Tag Archives: BlogBattle

On the Hunt

Here’s this week’s #BlogBattle entry for “Hindered,” a continuation from last week’s episode in which Teagan killed Birgitte, the vampire Brood Mother who enslaved Grant to fulfill a task for the enigmatic Viscount Tarvinthian: opening an ancient prison of sunlight holding something at bay.

Genre: Adventure/Action (1,498 words)

Update: Thanks to those who voted and made this the winning story for the week!

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From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Cartographer of Uncharted Domains, Champion Pugilist, and Collector of Priceless AntiquitiesAccompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

Teagan dashed between gravestones and family reliquaries, constantly checking over her shoulder in her mad flight—even though it led to several painful collisions. The wind whipped through her red hair, and the humid mist filled her lungs, making each stride a strain. Her sides burned and her legs screamed, but she gritted her teeth and pressed on.

If I pause for a breath, they’ll be on me in an instant. And I don’t think I can resist a second time.

The memory of the smooth ivory face and piercing eyes washed over her and she almost stumbled. Just a glance from one of Tarvinthian’s progeny and she’d nearly succumbed. Teagan could no longer hold anger or jealousy toward Grant about his year-long escapade while enthralled by Birgitte, the Brood Mother. Younger vampires took hours or even days to turn a mortal to their will. But for these ancients, the allure of their mere presence seemed sufficient to draw Teagan under their thrall.

She felt the tingle throughout her body, the urge to give in, to turn and offer herself—arms extended, head raised to the cloudy night sky, neck exposed to cold air—

The breeze chilled her skin and she blinked, then realized she’d stopped and assumed the position she imagined. “No,” she howled into the night, fists clenched. “You twisted monsters, find a weaker mind!”

Three humanoid forms came into view, bounding across the earth and sky like a pack of predators on the hunt. Teagan turned and ran.

A battered chapel lay ahead, the dim light within a welcome sign of refuge. Hopefully Grant had done his part. Hopefully Birgitte’s ‘daughters’ aren’t pursuing him either. I don’t want him to be the weak-willed man they find.

She scrambled up the cracked wooden steps and tugged on the heavy doors. Grass rustled behind her, the vampire’s footfall soft even from dozens of feet in the air. Teagan froze and shut her eyes, focusing on the silent approach of a curious sensation. Her will began to buckle under the enormous weight and incessant pull toward this supernatural being. Had she tried to run, her feet would betray her, leaden and obstinate as if her boots had been nailed to the floorboards. If she looked on that face again—that glorious, radiant face—she would succumb and be his.

Her heartbeat thudded in her chest and she knew he must hear it, must sense the rich blood flowing through her veins, the life force that could feed his insatiable hunger, the captive will that wanted to do nothing else…

The wood behind her creaked under his weight. Teagan snatched the sawed-off shotgun from the holster on her leg and fired it blind over her shoulder. Flaming bits of dried, minced and powdered garlic sprayed from the barrel, and the thing shrieked.

The spell broken, Teagan turned, raised the gun toward the ravaged, peppered face, and pulled the trigger. Lust and hunger forgotten, the creature’s eyes blazed with fury and hatred for an instant before the golden cloud of garlic blurred Teagan’s view. Then it fell to the ground, screaming and clawing at tattered flesh.

Teagan traded the shotgun to her left hand and slipped a silver crucifix from her belt into her empty palm. At the foot of the cross, the silver extended into a point like a railroad spike. “The Lord rebuke you, fiend,” Teagan said, and jammed the holy ornament into the vampire’s back.

It howled and thrashed across the ground, fleeing her wrath. But two others alighted on the grass near the chapel, their stern gazes devoid of mercy.

Teagan ducked inside, hoping ancient sacred ground might slow their pursuit. A priest stood before the altar, chanting warding prayers in Latin with a rich, sonorous tone. As the last syllable left his mouth, the atmosphere changed. The misty gloom and dread Teagan felt vanished in the soft glow of candles and an inner warmth of hope.

The priest turned to Teagan and smiled. “It seems to have worked. I’m honestly surprised. I don’t believe anyone has sung that canticle in many years.”

“Father MacCleary,” Teagan gushed, “it’s been too long. So good of you to come.”

“So good to see you again, Miss O’Daire,” he said, “even if you no longer wear the nun’s habit.”

Teagan pursed her lips, but sensed no judgment intended. “Not a very good sheep, I’m afraid. Never been willing to stay in the pen.”

MacCleary nodded. “I know, lass. But praise be that the Good Shepherd is ever willing to travel far and wide to find the one who goes astray.”

Something raked the wooden walls, and a window shattered as a chunk of gravestone flew through the stained glass. A pale face with glowing eyes peered inside before skittering into the darkness.

“The Good Shepherd’s not the only one chasing me tonight, Father,” Teagan said. “But they don’t seem willing or able to breach your spiritual defenses. So yes, praise be.” She looked over the less mystical preparations Grant had made during the day, and smiled. He had done well.

“Alas for Mister McSwain,” Father MacCleary said, “caught out in all that danger.”

Distant shotgun blasts rang out in the night, and Teagan laughed. “Don’t waste your worry on him. If I know Grant, he’s loving every moment of this.”

“Well, he can have it all,” MacCleary said with a forced laugh. “I still don’t want to believe this is happening. On a chill night such as this, I would much prefer a cup of tea and reading the Good Book by candlelight in the comfort of my parish.”

“You’ll be back to your disciplines before you know it, Father. Your help tonight may well save not just our lives but the souls of many potential victims.”

Another window shattered, and stone crashed into a dusty wooden pew. Father MacCleary and Teagan both spun toward the sound. Then Teagan sighed with relief. “All they can do is hurt the look of the place.”

More shotgun blasts echoed in the night, closer than the first. More unearthly shrieks, too, and a hearty laugh. Grant must be alright. Teagan stared blankly through the broken window into the night, her hands absently turning her holy medallion between her fingers.

Then an oppressive and palpable darkness swept through the chapel. The walls shook and groaned like a tremor passed through the earth. Thunder boomed and the thick wooden doors flew apart in splinters.

Tarvinthian himself stood at the doorframe, decked in a fine burgundy tuxedo as if attending a lavish ball. His beady eyes stared down his hawkish nose at Teagan and Father MacCleary. Then he brushed the tails of his coats back and cracked his fingers like a maestro about to perform.

The vampire lord stepped into the sanctuary, his motion slow and labored, though his face showed no sign of strain. Bands of light flickered, wrapping around like invisible cords resisting his pale skin and dark suit. He took another step and the bands flashed brighter, stretching his clothing across his torso and limbs. The intermittent flashes became constant as Tarvinthian forced his way forward.

The wards snapped, and the doorframe and surrounding wall crumbled with a thunderclap. Tarvinthian raised an eyebrow. “Impressive, priest. I haven’t dealt with such a hindrance in over a century.”

Father MacCleary stammered and shrank back toward the altar, his white-knuckled fingers wrapped around a rosary.

“Pray all you like,” Tarvinthian said, “but you needn’t fear. I am not here for you, man of a so-called God. Nor for the one killing my children outside—though I will end him.”

His gaze fell upon Teagan, and his cracked, deathly lips parted like rotted cloth. “I am here for you, the one who dared to slay Birgitte–a very goddess. My goddess.”

