Sunday, May 30, 2021

A Device Infernal VIII

A Device Infernal 
Chapter VIII: Vangeline's Choice

Now it must be remembered that the Great Loas, such as Baron Cimitiere and Pater Carrefour, are Spirits, albeit powerful ones, especially in their own realms, but not Gods.  Now that means that they have their limitations and are not absolutely invincible. They are also very jealous of their prerogatives and can be down right prickly when they perceive that their spheres of interest are being imposed upon. 

And that is what lay at the heart of all this trouble for Vangeline and her friends.  Normally when mere mortals are caught in the middle of such a ruckus, it bodes ill for them.  But, with a little bit of luck and with grit and with humanity, anything is possible. 

So they had come to the realm of Baron Cimitiere, the lord of the dead seeking the crystal lilies which they hoped could be used to free Vangeline from her cursed sleep. As it turned out, they got all mixed up and separated and it looked like they all were doomed.

However, just as the Baron was going to strike Fiddlesticks down, the fiddler struck up a magic cord and who appeared but Pater Carrefour, Papa Crossroads, who had a complaint against the Baron for stealing the souls of those who rightfully belonged to Papa.

Papa Crossroads nodded to Fiddlesticks saying, "I knew you were the right one who could open the door to this realm for me.  I knew it from the moment I set that basilisk on your path, knowing your mama would place you in my keeping, I knew it the moment I gave to your enemy the formula for that sleeping curse your gal suffers from now.  I knew you wouldn't give up until you got here into the realm of my rival.  

Needless to say, Fiddlesticks was not pleased that all that had befallen him and Vangeline and their friends had been merely a device by which the devious Loa could enter these infernal regions for some petty dispute over prerogatives.

While Fiddlesticks fumed, the two Loas fell to disputing with each other over who was to blame for starting this feud. The Baron had snatched up hundreds of runaways who, as travelers, belonged to the realm of Papa Crossroads while Fiddlesticks, having died, should have belonged with Cimitiere.  The unequal numbers didn't seem to matter much; it was the affront to their privileges that infuriated both of the Loas.  Their minions commenced to growling at each other and it looked like a first class ruckus was about to begin.

When Papa Crossroads suggested trading Fiddlesticks' soul for that of the runaways' souls, returning to the status quo as it were, Fiddlesticks decided he best skedaddle.  So while the Loa weren't looking, he levitated himself and headed off toward the lily field, hoping to help Coralie to grab one of the flowers and make an escape.

As things heated up, Baron Cimitiere took on the form of a great gator, a symbol of swift death well known to the Yando folk.

Just as the Gator Baron was about to pounce, Papa Crossroads turned himself into the form of a greater demon and the two commenced to wrassling.

Meanwhile, Coralie had snuck into the field containing the crystal lilies and grabbed one but found herself surrounded by zombi and the gravedigger minions of the Baron.  Servan had sent the time jumping hounds to aid her and they with difficulty held off the mob of zombi.

Seeing this, Brother Maksen thrust the teleporting ring onto his finger and sent himself over to aid her.  He left the injured Servan atop the pillar to take pot shots at their enemies below.

Landing in a corner of the field behind the zombi and gravediggers, Maksen snatched up one of the lilies.  The flower let out a huge, blood curdling scream that drew the attention of the zombi.

It did give Coralie some respite.  Clutching the lily she had plucked, she had two of the time hounds charge the zombi that stood between her and a small gap in fence at the rear of the field. They easily tore through the shamblers.

The third time hound attacked the gravediggers.  Although it was killed in the process, it kept these more powerful entities busy while Coralie made her escape.

However, as she scrambled through the fence, the writhing thorn hedges struck at her, cutting a deep gash into her shoulder.  She forced her way forward away from the tearing vines.
At the other side of the courtyard, Sabeen and Jbili were holding off a horde of skeleton-led zombi while Placeed tended to Dewy who had been horrible cut up by a flying skeleton.

Sabeen called up one of her wind storms and tossed several of the skeleton leaders into one of the fuming pits.

As he fired away at the zombi chasing Coralie and now Maksen, Servan did not notice that another zombi had managed to clamber up to the top of the pillar.  It lunged at him and the force of its strike knocked them both off the pillar.

