but none found their mark.  Brother Maksen cut the big fishing net loose, hoping to foul the launch but that was unlikely.

Just as he had finished dropping the net into the water, the two riflemen in the bow of the launch turned their guns on the unlucky priest.  One shot struck him right beneath the shoulder blade and he fell onto the deck near the cabin.  Leon looked up from where he was tending the boiler and said, "Preacher man, that god of yours is sure neglectful, that's the third time you were shot in as many days!" Maksen began chanting a healing spell on himself.

In the meantime, Fiddlesticks summoned up one of them friends he had made while he had been planted down below.  It formed up in the water just in front of the steam launch and it looked for all the world like a giant version of that candied ogreberry tart that had cursed Vangeline.  But it could move on its own, and it swam down the side of the launch, hoping to get at Shad Le Duc.

It suddenly leapt into the boat at Shad's throat.  But the serf-hunter was a wily one and cut deep into the thing with his sharp hunting knife.  Some said that knife had been blessed by an dark loa and could cut near about anything.

That Mivioran sailor that was piloting the launch weren't no riverman while Sabeen knew them waters like the back of her hand.  She glided the Virago in amongst some mangroves where the rifle shots and spells from their pursuers went awry in the tangled growth.

As she made that turn, Servan jumped off onto the shore, hoping to repay Shad and his boys with a little sniping of his own.

Seeing as how Fiddlesticks' candy hadn't worked out so well, Coralie used her gardening magic to summon up some of the river weed to entangle Shad.  It dragged him off the boat into the water.

Shad's men didn't notice him going overboard.  Back on the Virago, Skeeter picked up Leon's keg of moonfire whiskey and hurled it toward the launch.  Jbili shot at the soaked rag he had placed in the bung of the keg igniting it.  The Virago was close enough to shore for the dwarf to scramble over to join Servan.

The burning keg drifted towards the launch just about the time the net Maksen had cut loose finally reached it as well.

The launch failed to avoid either.  The keg smashed onto the bow and started a small fire.  The net passed under the boat and snared the propeller of the launch.  The steam boat lurched to a halt and the two towed bateaux slammed into its rear.

Servan took this opporutnity to fire at the launch's boiler, hoping to explode it.  He missed again, proving him an embarrassment to the fine shooting traditions of the Yando trapeuse.  Despite the confusion reigning on the boats, Shad's men did not miss.  Two fat bullets struck Servan despite him hiding in that thick jungle.  Fortunately, Jbili made it up to him by now and pulled the furious trapeuse to safety.

Sabeen kept right on through the mangroves, the distance between them and their pursuers increasing by the moment.  Jbili dragged Servan to the boat and the Virago sped away.  Soon they realized that their pursuers had given up.

As the sun was setting, they arrived at Matre Viltote's "secret place," a small shack hidden among high marsh grasses.  They helped Coralie bring Vangeline onto the porch of the shack where a cool breeze might soothe her. Although she showed no sign of movement, they could see in her eyes fear and the grief from being told of her father's death.  Fiddlesticks struck up a tune, a Yando song often played at a loved one's death, full of fond remembrance and sweet consolation.  The others sang softly along and Vangeline's eye were still sad but seemed comforted.
"We're out of danger now, Coralie. It's all right to cry." said Brother Maksen.
"I'll cry after I've saved my sister.  Then, will I have the time for it," she responded.

After a fine dinner prepared by Placeed, Matre Viltote said she would do some scrying to see what had happened around them and where their road might lead.  

As she began preparing her scrying pot, Jbili asked how she was in the form of a young woman when previously she had appeared old.
"This is not the time for such vanity so I've put it aside," said the mambo.

When the pot was ready, she looked into out and said she saw Lord Alabastre's yacht sailing away from Cacaton with all those Mivior marines and Shad Le Duc's serf-hunters onboard.  They sailed up to Fort Flumens, the only one of the Emperor's garrisons still guarding the river. 

Claiming to report an act of piracy, Lord Alabaste and his men were allowed in the fort.  They seized control of the gate and the Miviorans rushed in, killing the General and his soldiers. A whole Mivioran fleet came up the River Deep bearing a whole army of mercenaries hired by the grandees to keep the Emperor from enforcing his proclamation.  There would be war for sure, and the Yando were going be on their own.

The Miviorans and Shad and his men  came up to Salteon to capture the Com'dor and find out where the gunpowder the General had given the Yando might be hid.  Lord Alabastre decided to combine this with his own personal revenge and so sent the cursed tarts to Vangeline, hoping she could be captured the easier by being an invalid.

Matre also looked to their path ahead.  She said that the great necromancer, the bokor Lazar Mirande, was present on Bayou Crimson.  They would find him by heading up the main channel.  His house is surrounded by standing rocks, like fingers. 

The next morning, they loaded what few supplies they could from Matre's shack and prepared to head up river.  Each of them said goodbye to Vangeline.  Fiddlesticks promised she would dance once more to the sound of his fiddle while Placeed said she would taste all that that the world had to offer once more and Servan said in his roguish way that he would track down the Crystal Lilies, or he was no trapeuse. Sabeen offered her an oyster taken from the water, a remembrance of a childhood joke and looked long into Vangeline's eyes before nodding her head with an unspoken promise.  Finally, Skeeter walked up to her and said, "Ya'll goin be alright, Vangeline... and, if you aren't going have that oyster, I jes' might help myself..." 
A few hours later they came to the mouth of Bayou Crimson. As they turned into it, the sun which was still out in the summer sky, dimmed perceptively and an unnatural quiet began to pervade the surroundings.