Teagan fought the fear rising in her and stood firm in the front of the sanctuary. Her hands twitched, demanding in panic that she draw her shotgun or at least another crucifix—anything to defend herself as Tarvinthian steadily advanced.

Then he stepped on the loose floorboard where Grant had placed the trigger. Beneath the sanctuary, a latch released the line once held taut, which led behind the altar and up the inside of the bell tower’s base. Released from its bond, the rope hissed through metal loops toward a massive wooden spike soaked in holy water, mounted on a spring-loaded beam attached to the ceiling.

The spike swung through the center aisle in a blur and impaled Tarvinthian where he stood. His flesh smoldered where the wood touched it, and he bellowed in agony.

Teagan drew her shotgun, then advanced on her prey. “That’s right. I slew your goddess. And I’m not done yet.”

She leveled the gun at his face and fired.

One Year Later

Here’s my #BlogBattle entry for this week. I need to tweak some formatting (italics and such) but I wanted to get it posted before the deadline.

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Fearless Hero, Hearty Fighter, and Formidable Foe…

Accompanied as always by his gorgeous assistant, Birgitte Bakkersson, the Stunner of Stockholm.

 “I think I figured it out, Bridge,” Grant said as he walked, hunched down, through the dusty catacomb.

The bright-eyed blonde smiled. “You’ve sorted out the way into the sealed Chamber of the Sun?” The Nordic lilt in her voice and the soft laugh when she asked tickled Grant’s fancy.

“No, not that. Look, we know now that there’s a whole other world,” Grant said. “We’ll call it Pandora.”

“Oh,” Birgitte said. “This again.”

“And it bears the mark of at least four ancient Earth cultures—”

“We are in the middle of a job,” Birgitte said, and the dim tunnel seemed to grow chilly and dark with her mood. “Lost in a grimy maze of bones, hoping we can even get inside the sanctum—once we find it. If we find it. Yet you’re still caught up with this mystery of yours. Perhaps you’re not best equipped to make sense of all these details, Mister McSwain.”

“I’m not,” Grant said with a sigh. “She was always better at this stuff.”

“You cannot prove your tale,” Birgitte continued, “and no one would believe it.”

“She believed it.”

“I hate to be cold, Mister McSwain, but our livelihood and our very lives depend on your expertise. Teagan O’Daire is dead and buried. You helped lower the casket—do you not remember?”

Grant paused as memories flooded his mind, forcing in against his will. The devastation in the Repository of Castellano after he set off a dynamite charge… the long, silent flight to Ireland… a blurry ceremony seen through tears in a cemetery in Galway under a sky that had no right to be so blue…

It feels like forever ago, yet sometimes it feels like just yesterday.

He noted Birgitte’s expression and took a deep breath. She needed him at his best, here in the moment, not caught up in a different life however long ago.

“I’m not reliving the past,” Grant said, taking Birgitte’s cool hand. “I’ve moved on from all of that. I’m just saying, these artifacts and sources of mythical power have a common root. And Roquefort would bury us in pound notes if we brought that back to London.”

Birgitte furrowed her pretty brow. Covered in webs and grime, gleaming skin hidden under a layer of dust, she still looked more ravishing than any woman Grant’s eyes ever beheld. Even her? Yes, more than her.

“Master Roquefort isn’t financing this expedition,” Birgitte said. “Are you ill, Mister McSwain? Do you not remember your meeting with the Viscount?”

“Right. What was I thinking?” Grant shook his head and pushed aside all thoughts of Pandora’s magenta skies and double moons. An image of a handsome man’s thin, pale face formed in Grant’s mind.

Anatoly Tarvinthian, the Viscount of Belarus, held to traditions of nobility while amassing a fortune in modern business. The vast wealth of his estate dwarfed his personal holdings in arms manufacturing, which was still sufficient to fund significant investments in America. Railroad barons gave way to natural resources and automotive industry over decades, but Tarvinthian’s money flowed freely into all of these.

Even more so, Tarvinthian showed talent in the world of fine arts trading, giving him ties to prominent museums and access to historic sites around the world. His private collection in his secluded castle summer home was rumored to fill several stories, with more floor space and estimated value than the Smithsonian and the Louvre combined.

That’s only what he dares reveal to his privileged few guests. He’s got secrets buried beneath secrets, and a treasure hoard that spans millennia of human history. What could he possibly need from a hired hand like me?

“Look at this marking,” Birgitte said, brushing a long, gloved finger in a strangely sensual way across a rune carved into the catacomb wall. “It’s part of the crest of Vlad Tepes. We’re on the right path.”

Then the shadows shifted up ahead, and a touch of natural light brightened the stone. Birgitte stepped back in surprise, and Grant cocked his head. “Do you think ‘the Chamber of the Sun’ could somehow be a literal meaning? Not just some honorific for a local lord?”

“I’d very much like to find out,” Birgitte cooed, and suddenly Grant very much wanted to find out as well.

Hunkered down, he shuffled toward the bend. The light grew intense, and Grant’s eyes narrowed and watered in protest. But he spotted a cracked stone wall, with a hole in the center where a pickaxe had broken through. The tool itself lay among ashes and dust piled on the floor. Grant grabbed the pickaxe and swung, doubling the size of the hole. Getting in would be easy enough. But where is sunlight coming from this far below ground?

Birgitte watched with wonder from the bend. “You’ve done it, Mister McSwain. The Chamber of the Sun and all its secrets will be laid bare. The heir of Vlad Tepes will be made known to the world, and your name will be on the lips of multitudes.”

Grant swung again and again, swelling with pride—partly at the thought of renown, but mostly due to the breathy tone in Birgitte’s voice. If it made her happy, that mattered more than any other reward.

With a great lunge, he burst through the crumbling stone and stumbled into the sunlit chamber, then gasped.

Four Ixthacan sun-plates sat in fixtures at head level, and above each, an Eye of Ra had been chiseled into the stone. Hieroglyphs and characters glimmered around the room, some form of gold that seemed illuminated from within.

But Grant ignored all that at the sight of the portals. Suspended in the air a hand-length from each sun-plate, a shimmering circle of light offered a view to other places. Stars glimmered in one like a patch of night sky, and fading amber clouds shone through two opposing portals. In the portal opposite the night, pure sunlight shown through, filling the chamber while focusing its warm beam on the sarcophagus at the center of the room.

Grant ambled about, dumbfounded at yet another conflux of cultures and inexplicable technology. “Birgitte, come in here,” he called. “This is what I’ve been talking about.”

“Not yet,” she said from the gloom in the tunnel. “Not for another minute or two, I believe.”

Her words fell on deaf ears as Grant examined the room. Old forms of Chinese characters mixed with the Egyptian hieroglyphs, all of them etched in that glowing gilt. His bare skin tingled when he touched one.

The sunlight shifted, diminishing slightly, and Grant eyed the brightest portal. Through squinting eyes, he saw the burning orb slip behind the dark sphere of the moon. “That’s right… there’s a solar eclipse today.”

Within moments, only the glimmering corona shone through the once-bright portal. Dim light came through the other two portals, their openings revealing dawn or dusk, though Grant couldn’t say which. “On most days,” Grant realized, “full sunlight always shines on the center.”

Birgitte sauntered in, her smile wide and hungry. “But not today. Well done, Mister McSwain. Now quickly, remove the Ixthacan relics to close the portals so we can see what lies within the sarcophagus.” She pointed toward the plate behind the eclipse. “Start with this one.”

