Saturday, April 24, 2021

A Device Infernal VI


A Device Infernal 
Chapter VI: Children of the Wings of Twilight

Well, they had finally found ole Lazar Mirande.  Turned out he left them a bit more confused than they had thought.  For he was not the keeper of the crystal lilies but as he said, “merely a guardian, making sure that what is up Crimson Bayou don't come tumbling down onto the living."  He also warned them that they might have stumbled upon a fight betwixt Baron Cimitere and Pater Carrefour since the Lord of Death seemed to be poaching souls that rightly belong to Papa Crossroads.  In such circumstances, the plight of mere humans was likely not to matter much.

Still, he told them that, for the problem with Vangeline's curse, they needed the leaves of but one lily, boiled into an extract and given to Vangeline, that should cure her.

 "So," he told them, "Go up the Bayou until you find it’s end, which will be soon enough and a vast jungle will spread out before you.  After all that, you will come to the land of the Baron Cimitere.  You will know it by the smell of wormwood and gall and brimstone.  And everywhere, the signs of the dead."  He gave them a forked stick, a divining rod, that would show them the way, no matter what the sights or signs might tell them. 

 By and by, they came to end of the river and left poor old Leon to guard the Virago while the rest of them set off on foot. 

They had set off into the jungle, the high canopy limiting their view of the dark sky.  Occasionally they caught glimpses of the red tinged clouds. A quiet pattering of rain began.  As it increased, they realized that the rain was made of blood.

As it turned into a downpour, the ground turned to slick oozing mud.  The weight of the rain began to drive them into the mud.  They rushed for the cover of a large tree, seeking its shelter.  Fiddlesticks and Placeed were both trapped at points, only the aid of their more nimble, or perhaps merely lucky, friends saved them from being subsumed into the slime.  After what seemed to be hours, the horrid rain stopped and they gingerly made their way forward.

It was becoming impossible to determine how long they traveled and even whether it was day or night.  The divining rod that Lazar Mirande had given them was their only guide.  Suddenly, they found that the trees all around them were covered in cobwebs. 

Although there were thousands of tiny spiders running along the webs, the vastness of the network seemed beyond the capabilities of the humble arachnids.

Concerned that some larger creatures lurked in the web-covered trees ahead, Fiddlesticks summoned up another of his "friends" to go before them and lure out any larger enemies.

It proved to be an astute course of action.  A huge pale spider leapt out of the brush and crushed the imp.

The huge spider then rushed forward and snared Fiddlesticks with a mass of web.

Fortuitously, just before being ensnared, Fiddlesticks had handed Skeeter a flame flask, trusting in the wet stomper's much better throwing ability.  Skeeter flung the missile at the spider and caught it afire.
Meanwhile, Maksen freed Fiddlesticks from his spidery entanglement.

Just as the giant spider was being driven back, the noise of the fight drew another one against them.

A short distance away, two more of the terrible giants could be seen approaching.

Jbili had set up the swivel gun on its stand and fired into the second spider.  Skeeter charged this second creature and whamped it a good one with his whamping stick. It was driven back into brush that had been set a fire by the burning first spider.

Hoping to remove some more of the webbing blocking their way, Placeed drew out of his satchel a packet of Dragon Jambalaya.  Tossing it down his throat, he then breathed the resulting flame into a mass of web.

As the flames began to spread, encircling them, they rushed toward the presumed cover of a nearby pond.  However, the two additional spiders caught Fiddlesticks in a blasts of their webbing. 

One of the creatures pulled Fiddlesticks toward its maw.

Skeeter rushed foward and dragged his friend out of the clutches of the creature.  Maksen placed the teleport ring on his finger, hoping to appear above the spider's head.

In the midst of his teleportation, Maksen saw a vision of Saint Sankari, in her full glory, guiding his hand.
He appeared as intended.  As he fell onto the head of the spider, his battle axe drove deeply into the creature's body, a magical light surrounding it.  The spider was cut in half.

The concentrated fire of the party drove off the last of the spiders.  However, flames now surrounded them.  They took refuge under the water of the pond, using some Placeed's Bullywog Etoufe to breath under water. After several hours, the fires burned themselves out and they were able to proceed, following as always the directions provided by the divining rod.

As they proceeded, the ground cover lessened and the going became easier. However, Servan, who was acting as rearguard, noticed something following them.

It was a large war party of Parrot men.  Realizing they were far outnumbered by the ferocious creatures, they party ran forward.  They came up to a wall of vegetation, Skeeter who was in the lead with the diving rod, plunged through.

He was shocked to discover he had come upon the most tranquil of scenes.

A large tavern stood upon a crystal lake.  On the shore, large numbers of people were feasting and dancing.  The rest of the party caught up with Skeeter and shared in his amazement. Servan noticed that the Parrot men were no longer following them but had halted, seemingly held by some invisible force.