Brother Maksen said a prayer to Saint Sankari, the great martyr for the god Huisinga, asking for aid in determining if danger was near.   As he prayed, he perceived everything as in a mist.  He saw that countless malign spirits were circling the boat.  They were too weak to affect the material world but Maksen could feel their rage and enmity and wondered if their power increased further up the bayou.

Then, he was filled with a burst of hope and his courage redoubled.  He sensed that some great, good power was watching over them.

They continued to sail on.  Coming around a bend, they saw furtive movement in the brush lining the bank.  Servan, Jbili, and Skeeter waded to the shore.  The two former soldiers moving stealthily, hoping to secretly scout whatever was in the brush.

Skeeter was less careful.  Spotting a big fat frog, he couldn't resist. He cried out in excitement and leapt after it as it hopped away into the woods.

Just as he caught the little creature, he heard the sound of several muskets being cocked.  A large and heavily armed goblin war party emerged from the brush and surrounded him.  Suddenly, one of the goblins cried out, "Cousin Skeeter?"

It proved to be, in fact, Skeeter's cousin, Cooter.  The goblin stated that they were chasing a lizardman war party that had raided their village.  They had tracked the lizardmen this far but they intended to follow no further since the bayou was proving too frightening.  When asked about Lazar Mirande, Cooter said he heard the bokor lived on a small side branch off the main channel, maybe a day's further sail up the bayou.  He said they would know the area by the death wardings that surrounded the bokor's lair. Wishing them luck, the goblins hastily departed.

Jbili was quizzical about Skeeter's relationship to the goblins. "You didn't say you were part goblin, you said you were half elf."

"I am!" said Skeeter without further explanation.

They traveled further up Bayou Crimson.  As the light began to fade into the eastern sky, they found a shallow cut in which to shelter for the night, fearing to sail unseeing into the darkness.  They took watches by turn, most of the party sleeping on the deck as a wind whispered through the high grasses.

While Servan was on watch, he suddenly spotted a few golden lights dancing above the waiving grass.  He was overcome by a feeling that these were the most beautiful things he had ever seen and he must follow them wherever they led.

He slipped over the side into thigh-high waters, rushing toward the lights. 

The sound of his splashing awoke Brother Maksen and Jbili.  They were shocked to see Servan recklessly plunging through the water.

The two leapt overboard as well, the vast bulk of Jbili splashing with the sound of a striking cannon ball.  The mountain-born dwarf, who did not know how to swim, found himself up to his neck in the water.

Servan was oblivious to their calls and proceeded into the ever deepening waters in pursuit of the elusive dancing lights.

By this point, the rest of the boat was awake.  Brother Maksen, having studied the arcane, recognized the lights as Will O' the Wisps, malignant spectral creatures who lured people to their death in the wetlands. He called out to avoid looking at them, warning of the danger.  Sabeen responded, "O yes, we know them very well, the fi follet, souls of dead children who prank the living into joining their play in the deep waters."  Taking up her pilot's speaking horn, she repeated the warning as well as a discursion on this natural phenomenon.
While most of them heeded the priest's words, Jbili looked to closely.  He began rushing after the lights.  Fortunately, his short legs and unfamiliarly with moving through standing water this deep slowed his movement toward destruction.

Fiddlesticks levitated out of the boat, hoping to lasso Servan.  Maksen called out to Servan to gain his attention but there was no response.  Skeeter who was adept at throwing all manner of things, flung a rock at the trapeuse, striking him in the back of the head.  Servan turned at this and Maksen cast a blinding light upon him, hoping that temporarily blinding would slow his rush into the marsh. Coralie cast an entanglement spell upon him as well, causing the grasses to entangle the trapeuse.
Servan was still under the spell of the fi follet and when he thrashed blindly about, the entangling weeds dragged him under the water.  Fortunately, Skeeter was near at hand.  An accomplished wet stomper, he was adept at the bare handed fishing skill known as noodling.  He reached his hand under the water and thrust his hand into Servan's mouth.  Then he flung Servan by the jaw into the air. 

 The levitating Fiddlesticks snatched Servan out of the air and spirited him back onto the Virago.  This allowed Skeeter and Maksen time to focus their attention on the submerged dwarf.

They plucked Jbili up and returned him to the boat.  The rest of the night was spent fitfully but peacefully.  As the dim morning sun arose, they proceeded up the bayou.

After a few hours travel, they came upon a grove of giant mushrooms.  Three small figures were running panic-stricken among the tall shoots.

As they approached the shore, they saw that it was three mushroom shaped men, calling out that they were being attacked.

To be continued...

1 comment:

Rick, the Grumpy Gnome said...

Cliffhanger with Mushroomfolk. I love Mushroomfolk.

Great narrative as always mate. Sounds like it was a brilliant set of games. Looking forward to more!