It made sense—the gold alone was worth a fortune. Grant stepped forward to obey.

Then Birgitte spun and hissed, her fingers curled like claws. A cloaked woman burst into the room. A silver crucifix jangled around her neck and glinted in the light of the eclipse, and Grant caught the pungent odor of fresh garlic cloves.

She doffed her hood to reveal a wild mop of red hair, and lunged at Birgitte with a thick wooden stake raised in her right hand.

“Teagan?!”

Birgitte twisted, but the stake found its mark, plunging into her chest. She threw Teagan across the room, but the woman landed in a crouch with feline grace.

Birgitte cackled and examined the thick stake in her bosom. “Fool girl, you deem this little sliver of wood sufficient to kill a Brood Queen?”

“No,” Teagan said, drawing a revolver. “I think it makes a good target.” She leveled the gun and fired as Birgitte’s eyes settled on the red-paper wrapped cylinder shoved into the hollowed-out stake.

The dynamite erupted and Birgitte vanished in a cloud of fire and a spray of undead chunks.

Grant stood gaping at the scene. “You—you’re dead. How did you–”

“She lied, Grant,” Teagan said, placing a careful hand on his shoulder. “I’ve been chasing you for almost a year trying to free you from her grasp. Come on, you lumbering ox. Tarvinthian and the rest of the brood are coming, and Dad here is about to wake up. And none of them will be happy to find Mom in pieces.”

One Year Later

Here’s my #BlogBattle entry for this week. I need to tweak some formatting (italics and such) but I wanted to get it posted before the deadline.

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Fearless Hero, Hearty Fighter, and Formidable Foe…

Accompanied as always by his gorgeous assistant, Birgitte Bakkersson, the Stunner of Stockholm.

 “I think I figured it out, Bridge,” Grant said as he walked, hunched down, through the dusty catacomb.

The bright-eyed blonde smiled. “You’ve sorted out the way into the sealed Chamber of the Sun?” The Nordic lilt in her voice and the soft laugh when she asked tickled Grant’s fancy.

“No, not that. Look, we know now that there’s a whole other world,” Grant said. “We’ll call it Pandora.”

“Oh,” Birgitte said. “This again.”

“And it bears the mark of at least four ancient Earth cultures—”

“We are in the middle of a job,” Birgitte said, and the dim tunnel seemed to grow chilly and dark with her mood. “Lost in a grimy maze of bones, hoping we can even get inside the sanctum—once we find it. If we find it. Yet you’re still caught up with this mystery of yours. Perhaps you’re not best equipped to make sense of all these details, Mister McSwain.”

“I’m not,” Grant said with a sigh. “She was always better at this stuff.”

“You cannot prove your tale,” Birgitte continued, “and no one would believe it.”

“She believed it.”

“I hate to be cold, Mister McSwain, but our livelihood and our very lives depend on your expertise. Teagan O’Daire is dead and buried. You helped lower the casket—do you not remember?”

Grant paused as memories flooded his mind, forcing in against his will. The devastation in the Repository of Castellano after he set off a dynamite charge… the long, silent flight to Ireland… a blurry ceremony seen through tears in a cemetery in Galway under a sky that had no right to be so blue…

It feels like forever ago, yet sometimes it feels like just yesterday.

He noted Birgitte’s expression and took a deep breath. She needed him at his best, here in the moment, not caught up in a different life however long ago.

“I’m not reliving the past,” Grant said, taking Birgitte’s cool hand. “I’ve moved on from all of that. I’m just saying, these artifacts and sources of mythical power have a common root. And Roquefort would bury us in pound notes if we brought that back to London.”

Birgitte furrowed her pretty brow. Covered in webs and grime, gleaming skin hidden under a layer of dust, she still looked more ravishing than any woman Grant’s eyes ever beheld. Even her? Yes, more than her.

“Master Roquefort isn’t financing this expedition,” Birgitte said. “Are you ill, Mister McSwain? Do you not remember your meeting with the Viscount?”

“Right. What was I thinking?” Grant shook his head and pushed aside all thoughts of Pandora’s magenta skies and double moons. An image of a handsome man’s thin, pale face formed in Grant’s mind.

Anatoly Tarvinthian, the Viscount of Belarus, held to traditions of nobility while amassing a fortune in modern business. The vast wealth of his estate dwarfed his personal holdings in arms manufacturing, which was still sufficient to fund significant investments in America. Railroad barons gave way to natural resources and automotive industry over decades, but Tarvinthian’s money flowed freely into all of these.

Even more so, Tarvinthian showed talent in the world of fine arts trading, giving him ties to prominent museums and access to historic sites around the world. His private collection in his secluded castle summer home was rumored to fill several stories, with more floor space and estimated value than the Smithsonian and the Louvre combined.

That’s only what he dares reveal to his privileged few guests. He’s got secrets buried beneath secrets, and a treasure hoard that spans millennia of human history. What could he possibly need from a hired hand like me?

“Look at this marking,” Birgitte said, brushing a long, gloved finger in a strangely sensual way across a rune carved into the catacomb wall. “It’s part of the crest of Vlad Tepes. We’re on the right path.”

Then the shadows shifted up ahead, and a touch of natural light brightened the stone. Birgitte stepped back in surprise, and Grant cocked his head. “Do you think ‘the Chamber of the Sun’ could somehow be a literal meaning? Not just some honorific for a local lord?”

“I’d very much like to find out,” Birgitte cooed, and suddenly Grant very much wanted to find out as well.

Hunkered down, he shuffled toward the bend. The light grew intense, and Grant’s eyes narrowed and watered in protest. But he spotted a cracked stone wall, with a hole in the center where a pickaxe had broken through. The tool itself lay among ashes and dust piled on the floor. Grant grabbed the pickaxe and swung, doubling the size of the hole. Getting in would be easy enough. But where is sunlight coming from this far below ground?

Birgitte watched with wonder from the bend. “You’ve done it, Mister McSwain. The Chamber of the Sun and all its secrets will be laid bare. The heir of Vlad Tepes will be made known to the world, and your name will be on the lips of multitudes.”

Grant swung again and again, swelling with pride—partly at the thought of renown, but mostly due to the breathy tone in Birgitte’s voice. If it made her happy, that mattered more than any other reward.

With a great lunge, he burst through the crumbling stone and stumbled into the sunlit chamber, then gasped.

Four Ixthacan sun-plates sat in fixtures at head level, and above each, an Eye of Ra had been chiseled into the stone. Hieroglyphs and characters glimmered around the room, some form of gold that seemed illuminated from within.

But Grant ignored all that at the sight of the portals. Suspended in the air a hand-length from each sun-plate, a shimmering circle of light offered a view to other places. Stars glimmered in one like a patch of night sky, and fading amber clouds shone through two opposing portals. In the portal opposite the night, pure sunlight shown through, filling the chamber while focusing its warm beam on the sarcophagus at the center of the room.

Grant ambled about, dumbfounded at yet another conflux of cultures and inexplicable technology. “Birgitte, come in here,” he called. “This is what I’ve been talking about.”

“Not yet,” she said from the gloom in the tunnel. “Not for another minute or two, I believe.”

Her words fell on deaf ears as Grant examined the room. Old forms of Chinese characters mixed with the Egyptian hieroglyphs, all of them etched in that glowing gilt. His bare skin tingled when he touched one.