Servan landed into the great mass of zombi.  They began to tear at him while he tried to fight them off using his one good arm to wield his rifle as a club.

As the two Loas fought, Papa Crossroads' army of demons charged the Baron's undead.  A great clanging bell rang over the yard.  Out of the graves that lined the ruined temple, a host of skeletal cavalry emerged.

The piles of bones scattered around the yard began to form into skeletal warriors.

These fell upon Crossroads' demons and a horrific battle was joined

In the midst of this, the Baron's tentacled consort, struck out at Skeeter. He managed to parry the slimy attacks with his whomping stick.

He charged the disgusting creature and delivered a heavy blow with his ever-accurate cudgel.

Coralie, who had managed to break free from the thorn vines, ran past the corner of the field and dragged Maksen over the fence before the mob of zombi could overwhelm him.

When she did so, Maksen put the ring back on and teleported them both back to the top of the pillar. Coralie screamed when she saw Servan's perdicament.

Whispering a hasty prayer to his god Huisinga, Maksen drew his battle axe and, crying his family's ancient battle cry, leapt into the mass of zombi swirling around Servan.  

Jbili fired the swivel gun into a mass of skeletons emerging from a bone pile while Sabeen rushed to aid Placeed and Dewy who were beset by two skeleton knights.

Back to back, Maksen and Servan managed to hold off the zombi horde. After he had blasted his way through the skeletons, Jbili had charged across the yard to aid his friend Servan.  His flashing blade cut a path through the zombi.

Sabeen charged the skeleton knights from behind, blasting one to shred with her pepperbox pistol.

Lieutenant Sharf and Sergeant Hrr'pr, standing on Skeeter's flank, held off a troop of skeleton knights, although the big Ogre sergeant was grievously wounded in the fight.

A great thunderous roar echoed across the yard as the skeletal cavalry charged into the fray.

Having seen Coralie make her escape, Fiddlesticks decided it was time to seek some revenge against his erstwhile loa patron and joined the Gator Baron's attack on Demon Crossroads.

The consort made one more lunge at Skeeter, the teeth-lined tentacles swirling around him.  The swamp stomper held up his stick to the dark sky, and said, "if there's anybody up there, I sure could use a little help!'  Suddenly, a small shaft of light beamed out of the lowering clouds illuminating the tip of Skeeter's stick.  He struck the creature on the side of her head.  With a loud crack it twisted at an odd angle and the creature's body collapsed.

However, Skeeter was now assailed by one of Papa Crossroads way-watcher devils.  Skeeter fell back before the sharp claws of the huge demon.  Fiddlesticks was struck by the Demon Crossroads and the pain from the wound transported him away from the fight.

Crossroads' demons were beginning to lose ground to the huge hordes of the Baron's undead.  
Suddenly, Papa Crossroads transformed again, now a gigantic demon that towered over all around it.

But the Baron matched him by transforming into a giant crocodile.  

The two giants fell upon one another, the earth trembling under the force of the blows they struck at each other.
Between strokes at the zombi, Maksen called out a loud prayer to Huisinga.  Hearing this, Fiddlesticks struck up a hymn to the God of Positive Change that he had heard Maksen sing during their trip here.  

The dark clouds were suddenly parted and a great shaft of golden light shone down upon the battling Loas.  The ground beneath their feet cracked and was rent asunder, plunging both creatures into the unfathomable space below.

From the great crevice where the giant Loas had stood, a bright ethereal temple arose into the air, pure water flowing from it, the holy symbols of Huisinga glowing brightly.

Everything came to a stand still and in the silence, there was the sound of wind rising from the space between temple pillars.
With a great peal of thunder, a huge dragon, glowing a luminescent blue appeared from the temple.  As its wings stretched out, gentle rains began to fall from them.

The great dragon circled the yard, its purifying rain falling upon everything.  The demons and skeletons seemed to melt away under the water.  The zombi were transformed back into their living forms. 

With blinking eye and unsteady step, the misled sojourners returned to realm of the living.

Even those who had been struck down in the fight rose, now freed from mystical enslavement.  Maksen fell to his knees gazing in wonder as the graceful shadow of Huisinga glided above them.