A Elven woman, dressed in rich festive clothing, approached them in a friendly manner.  "I am Fayeth, of  les Enfants de l'Aile de Crépuscule.  We are Elves of the Wood and have made this place a refuge against the forces of Evil that surround you."

Although suspicious, they followed Fayeth.  A quarto of Elves danced hypnotically around a large fire in the midst of the clearing. Several richly attired Elves approached them.

Leading them was Aerendyl, King of these people.  He asked if they were runaways from servitude, indicating that his people believed that all sentient creatures should be free.  He reported that serfs for Muetar and Slaves from Shucassam and Rhombune came here seeking refuge.  Often his people would guide them to the free land of Hothior-Immer or Pon.  He asked if the party were such refugees.  They reponded that they were on quest in the service of saving a friend an beloved.  To this Aerendyl stated that he would do all he could to aid such a worthy endeavor.

They realized that all around them were refugees and runaways.  Dewy recognized one she had met in her travels in the woods near home.  She approached him, Persephon was his name and he had run from a Grandee ester near Beolon. Dewy had tried to assist him on his way.  He said that after he had left her, he began having dreams directing him here.  When he arrived, he found this place of refuge better than anything he could have hoped.  He reported that ever day or so, the Elves would lead small groups out to take them to the Free Lands.  Until then, the runaways were well treated.

Hearing this, Servan asked Aerendyl if he could provide a guide that would take them further up the bayou.  The Elven king agreed with alacrity.

He led them to the tavern itself, several beautiful Elven maids offering them welcome again.

They found the tavern filled with people, several appeared to be experienced trapeuse.

As they moved further into the tavern, Servan found himself facing Shad Le Duc and his Drow spellcaster Aluanvrae.  Servan realized that the trapeuse were the much reduced members of Shad's gang that had attacked Salteon and been pursuing them at the orders of Lord Alabastre. Servan tensely suggested that it might be better if they cooperated together rather than fight.  This was a suggestion to which Shad was more than reluctant to accept.

As this discussion ensued, Maksen was quietly approached by a young woman dressed in the garb of a city pistol fighter.  She suggested that he be careful since not all was as it appeared.  She indicated the Elven warrior guarding the door as something to be wary of.

Although Maksen could not be certain, there did seem something not quite right about this guard.
When he turned back to the woman, she had disappeared.  Maksen began to hurry the rest of the party out of the tavern, telling them that something was wrong.

As they hurried toward the door, two Elves barred their way.  These two suddenly dropped the glamours that were hiding them and revealed themselves to be ghoulish vampires.

As they looked around, all the Elves, including King Aeredyl, proved to be the blood-sucking monsters.

Aeredyl flung himself onto Servan and sunk his fangs into the hunter's throat, lapping up the blood flowing freely from the wound. Servan collapsed to the floor.

Fiddlesticks drew his whittling knife, and drove it into the heart one of the vampires barring the door.  The blade showed a dark glimmer as the small blade struck home.  The creature cried out in pain before dissolving into a cloud of dust.

Maksen swung his battle axe, an ancient family heirloom blessed by paladins of old.  As it cut through one of the vampires, it glowed with a golden light, destroying this creature as well.

Jbili, using a sword forged in the mystic fires of Rozenegg, sliced through a third monster.

Skeeter used his whomping stick to drive another of the vampires back through the door.  As the creature tumble away, they bolted the door shut.

Aluanvrae flung a fire bolt at King Aeredyl while Sabeen summoned up a wind blast.

The force of both knocked the vampire King out of the building. Sabeen quickly barred the door.

From the one unguarded door, another vampire charged into the tavern.  It fell upon one of Shad's men, killing him instantly.
Jbili managed to quickly dispatch the monster with his sword. Secure for the moment, Maksen cast a healing spell on Servan while the rest took stock of their position.

Investigating the attic, they discovered it full of coffins.  The three slain vampires' bodies were begining to reincorporate within them.  Maksen quickly placed in the coffins some of the amulets of Huisinga which he always carried.  The three vampire bodies quickly returned to dust.  Meanwhile, loud banging was heard at each of the doors as the remaining vampires were attempting to break in.

In an ill-considered move, Servan unbolted one of the doors and leapt at the vampire who was battering against it. He thrust one of Maksen's amulets into the creature's chest.  Although it burned into the vampire's flesh, the monster still had enough strength to slash at the weakened Servan.  The hunter fell unconscious to the floor, what blood remained within his body beginning to flow in a puddle about him.

The remaining vampire host swarmed into the room.  The party and Shad's men fired madly but ineffectually at the creatures.

A light shone out from the amulet burning in the chest of the vampire that had defeated Servan.  Suddenly, the mysterious woman who had earlier warned Maksen reappeared in this beam of light.  But this time, a pair of white angelic wings sprung from her back. She drew her revolver and fired at the mass of vampires, bright golden flames shooting from the barrel.