The sunlight shifted, diminishing slightly, and Grant eyed the brightest portal. Through squinting eyes, he saw the burning orb slip behind the dark sphere of the moon. “That’s right… there’s a solar eclipse today.”

Within moments, only the glimmering corona shone through the once-bright portal. Dim light came through the other two portals, their openings revealing dawn or dusk, though Grant couldn’t say which. “On most days,” Grant realized, “full sunlight always shines on the center.”

Birgitte sauntered in, her smile wide and hungry. “But not today. Well done, Mister McSwain. Now quickly, remove the Ixthacan relics to close the portals so we can see what lies within the sarcophagus.” She pointed toward the plate behind the eclipse. “Start with this one.”

It made sense—the gold alone was worth a fortune. Grant stepped forward to obey.

Then Birgitte spun and hissed, her fingers curled like claws. A cloaked woman burst into the room. A silver crucifix jangled around her neck and glinted in the light of the eclipse, and Grant caught the pungent odor of fresh garlic cloves.

She doffed her hood to reveal a wild mop of red hair, and lunged at Birgitte with a thick wooden stake raised in her right hand.

“Teagan?!”

Birgitte twisted, but the stake found its mark, plunging into her chest. She threw Teagan across the room, but the woman landed in a crouch with feline grace.

Birgitte cackled and examined the thick stake in her bosom. “Fool girl, you deem this little sliver of wood sufficient to kill a Brood Queen?”

“No,” Teagan said, drawing a revolver. “I think it makes a good target.” She leveled the gun and fired as Birgitte’s eyes settled on the red-paper wrapped cylinder shoved into the hollowed-out stake.

The dynamite erupted and Birgitte vanished in a cloud of fire and a spray of undead chunks.

Grant stood gaping at the scene. “You—you’re dead. How did you–”

“She lied, Grant,” Teagan said, placing a careful hand on his shoulder. “I’ve been chasing you for almost a year trying to free you from her grasp. Come on, you lumbering ox. Tarvinthian and the rest of brood are coming, and Dad here is about to wake up. And none of them will be happy to find Mom in pieces.”

Into the Repository 

Here’s a #BlogBattle entry for both “hazel” (this week) and “menagerie” (last week, which I missed).


From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Discoverer of the Fabled Repository of Castellano, and Vanquisher of the Treasure-Thieves of Vallarte’s Lost Vessel

Accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

“I’m telling you, Teag, this is the big one.” Grant squinted into the darkness and held his torch aloft. The jagged tunnel walls glowed with the dance of the flames. “Tepandorixotl—the Mayan Repository of Knowledge. Castellano’s crowning achievement, and soon to be ours. The find that will put our names in journals and reviews across Europe and the Americas.”

Teagan scoffed and brushed away the red hair matted to her sweaty face. “You mean the haul that will put us in a California mansion, if I remember correctly.”

“That was showmanship to sway Master Roquefort, a mere display of expected bravado and panache.” Grant paused and stared at the ceiling. “With the amount of money from the sales, plus an exhibition of all our collected antiquities, the mansion will be the talk of the West Coast. I’m going to make Hearst himself jealous of his little shack.”

“Should I start referring to you as Mister Gatsby?” Teagan asked with a chuckle.

“Do I know him? Do you think he’d be willing to purchase some of the future collection?”

Teagan shook her head. “He’s—Grant, you need to read more.”

“Reading?” Grant laughed. “That’s what I have you along for.”

He reached a steep slope and peered into the depths. “Speaking of, does Castellano’s log say anything about spelunking? Did he ever explain why he buried this so deep?”

“Nothing clear. He wrote at length of the frustration he felt at deciphering what little he could find about the Repository. The Mayans destroyed the Ixthacans, long before the conquistadors arrived. Castellano had experts on Mayan culture and language, but Vallarte scooped up anyone with a grasp of Ixthacan. And after their falling out–”

“What triggered that, I wonder?” Grant hammered a piton into the rock wall of the tunnel, then fastened a rope through the exposed metal loop. The clang of metal reverberated between the walls.

“The Repository, actually,” Teagan said once the echo died down. “Castellano refused to transport it to Spain, and by then Vallarte had lost his ship. He tried to organize a mutiny, but Castellano escaped with Vallarte’s notes and maps, intent on relocating everything of value contained within. Toward the end of his journal, Castellano said the Repository should remain lost in the annals of history.”

Grant tested the rope and smiled. “Time to prove him wrong.” He wrapped a length around his waist and took halting steps down the incline, torch in one hand, fingers gripping the rope with thick leather gloves. With each footfall, Grant’s knapsack jostled from a heavy weight within—an Ixthacan sun tablet Vallarte’s notes associated with the Repository.

Teagan donned her own thinner gloves, hand-made at exorbitant cost by a tailor who proclaimed women had no need or place for such gear. She pictured the dainty gloves of ivory lace he’d tried peddling her. “Fit for an extravagant gala or the finest ballroom, milady,” he’d said. “Or perhaps a proper wedding?”

She eyed Grant’s broad back, his muscular frame a silhouette in the torchlight beyond him. A proper wedding someday, perhaps. Any day now, just like Grant’s long-sought great haul of treasure that would carry them through the rest of their lives.

With each downward step, the light of Grant’s torch moved farther and farther away, as did Teagan’s expectations for the future. She sighed and followed Grant.

Several minutes later, they reached a bed of soft, moist earth at the bottom of the tunnel. A chill hung in the air, and Teagan rubbed her arms for warmth.

“What exactly are we looking for, Teag?”

“That’s part of the problem. In the excerpts I’ve got, Castellano pronounced curses upon any who opened the Repository. But he never actually described his find. His log mentions some of Vallarte’s lexicons for Ixthacan, and one entry I found describes something like storage or collection.”

“Like a repository? Great. The thing you’re looking for is the thing you’re looking for.”

“No, this was different. One of Vallarte’s translators was a Frenchman. Next to some words, he wrote French equivalents. And for this, he chose ‘menagerie.’”

His torch high and behind his head, Grant checked possible passages. “Like a traveling zoo? What do we do with that? Tepandorixotl was sealed for three centuries.”

“I don’t think that’s what he meant. Ixthacan uses word pictures. A word conveys a thought that can mean more than one thing. Knowledge might mean facts, for example. Or secrets, or trophies, or even rituals. Basically anything where one might learn from the experience.”

She ran a finger across the stone wall. “And at one point Castellano talked about some kind of unnatural clay. Kind of greenish-brown in color. Nothing like anything he’d seen in the region.”

“That’s a lot to go on,” Grant said. “I see reading is working out for you really well.”

Teagan gasped at the jab. “Go ‘cross yerself, ye dirty wastrel,” she blurted, and slapped Grant’s arm.

“You’re so cute when you cuss.” He laughed and continued his search.

“Ye think this is cute? You’re a filthy cuss yerself, ye gobsmacked ball of–”

“This way,” Grant said and dashed around a corner. The torchlight faded and something skittered in the darkness near her feet.

“I—you—Grant McSwain, you arrogant—wait for me!“ She ran and caught up to his long-legged stride. The smooth stone walls of this tunnel seemed almost polished. “How do you know this is the right passage?”

He pointed at the intermittent streaks of hazel clay on the rock floor of the winding tunnel. “Can’t be too unnatural. It’s right here.”