In the silence, Skeeter turned to Fiddlesticks and asked, "Now hold on, you mean that God is a dragon?  I need to get me back to church!"

With Maksen and Coralie bearing their crystal lilies, they led the great crowd forth, guided by beam of light that showed the way back.

As the walked, nothing touched them, all the way down to the river, where Leon, ever faithful awaited them.

In a short time, they built canoes and rafts to carry the mass of the rescued and set off down Crimson Bayou toward home.  But when they left the bayou and returned to the main course, much had changed.  It was no longer the heat of midsummer but the chill of late autumn.  Time, like everything else, on Crimson Bayou did not go the way things normally did.  What had seemed like a few days now appeared to have been at least three months and more.  What might have happened in all that time, they could only hazard guesses.

They went first to Fiddlesticks' Mater's hut but found it deserted with sign that read "Gone to Salteon."  So they proceed to return to the sight of all that pain that had started their quest. 

 Although most of the town still lay in ruin, there were hundreds, possibly thousands of folks encamped there.  The river crowded with Yando boats of every size.

Fiddlesticks struck up a song, one of the quieter Yando songs, full of weariness and sadness of loss.  The great multitude grew silent as the boats approached.

As they approached the pier, they saw Fiddlesticks' mama, Mater Filtote awaiting for them, tears in her eyes.  At her side was Constable Renard and a host of armed Yando men.  The Emperor's flag flew above them.  There was a great cheer went up when Coralie held up her crystal lily.

Once tied up, Mater rushed to Fiddlesticks and embraced him.  He began to tell her how they had been duped by Papa Crossroads but she hushed him.  "Time to talk of that later.  Now we must tend to Vangeline."
She took the lilies from Coralie and Maksen and led them up to a tent that had been raised on the ruins of the Barouse house.  Vangeline had been brought home to await her friends.  A great crowd followed but Mater told them all to stay out, only she and Coralie and Maksen would tend to this. None of the suitors were allowed in either.

As they waited, Renard approached Servan and Jbili.  He told them how the Grandees had hired all the mercenary scum down in Hubbleglum and the Miviors brought them up to fight their rebellion against the Emperor and stop the Liberation.  Part of that army come into the Yando under Lord Alabastre.
"We whipped them good, Lord Alabastre having to run with his tail twixt his legs again. But most of that army went up to Plibba City, where the Grandees first made their rebellion, and the Emperor coming on. And that big paid-for army whipped the Emperor and chased him all the way back to Pennol, and are laying siege to him in his own capital and he may be forced to give in right soon.  Along the way there, the Grandees and thier army did some powerful terrible things to any serf that raised their head and promise to do worse once they win."

"Well," the old fox said, "we ain't going to let that happen.  No without a fight, leastways. So all of the Yando folk are heading up there to set things aright."

Only a short while later, Mater Filtote had brewed the lilies into a concoction and gentle poured some through Vangeline's lips.  In a moment, she began to breathe again and move.  She sat up and saw Coralie there.  With much tears, the two sisters embraced...

By and by, word came that Vangeline wanted to speak to the suitors and tell them of her decision.  The fours, Fiddelsticks, Servan, Sabeen, and Placeed all waited anxiously and each of their hearts leapt with joy upon seeing Vangeline well again.

They each spoke for a moment, express their love but without boasting or denigrating any of the others; they had gone through too much together for that.

Finally, Vangeline said, "In these months, when I have the opportunity to consider my life both before and after my affliction, I came to realize that there was really very little difference between the two.  I have been cared for more than I cared for others, been protected more than I have protected, been loved more that I have loved.  I can never express my gratitude to you all for everything you have suffered in my behalf.  But I cannot chose any of you for that would mean that all of this has gone only to return me to a different type of slumber, happier no doubt, but a slumber none the less."

"There is trouble coming for all the world and the desires of a few small people don’t seem to matter so much.  But maybe the love that you taught me can be used to help those have been hurt by the evil of this world. The rest of my life I intend to dedicate to that purpose.

 "And that is my choice."