To be continued...

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A Device Infernal V

 A Device Infernal 
Chapter V: Bokor

Now, after saving them mushroom men from them giant leeches and then fighting them hobgoblin soldiers that was chasing Servan and Jbili, they reckoned that there wasn't much more that could surprise them up on Crimson Bayou.  Well they was wrong about that.

Now everyone liked Skeeter but no one believed him about how he got his nickname for killing one of them giant flying bugs that folks called "skeeters."  No one had ever seen one and most thought them a legend. There were plenty of strange and dangerous critters in the Yando but who would believe in a flying bug the size of a big boat that breathed fire, let alone that some wet stomper like Skeeter could kill one. Well, they was wrong about that too!

They continued up the bayou in Sabeen's boat, the Virago, looking for the high trees and standing stones that would mark the home of Lazar Mirande, the bokor or houngan or whatever that might know how to lift the sleeping curse that had been put on Vangeline. It was said he had been living on Crimson Bayou since before anyone could remember.

But coming around a bend, they saw a small cargo boat all afire.  It must of happened pretty recent since most of the boat was still intact, although the flames were licking it pretty good.

As they approached the boat, they began hearing a buzzing sound that kept getting bigger and closer.  Suddenly, over the tree tops, a giant flying bug the size of boat appeared.  It headed directly toward the Virago.  Skeeter called out, "It's a skeeter, I told you they were real!  But this one's a lot bigger than the one I kilt!"

As it flew over the Virago, a blast of fire came from its jaws, setting the boat afire.

Everyone began firing at the skeeter or trying to put out the fire on the boat.  The skeeter came around again and was trying another blast.  Skeeter ran to the stern of the boat and as the critter approached and opened its jaws, he whomped it a good one with his whomping stick.

The blow crunched in the skeeter's head a bit but didn't stop it from firing a blast of flame at Skeeter.  He leapt overboard to avoid getting burnt but that meant that the fire hit Sabeen who had been manning the tiller.  She cried out in pain from the fire. Fortunately, Brother Maksen was near at had so he ran over and cast some healing magic on her.

After scorching Sabeen, the giant bug flew over the boat, trying to turn around for another attack.  Jbili saw his chance and went charging along the top strut of the boat.  He leapt into the air just as the skeeter was flying over the Virago.

Amazingly, he landed on the bug's back and began stabbing into the creature's thorax.

Sabeen called up some wind to drive it into the trees.  It brushed against a high pine and somehow Jbili managed to hang on.  But the skeeter turned around to go after the Virago.  Jbili stabbed it again, his sword getting stuck in the bug's back.

The skeeter shook something fierce and Jbili was flung off, plunging through the deck of the burning cargo boat.  
The skeeter was so busy shaking off Jbili that it didn't have a chance to fire it's breath at the Virago.  When it was flying by, though, there was Skeeter awaiting it with his whomping stick again.  He whomped it another good one, this time smashing the critter's skull and causing black ichor to stream out of it. 

As it flew past, Coralie put the final shot into its skull with a blast from her double-barrelled horse pistol.  The skeeter's dead carcass plunged into the river.

Seeing where Jbili had fallen, Placeed gulped down a  big helping of Bullywog Etouffe that allowed him to breath underwater.  He swam over to the burning cargo boat and began battering at the hull to free Jbili.
Sabeen moved the Virago over towards the cargo boat. They hoped they might salvage something from it.

As they neared the shore, there was a great rustling, and a giant Dozen-legger emerged from the jungle.

In the meantime, Servan had leapt onto the cargo boat.  Fiddlesticks levitated (to which they had gotten sort of use to by now) over the help. The fiddler plucked the dwarf from the burning boat and floated him to safety.

Maksen and Coralie fired into the hard shell of the crawling beast.  Dewy tried using one of her fairy tricks to gain control of the creature's mind.

It backfired on her however, and the bug nearly took control of her mind.  After a brief moment with her eyes glazed over, the little sprite recovered and was more than angry.  The rest of the party fired at the creature repeatedly holing its shell.

Skeeter, having leapt onto the cargo boat, found a burning barrel.  He flung it at the Dozen-legger, hoping to catch it on fire.

The thrown barrel was thrown with enough force that it staggered the already wounded monster.  However, it was filled with medicinal herbs and grasses that did little damage to the creature but did start a small fire on its hide.

Seeing a swivel gun in the bow of the burning boat, Servan ran forward only to discover that the powder barrel near it was on fire.   He quickly doused it, preventing an explosion but ruining the powder.

Dewy flew over to the creature so close that she could not miss with her sling and fired fairy shot directly into the creature's eye.  This final shot killed the beast.