Teagan shook her head. “But this is basic geology. We’re well beneath the appropriate sediment level to find deposits of—“

She bumped into Grant and jumped back to protect her hair from the flames of his torch. A wide chamber opened before the pair, with a massive stone ring reaching twice Grant’s height. The flickering light played across ornate figures engraved on the walls. Monstrous representations of alien creatures covered in eyes and claws reached out their hands, opened wide toothy maws, or hovered on broad wings—all of them fashioned of the same greenish-brown clay.

Several lines of clay stretched in all directions like a spider’s web from the central ring. Underneath dust and strange earth, patterns of gold sparkled in the firelight. At the center of the chamber lay an indented circle, roughly the size of the Ixthacan tablet in Grant’s pack.

“Tepandorixotl,” Grant whispered. He doffed his knapsack and drew out the golden plate. As he knelt to fit the device into its receptacle, Teagan examined the patterns of gold.

“Grant,” she said. “Can you bring the torch over? Check out the gold-work in the stone.”

“Sure, just a moment,” Grant said. “Let me get this fitted and—“

Teagan lunged toward her partner. “No, wait!”

The Ixthacan tablet clattered into place, then the walls hummed on all sides. Symbols illuminated bright red on the stone ring, and in a circle around the chamber’s ceiling. When she looked through the ring, Teagan’s vision distorted like waves of heat on a desert road.

“The tablet closes the circuit,” Teagan said, “and activates the device.”

“But what does it do?”

Pulsing in time with the thrum of power from the artifact, a line of red light appeared over the panels of clay figures on the walls.

Then a hand near Teagan flexed and stretched its fingers. One after another, unrecognizable creatures stepped from the walls, their two-dimensional images swelling and filling out.

Grant and Teagan spun, surrounded. Then his large hand clamped down on her shoulder and yanked her into the shimmering energy of the stone ring.

The world stretched into lines of light in an instant, and a thunderous roar shattered Teagan’s thoughts. Then she fell into mushy earth under a magenta sky. Her fingers sank with a squish into clay—the same greenish-brown covered the ground as far as the eye could see.

Monsters rose from the expanse, sloughing off clumps of excess earth. Wings flapped from the backs of distorted humanoids hovering overhead. Two violet moons hung low on the horizon, one a sharp crescent where the other blocked light from—did this Tepandorixotl even have a sun?

A name came to mind, and Teagan breathed it out in a gasp. “Pandora.”

She fought the madness and fear that filled her as the creatures closed in. One of the flying things swooped toward her, its three-fingered hands grasping like a bird of prey.

Grant’s fist smashed through its face, splattering clumps into the air. The devastated creature spiraled and tumbled, cutting a trough in the clay.

He slipped into a boxing stance, defending Teagan against the oncoming horde. “And this is what you have me along for.”

Teatime with Teagan

Here is this week’s BlogBattle entry, under the genre, “Action/Adventure,” starring Grant and Teagan, with the prompt of “tea.”

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Fearless Man of Action and Dauntless Conqueror of Untold Dangers

Accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

Teagan sat back under the warm sun and breathed in the salty Pacific air. The clear ocean view from the ristorante balcony, coupled with the gentle breeze, reminded her of days spent on the docks of Galway’s harbor. Her rattan chair creaked as she leaned back and sipped at what the owner claimed was imported Darjeeling, brewed strong to her liking. No cup of Lyons’ best Irish Breakfast, certainly—no hearty, spicy flavour punching through rich milk to tantalize the palette. But it would do.

“You should try ze soup, ya?” the woman across from Teagan said. Blonde hair pulled taut into a no-nonsense bun, blue eyes bright as the clear sky, everything about Ilse von Sturmfaust conveyed pent-up intensity—particularly the nine-mil Mauser C96 under the table pointed at Teagan’s abdomen.

“Silly of you to be caught out in ze open, Miss O’Daire.” She swallowed a spoonful from her bowl and licked her lips. “Mmm. Exquisite. You cannot get shrimps fresher zan ziss,” Ilse said. She smirked, her eyes locked with Teagan’s. “Twice now I claim ze catch of ze day. You simply must take a taste.”

Teagan glared at the sopa maravilla set before her and raised her teacup in a mock toast. “Thank you for your generosity, but I’ll pass.”

Ilse shrugged and took another spoonful. “Ahh vell, impending death can steal one’s appetite. Don’t vorry, it vill be swift vonce your partner returns.”

“Must be nice to travel the world and enjoy the finer things,” Teagan said. “Meanwhile your homeland languishes in economic ruin. Maybe your Kaiser has some misplaced priorities?”

“I haff some other friends viss grandiose vision,” Ilse said, “unt deep pockets. It may not seem so now, but Germany has a very bright future.”

Teagan tried to exude calm as she took stock of her predicament. The nearby market bustled with activity, a steady din that might cover the noise of a gunshot. Plenty of witnesses and even a lawman went about their business within view, yet they all seemed intentionally distracted by anything but the meeting at Teagan’s table.

The mission bells rang, three sonorous peals echoing across San Lorenzo, Honduras. Grant should have found the next scrap of information on Castellano’s treasure by now, Teagan reasoned. Hopefully he wouldn’t be foolish enough to bring it back here. Then again, Grant had done far more thoughtless things in their time together.

In the shade of the kitchen, one of the cooks swirled a spoon through the same pot of soup he’d been stirring for several minutes, his eyes rarely leaving Ilse and Teagan. A man at a nearby table held a collection of Emerson and must have found the most moving work of the lot, since he hadn’t turned the page since Teagan arrived. And despite posing for a couple of admiring señoritas, the gentleman with the flashy badge on his waistcoat watched Teagan out the corner of his eye.

Teagan chuckled into her cup. “You’re a blighted fool thinkin’ he’ll be daft enough to come back here,” she said, “with your paid-off tough watchin’ plain as day.” She cocked her head toward the policeman. Better to not let on that I saw the other two.

“Your associate’s reputation is vell-known. Brave but stupit, ya?” Ilse smiled, an out-of-place look that nearly shattered her stern face. “I am not vorried about his intellect. I just vant the next step on ze path to ze Repository.”

She slurped another taste of soup. “Unt I suppose it vill be nice to be rid of you both.”

The one Teagan called Policeman shooed away the ladies and set his full attention on her, at least until he saw her notice him. Then he made an abrupt turn and watched the market, presumably for any sign of Grant. Inside, Chef made a show of chopping a pair of thick carrots for the soup. While he stared at the page, Poet sipped his wine—the one part of the whole charade that Teagan found believable.

They all seemed patient and calm—confident in the trap they’d laid for Grant. Where is that fool man? Certainly his errand wouldn’t take this long…

Ilse flipped open a gold pocketwatch and furrowed her brow. “I thought your partner vas known for being swift unt skillful. Ze passage of time tells another story, ya?”

“Maybe he’s onto you,” Teagan said. “He could be halfway back to Guatemala by now.”

“Perhaps. But that vould be unfortunate for you,” Ilse said, “as you vould no longer be necessary to me.”

Teagan waved for the waiter, then set her teacup at the table’s edge. “Una más, por favor.” As the waiter departed, Teagan checked the kitchen. Chef had vanished, and in his place Grant stood chopping a carrot, that stupid grin brightening his face. He raised a finger to his mouth, signaling silence, and slipped out of view inside the ristorante.