Of course, every school child knows the story of the Oath at Salteon, and how, when things looked darkest for the cause of freedom, an army came out of the Yando. How they surprised all them Mivior ironclads anchored near Ft Flumens, capturing the whole fleet by guile.  How they took that fleet up the River Deep, run past the Grandees’ guns at Esclaron, portaged them past the rapids onto Lake Karth.  

How, when the Emperor was in despair and preparing to give in to the Grandees, he saw the thousand of little Yando boats streaming toward his city, bring supplies, arms, and men. And hope.  How, this gave courage to the Emperor’s army that went out and drove the grandees and their hirelings back, ensuring that freedom would not die that winter.

Now that was just the beginning of the war, which went on for nine years and more, and drew in all the countries of Minaria, until there was pain and suffering and death from the Blasted Heath to the Lake of the Melting Star. And everywhere there was Vangeline and the ladies that followed her, bringing comfort to the dying, aid to the wounded, and consolation to the widowed and orphaned.  It was said that through the rest of her long life, the love she learned in the Yando, she spread to the whole world.

 In the end, the world did change, and for once, it changed for the better. 

Regarding Vangeline’s friends:

On the evening of the Emperor’s victory at Pennol, Placeed was there to give the hungry monarch some of his fine vittles and so pleased was the Emperor, that he made Placeed his personal chef with Dewy as his saucier.  It was said that no matter how many times the Grandees tried to poison the Emperor, he was immune, his stomach having been toughened by eating the pair’s spicy dinners. 

Sabeen, she helped lead the Yando fleet from Flumens to Lake Karth and in time she became the first Lady Admiral in the Imperial Fleet.  Of course, Leon was there to grumble that she was getting a bit too big for her britches and that big admiral’s hat was to cover her swollen head. 

Jbili went back to the Emperor’s army.  He was killed in battle towards the end of the war, holding off a whole legion of the Grandees' army by himself.  The song of his heroics will be sung in the Dwarven halls for a thousand years which is about as happy an ending any dwarf could ever wish for. 

One-armed Servon rejoined the army too, learning how to shoot his rifle with one of them new-fangled mechanical arms.  He even joined the green jackets with his new hobgoblin friends.  It was he and Jbili that caught up with Lord Alabastre, after the Battle of Plibba.  The less said about what they done to when they caught that nasty gutter rat the better.  

In the end, it was his good looks that made his fortune for he married the richest woman in the Yando and in time replaced Constable Renard as the chief lawman for that part of the swamp. 

Coralie inherited the remaining boats and other wealth of her father which she increased ten fold despite loaning much of it to the cause of freedom.  She was honored by the Emperor himself who named her Lady Coralie at a ball given in her honor and where she was the center of attention.  Now some complained that a Lady should have made a better choice of husband, especially when her choice was one-armed rogue who had been so recently courting after her sister.  But those who said that were merely jealous, for Servan was one of the handsomest men in the Empire and, well Coralie deserved something for all that hard work. 

After the war, Brother Maksen rebuilt his little temple in Salteon. They wanted to make him High Presbyter of the Cult of Huisinga, what with all them miracles he performed and seeing the God Hisself.  But Maksen preferred to stay in the Yando, which had become more a home to him than he ever known. Of course, he sometimes regretted that decision when Skeeter came by to discuss theology, particularly whether this or that lizard was a god too.


When Skeeter came home from the war, he went back to whomping and stomping all over the back waters, hardly changed by all he had seen, and tell stories about his adventures, and loved by everyone for it. 

Now, no one is sure what become of Fiddlesticks.  He just disappeared on day, about a year after coming home from the war.  Some say that Papa Crossroads came to collect his debt and took Fiddlesticks off to the Other Side once more.  On the other hand Skeeter said Fiddlesticks is still there, up in the back bayous.  

He claimed he had seen Papa Crossroads appear and confront Fiddlesticks and Fiddlesticks challenged him to a fiddle competition which Fiddlesticks won, making him Lord of the Crossroads. 

Of course, no one paid much mind to Skeeter who was given to telling tall tales.  

But one thing I know -  at night, if you listen real hard, you can hear the sound of some wonderful fiddle playing coming over the waters of the Yando…

The End