Fiddlesticks floated Jbili over to the spot where the corpse of the skeeter lay in the shallow river water.  The dwarf plucked his sword from the monster's back.

With the Dozen-legger killed, Maksen investigated the nearby ruin, a very ancient tower most likely from the era of the Lloroi civilization, a thousand years prior. 

Something sparkled among the bushes in the ruin and Maksen found an elaborately decorated ring.

When he tried it on, he found himself instantly teleported to the top of the tower.  After he climbed down, he discovered he could chose the point to which he could teleport.

They set off up the bayou once more.  Things began to become more and more peculiar.  The compass no longer matched what the directions of the sun indicated.  Strange noises and odd silences alternated.  When Maksen meditated, he could see that the spirits he had seen when they first entered the bayou were about them again only this time they appeared more substantial and more threatening.

Another day went by, although it was becoming more difficult to determine when this was so, the sky having become darkly overcast.  They soon came upon a mist-ladened stretch of water, where great trees reached to the sky and large standing stones barricaded the river.

Holding a large spotted toadstool which the mushroom folk had given them as a sort of carte de visite, they passed between the stones and landed near a small clearing.

A small hut stood in the clearing near a ruined statute that appeared to be older even than the Lloroi ruins they had seen earlier.  Large furry spiders ambled among the rocks here.

They landed and with much trepidation approached the hut. A great carpet of mist poured from the door.

 Then a figure appeared, an elegant young man dressed richly in city folk attire, a snake curling about his walking stick.  He tipped his hat politely and said, "I am Lazar Mirande, with what can I help you today?"

After much polite salutations from the party, they said they were there to seek his help in obtaining the crystal lilies to use as a cure for a sleeping curse that had been put on one of their beloved.  Lazar replied that he did not have any of the lilies. The only place where they could be found was at the head of Crimson Bayou which was part of the earthly realm of Baron Cimitere, the Lord of Death. 

He offered his hospitality to them and they all sat round a big fire and shared such a fine meal that even Placeed admitted he had never tasted the better.

Lazar said they needed the leaves of but one lily, boiled into an extract and that should cure Vangeline. But getting that lily would be the problem.  The Lord of Death watched his realm and his subjects as a mother did her children.  All the great loas did. Grand Bois, the Great Tree made sure that life came into this world and nurtured the souls until they were read to begin the journey of life.  After that those souls walked the paths of life, becoming part of the realm of Pater Carrefour, Papa Crossroads.  Finally, there was Baron Cimitere who greeted them at the journey's end."

"And who are you," asked Coralie.  

"Why I am merely a guardian, making sure that what is up Crimson Bayou don't come tumbling down onto the living.  You see, the Lord of Death is the graspingest of the loas and would over reach every time he could.  There have often been conflicts between the loas for the poaching of souls that belonged to each other.

"I fear you may have stumbled upon one such conflict.  It would seem that their are many serfs running away from Muetar and many slaves running away from Shuccassam, the large empire to the south.  They are all heading to the top of Crimson Bayou, told in their dreams that it will be their refuge and their paradise.  Now as travelers, they belong now to Pater Carrefour, who I am sure ain't happy that the Baron is poaching souls from him."

"Why won't Papa Crossroads come up here and stop him?" asked Sabeen.

"The loas can't enter each other's realm, unless invited or unless one of their human servants goes and unlocks the door for their master as they say. That's why ole Baron Death want all them living souls so that he can turn them into his servants and when he has enough of them, they'll be his army to storm these here stones.  You see he's making them into the Dead That Aren't Dead, into Zombi."

Servan said that this could be the cover under which they entered the Baron's realm and steal the crystal lily.  Lazar said it might but then again it might be the end to all of them.  

He said they would find the end of the river soon enough and a vast jungle spreading out before them.  After all that, they would come to the land of the Baron Cimitere.  They will know it by the smell of wormwood and gall and brimstone.  

He gave them a forked stick, a divining rod, that would show them the way, no matter what the sights or signs might tell them.  With that he wished them luck and bid them good night.

They fell asleep near the fire and the next morning there was no sign of Lazar or his hut nor the spiders.  

They sailed on the next morning, or so it seemed.  Though their route was often confusing and neither their compass nor the sun could be counted upon, Lazar Mirande's divining rod proved true.  In time, they came to the spot he had described, where the wide bayou devolved into myriad feeder streams.  A whole great mass of green jungle seemed to stretch before them.  They gathered some supplies, Jbili hoisting the swivel gun upon his shoulder.  They all began walking away from the Virago.  All save Leon, who being too old and who would only slow them.  He would remain with the Virago, ensuring that they would have a means of return.  "You all be careful now, girl," he said to Sabeen.

Sabeen looked back one last time.  "Take care, my little girl," said Leon almost to himself.

As they marched into the jungle, Leon watched until he could no longer see them.  And so he began his lonely wait.

To be continued....