About time he showed up. Teagan breathed a soft sigh of relief, then noticed Ilse’s reaction. “Just trying to enjoy the vista,” Teagan said, “if today’s likely to be my last.”

“Of course, of course. Ze sun shines brighter, ze sky seems clearer, ven you know you may never see them again.”

Teagan looked across the patio at the market, craning her neck as if something or someone caught her eye.

Ilse took the bait. “Gunter,” she hissed to Poet, “go down to ze street unt look for Mister McSvain.” Poet dropped his book on the table and dashed inside.

Right into Grant’s waiting fist, I’ll wager. Teagan put on an appropriately distressed face, and Ilse seemed to buy it.

The waiter appeared with a fresh cup of tea. With his back to Ilse, he winked at Teagan as he set the cup and saucer on the table. “A lot more where that came from, señorita,” he said, then returned to the kitchen.

Teagan buried her face in the cup to hide the smile spreading across her lips. They’re in place. Keep her distracted.

“Von Sturmfaust,” Teagan said. “I’m not familiar with Sturmfaust. Is that a town somewhere? I’ve only been to Stuttgart.”

Ilse stiffened and pursed her lips, then relaxed. “It doesn’t matter if I tell you, does it? Sturmfaust is not a town, it is our fortress on ze shore of Scharmutzelsee. You don’t think I vould give you my real name, ya?”

Teagan feigned surprise. “Fake names and fortresses? Mother Mary grant me grace, what sort of mess have I gotten myself into?”

Ilse laughed. “Do not vorry your pretty head. It vill all be over soon.”

Then someone shouted, “¡Policia!” Grant burst onto the balcony with the sheriff and four deputies, guns drawn. Ilse’s henchman reached for his pistol, but two of the deputies drilled him and his body thudded on the wooden planks of the floor. Ilse dropped her pistol under the table and thrust her empty hands into the air.

Grant rushed to Teagan and wrapped her in his arms. “What did you find out?”

“Not much. The name of a fortress in Germany where I think these Krauts are starting a political movement.”

“Might still be enough to give Uncle Sam reason to fund our expedition,” Grant said. “Or maybe one of your contacts in British Intelligence will be interested.”

“Here’s hoping.”

The deputies clicked handcuffs shut around Ilse’s wrists, and Teagan turned to regard their captive. The police lifted Ilse to her feet, and the sheriff retrieved her Mauser. Ilse’s face flushed as red as Teagan’s hair, and her stunned wide eyes bored into Grant’s back.

“Ilse, my dear,” Teagan said, taking on a German accent, “you didn’t finish your soup. Pretty stupit, ya?” She laid her hand on Ilse’s shoulder and grinned as the woman quivered with rage. “It’s understandable–the thought of prison can steal one’s appetite. But it’s not every day you get a fresh catch like this.”

The Hearts of Men

Here’s this week’s BlogBattle entry for the word “indigenous.”

Genre: Action / Adventure, 1498 words.

Update: This entry pulled off a win in Rachael Ritchey‘s BlogBattle making it two in a row. Thanks to those who liked it enough to vote for it.

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From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Challenger of the Dastardly, Champion of the Defenseless, and Chaser of Debaucherous Dames

Accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

 

Water gushed from the divot in the rim of the basin, the Stream of Tears now a flood of impending death. The river crashed onto the cracked ground, and steam hissed from searing crevices in the volcanic rock. The noise sounded like God’s own radio, its volume turned high enough for all the world to hear. The blown dam upstream had unleashed a torrent that would fill the Devil’s Bath in minutes.

Grant didn’t have minutes. The fool man stumbled across parched clay speckled with jagged obsidian toward a plume of smoke with glowing red eyes and a feminine figure. Grant mumbled various complementary phrases about Teagan, convinced the ghostly image was his assistant in some state of undress.

For centuries—perhaps millennia—the Mayans sent human sacrifices to this spot, an offering to the gods to sustain and perpetuate the seasonal cycle on which their agriculture so depended. Now it seemed legendary Mournful Bride would claim one more soul before the dry basin flooded.

And the Krauts were getting away, hot on the trail of Castellano’s great discovery—the Mayan repository of knowledge buried somewhere deep in the Guatemalan jungle. Whatever treasure the natives hid within those chambers, Castellano wrote of it with equal parts wonder and fear. It couldn’t fall into the hands of the Kaiser—or whatever more sinister political force was on the rise.

Teagan huffed, her fists balled at her hips. Everything went arseways faster than a bout of Montezuma’s Revenge. She stomped toward Grant and thrust herself between the lummox and whatever he saw in the dangerous form reaching toward him.

For a brief moment, recognition flashed across Grant’s bewildered face. “Teag,” he drawled as if inebriated, “how are there two of you?”

The eyes of the Mournful Bride flashed and glared at Teagan, and the being stretched a wispy hand toward Teagan’s feet. The rock exploded, releasing a burst of steam and rubble.

Teagan staggered back, then charged into Grant, knocking him off balance and away from the spirit.

Behind her, a wall of steam rose where the pockets of searing gas under the ground evaporated the first waves of the flood. The unrelenting waters swarmed and surged, slowed but constant in their advance across the bowl of the basin. Once filled, the basin might become a placid lake, warm and inviting. But the chaotic collision of cold and hot would not reach equilibrium smoothly. Swimming posed no problem for Teagan, but the violent eruptions of scalding gas seemed detrimental to one’s health.

“Grant,” Teagan screamed over the ruckus behind her. “We have got to get out of here!” She pushed against him, to no avail. Lacking any better idea, she slapped Grant across the face as hard as she could.

Her hand burned as if seared on a hot pan, and Grant merely laughed, his gaze fixed on the Mournful Bride. “Oh my,” he said with obvious interest, “you’ve gone native. That skimpy outfit is entirely inappropriate.” He marched on like a dying man toward a desert oasis, that stupid, all-too-adorable grin on his befuddled face.

Was he picturing her dressed in the custom of the indigenous jungle tribes? Teagan recalled what she’d seen on a recent visit to one of the villages and blushed at the idea.

The Mournful Bride’s smoky tendrils reached past Teagan and spread over Grant’s shoulders.

The natives… descendants of the Mayans, perhaps? When Grant inquired about the repository, the villagers became disturbed, hostile, like hornets whose nest had been poked. Dangerous, they claimed, and would say no more. Even the interpreter grew cold and distant, unwilling to continue the line of questioning.

A wild idea sparked in Teagan’s mind. Back pressed against Grant’s chest in a futile attempt to slow his advance, Teagan faced the burning gaze of the Mournful Bride.

“Spirit,” she yelled over the sound of the crashing waters, “you clearly know the hearts of men—their insatiable greed, their lust to obtain all they desire.”

The red eyes turned toward Teagan, the ghostly visage both annoyed and bemused. Behind the Bride, two more spirits of steam formed from the ground, hideous emaciated beings with gaunt features, their hunger for life a palpable tug on Teagan’s soul.

“Listen to me,” Teagan pleaded. “Those men outside the basin, they are wicked and depraved. See what they’ve already done to the land? They will find whatever treasure or power is protected by this jungle, by you and your fellow sentinels… and they will use it to bring harm to many, all across the world.”

More spirits rose from the earth as Teagan made her plea, and they circled the doomed pair. Grant stopped pushing against Teagan, but remained enthralled by whatever the Bride showed him. Hesitation flickered in those awful lights, and the spirits behind the Bride paused to listen.

“You all could feed upon them,” Teagan said. “For centuries you consumed the sacrifices offered to you, preyed upon the faithful who came to this place seeking blessings for their people.”

She addressed all of them now, passion filling her voice in spite of fear. “It’s your turn to act on behalf of others. You have power over the fury of the earth beneath us. Turn this against those men, before they escape and steal whatever awesome and terrible secret Castellano found.”

At the mention of Castellano, the spirits moved as one, snapping into attention like soldiers awaiting review. The Mournful Bride cocked her head and stared into the jungle above the rim of the basin. Her raspy voice whispered in Teagan’s mind, clear despite the cacophony. To protect… to preserve… to prevent the Last Cycle and the Breaking of the Heavens…

Her ghostly arm stretched past Teagan and Grant toward the sheer side of the basin, and all the spirits mirrored the Bride’s motion. Like spears of mist, they hurtled through the air and vanished into the rocky floor of the basin. The ground rumbled and quaked beneath Teagan’s feet, toppling her.

Grant swept her up with one strong arm and clutched her to himself, his vision suddenly cleared. “Hold on, Teag, I’ve got you.”

A chasm opened in the middle of the Devil’s Bath, spraying gas and lava into the air, separating Grant and Teagan from the oncoming flood. The fissure ran across the ground and snaked up the cliff, tearing a deep wound in the earth. Trees snapped and fell into the gaping opening, while others burst into flame, set alight in the blazing heat.

The roiling wave poured into the wide crevice, and gouts of steam howled and whistled like the finest imported incendiaries on Guy Fawkes Day. The earth quivered with aftershocks and tremors, and the air stank of sulfur and ash.

But calm returned to the jungle, and Grant’s arms held Teagan secure.

Grant looked around, surveying the devastation. “Hell hath no fury like a woman, or so they say.”

Teagan scoffed and pulled away. “Like a woman scorned, you oaf.”

“Yeah, sure. But you’re all so sensitive, that happens before a fellow can even see the warning signs.” Grant chuckled, then gulped when he looked her way. “Case in point,” he muttered, then turned away.

The hissing voice of the Bride whispered in Teagan’s mind once more. It is done.

Thank you, Teagan thought back.

You may not be so grateful if your journey succeeds. The Vault of the Heavens holds a formidable source of knowledge, far beyond your comprehension, far too difficult to resist. And as you said, I know the hearts of men—even the one you love.

Despite the humidity and heat, Teagan shuddered as a chill coursed through her. Could Grant fight the worst of human nature? Or would he succumb to the allure of power?

I’ve come to know his heart as well, Teagan replied in thought to the Bride, unsure if the spirit could even hear. And I trust my judgment.

Unsettling laughter echoed in the deep recesses of her mind. The Bride had indeed heard.

Teagan shook her head and ran her fingers through her hair, summoning a weak sense of confidence. She knew this man better than anyone else in her life. Though he often infuriated her, she trusted him. “Grant, how about we get focused back on the goal, yeah? Figure out the path to the Repository, perhaps?”

“Good idea, especially since we don’t know how much water that fissure is going to hold.” The Stream of Tears still poured into the basin at a steady rate. Grant turned and headed toward the south side of the deep bowl, pulling a rope from his pack.

“Maybe we can stop by one of the villages on the way,” Grant said, flashing her that grin. “Have you ever considered how you’d look wearing something a little more… local?”

 

The Devil’s Bath

Here’s another episode of Grant and Teagan’s misadventures for this week’s BlogBattle using the word “bathtub” as a prompt.

Genre: Action/Thriller set in the early 1930s.

Update: This won the weekly BlogBattle hosted by Rachael Ritchey. (You can click the image to see all the entries for that week.) Thank you to those who voted for my story.

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From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Fearless Adventurer and Intrepid Explorer of the Farthest Corners of the Globe 

…accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway


Grant swatted and chopped at the thick, leafy wall before him until sunlight burst through, illuminating the shaded mysteries beneath the jungle canopy. Teagan bobbed and peered around Grant’s bulky form, but could barely make anything out other than a sharp decline.

Grant posed, hands on hips, his green-stained machete out to his side. “La bañera del Diablo,” he said with pride. “We found it, Teag. The records of Castellano’s expedition were right.”

He cast a glance over his shoulder, his strong chin and smug smirk more appealing than Teagan would like to admit. “The path to the Mayan repository of knowledge is within our grasp. Just think of what wonders await discovery… and how much money Roquefort is going to give us for a first pick of ‘em!”

She peeked between his forearm and his sweat-stained shirt. A wide basin in the jungle opened up beyond Grant’s feet. Surrounded by heavy foliage, no one would guess at its existence—at least not prior to the advent of air travel and its impact on cartography for the unexplored reaches of the earth.

“That looks like a mighty drop to a surface of jagged rocks,” Teagan said. “I thought this was supposed to be a small lake?”

Grant pointed at something Teagan couldn’t see. “There’s the Arroyo de Lágrimas,” he said, uncoiling a length of rope. “The Stream of Tears. Used to be part of a sacrificial ritual… the offerings marched themselves down the river and dove into the lake. Or so goes the story.”

“Where’d all the water go, then?”

“The Guatemalan government built a dam upstream some years back. Hardly a trickle flows this way, short of a torrential downpour in the rainy season.”

He slipped a knot around a tree trunk and tested the weight. “When Castellano found it, the river flowed freely, feeding into the basin and creating hot springs as well as the lake. There’s a reason the locals call this the Land of the Eternal Spring.”

“I remember something about that in Castellano’s notes,” Teagan said. “But it wasn’t good.” She pulled her worn journal from a satchel on her back, flipped through a few pages, then read aloud. “’The steam curled up like the spirits of the damned,’ he wrote. ‘The very ground moaned and wailed in angry protest at our approach.’ Sounds formidable.”

“All part of his plan,” Grant replied. “Vallarte’s local slaves resisted doing his bidding, and his soldiers were a superstitious lot. But he was always nipping at Castellano’s heels, trying to discover the repository. Castellano spread word of a basin flooded with vengeful demons cast out of heaven, and the imprisoned souls of the men they’d ensnared—a perfect place to hide treasure from your relentless rival, wouldn’t you say?”

“I don’t know,” Teagan answered. “Judging by what remains of his private thoughts, he seemed to believe it. Listen. ‘No apparition proved more terrible than La Novia Triste—the Mournful Bride. Her appearance changed based on the desires of her intended prey. Several of my men dashed into the plumes of smoke calling out to their loves back in Madrid. Each time, the locals fell into a grave hush. It was as if the very skies dimmed at her awful presence.’”

Grant scoffed. “More imaginations to dissuade those who might come after his secrets. Paranoia expresses itself in interesting ways. I’m telling you, the guy knew more than he was letting on, and he wasn’t about to give it away.”

He slid down the rope and vanished below the ridge.

Teagan watched the shifting plumes from the black rock at the bottom of the basin. Strands and wisps of steam stretched and beckoned. Curls of vapor formed crude faces of mist, and all their gray eyes seemed fixed on her.

She ran a finger across her medallion and whispered a half-hearted prayer before taking hold of the rope. Grant was already picking his way across the smoky terrain at the bottom of the basin. “Wait for me, you daft ox,” Teagan called and descended.

The sun hid behind a puffy bank of clouds, bringing a cooling shade and sweet relief from the oppressive heat. An unexpected breeze chilled the sweat on Teagan’s back as she lowered herself down the side of the basin.

She alighted on the cracked earth at the edge of the basin and jogged over to Grant. He squatted near the middle of the deep bowl, counting off something with his fingers.

“What’s the matter, Grant?”

He dismissed her with a wave and pointed. A sharp noise built into a whistle like a giant tea kettle. “And… now!” A gout of steam burst from a crack in the earth, obscuring Teagan’s view of the high cliffs. “Every twenty-three seconds, give or take,” Grant said, “that fissure emits a plume of vapor. It explains how the lake maintained its warm temperature back in Castellano’s day.”

“That’s interesting, Grant. But I don’t know how it helps us track down Castellano’s treasure.”

A distant male voice echoed between the walls of the basin. “I do not know either,” the man said. Teagan whipped her head around and spotted armed men at the north end of the basin, their guns trained on the figures far below. One at the front stood at parade rest and glowered at the small pair. “Frankly I am surprised to find ze Devil’s Bath at all. I thought it a myth when the twins proposed this journey. And then you two went and killed them.”

Teagan glared at the blurry figure warped and distorted by the plumes of steam. “More of the Kaiser’s men, I presume?”

“We work for… other interests in Berlin,” the German said. “You cost my master significant resources, an expense he can ill afford in these trying times. Your discoveries here might reduce the great debt you owe my people.”

Grant said nothing, distracted by something in the basin. Teagan stepped forward, empty hands held out with a shrug of her shoulders. “Your choice of victims is quite poor. We have nothing that will help you, no idea where to go from here.”

“A shame,” the man said. “Be that as it may, I’m afraid you’re never going to find out.”

Something boomed in the distance, and Teagan’s gaze followed the direction of the sound. One edge of the basin dipped, the rocky cliff cut by centuries of flowing water. “The Arroyo de Lágrimas,” she gasped. “They just blew the dam.”

Grant didn’t respond. He stared into the distant plumes, a look of wonder on his face. “Teag,” he muttered as he stumbled toward the fissure, “how did you bring such a fetching dress all this way?”

Teagan followed Grant’s gaze and balked. That misty shape—arms outstretched, tendrils of smoke brushing and swirling around Grant’s shoulders and waist—could it be the Mournful Bride?

On her left, rolling thunder built to a cacophony, and a rush of water burst from the divot in the basin’s edge. It poured like a waterfall into the deep bowl, crashing into the rocks and hissing as it flooded the searing fissures. Teagan’s red hair fluttered in the growing wind as the force of the waves sweeping toward her pushed air out of the way.

To her right, ignorant of multiple dangers, Grant lumbered toward the remarkably feminine column of smoke pouring from the broken earth. The shape stretched to inhuman lengths, tentacles of steam curling and wrapping around his arms, his back, his throat. The face grew clearer, its eyes two sparkling lights, its mouth a hungry grin.

“Thank you for your help, Mister McSwain,” the German called, though Grant paid no heed. “And goodbye.” He vanished into the jungle.

The Voice of the Vixen

This is another Grant & Teagan adventure episode for this week’s #blogbattle, with the theme word of “voice.”

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Man of Mighty Endeavors, Discoverer of Ancient Treasures, and Explorer of the Farthest Reaches of the Planet 
…accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway.



Arms crossed, Teagan paced the barren holding room and glared at her reflection in the one-way mirror. No doubt the FBI agent watched her every move and noted every word she said. 

So what if the Navy rescued Grant and Teagan from the waters off the Florida coast? They might have been better off taking their chances with the leviathan.

“You should sit down, Teag.”

Like a docile sheep before the shears, Grant had taken the chair offered, promising full cooperation with the Bureau’s investigation. He leaned back, hands behind his head, fingers buried in his thick, black hair. Had he not spoken, Teagan might have checked whether he was awake.

“How can you be so calm? They might lock you away. That agent had a pretty thick stack of evidence against you.”

Grant laughed. “I’ve played this game before. Trust me. They’re not interested in us. They’re after what we found—what the Germans know, what sort of weapons they’re developing. Nothing I need to keep to myself.”

Teagan strode past the one-way mirror and suddenly leaned close, hoping to see her observers through the reflection. She couldn’t make anything out, but she heard a chair scrape across the floor, moving back from the window.

She stuck out her tongue and whirled back toward the desk.

The door opened and Agent Shay returned, carrying a beverage tray. Long midnight hair framed her thin face, reaching to the bust of her petite navy blue suitcoat. A matching skirt hugged her thighs and revealed her calves in what Teagan deemed a decidedly improper fashion. Shay’s heels clicked on the floorboards with each purposeful step. She ran a slender finger across Grant’s back as she passed him, and her almond eyes didn’t even glance at Teagan.

Shay set the tray on the table with practiced grace, and Teagan sighed as soon as she saw the selection. A thick glass held two fingers of whiskey for Grant. For Teagan, a small metal box and an empty teacup sat beside a steaming kettle.

“For someone dressed so… progressive,” Teagan said, “you presume much about my taste in drinks.”

Shay smiled, and her eyes narrowed. “Miss O’Daire, I brought only the best oolong leaves. I doubt you’ve ever had the pleasure of such luxurious flavor.”

Grant’s eyes seemed glued to Shay. Teagan debated whether to smack him or scold him. Naturally, the United States government would take advantage of Grant and Teagan for whatever useful information they could provide.

But Teagan had been in enough binds and seen enough dangerous situations to recognize a growing sense of danger. Something about this whole arrangement felt like a trap.

“Your accent is intriguing,” Teagan said. “I can’t quite place it. You’re from the Republic of China, yes?”

Shay nodded. She slid the box lid open and scooped three spoonfuls of loose tea leaves into the cup with deliberate and familiar precision.

“I spent a few months between Peking and Tientsin,” Teagan said. “I didn’t get to travel very far, with Chiang Kai-shek’s men fighting against the government.”

“Then you have never been in Kwangtung,” Shay said. “I am from the south. Cantonese is my mother tongue, Mandarin my second. Perhaps my English is not as skillful as I should like to think.”

Once she added the boiling water, she lifted the teacup in both hands. Her wrists barely moved, and the liquid swirled in the cup. She repeated this twice, watching the amber color spread beneath the surface.

Teagan found herself mesmerized by the obvious respect and sense of tradition with which Shay prepared a simple cup of tea. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend. I just–“

Shay extended the cup to Teagan and gave a hint of a bow before straightening. “It is nothing.”

Teagan lifted the tea and savored the unique aroma, then took a long drink. At first, it revitalized her. But then exhaustion settled like a heavy burden on her shoulders.

Shay handed Grant his glass then unrolled a map of the Atlantic. “Mister McSwain,” she said in that exotic and melodious voice, “I am ready to hear your account.”

Grant sat up and took a swig. “You want to hear about the leviathan? That thing is on the loose somewhere off the coast between the Bahamas and Bermuda.” His finger traced a rough triangle over the area.

Shay laughed. “I am not interested in fanciful tales.”

“I’m just saying, bad things are gonna start happening there,” Grant said.

“Mister McSwain, you did spend many days in the sun. Perhaps you were dehydrated and hallucinated this event.”

She folded the map to display South America only. “Tell me all the details about the German sub base—its location and size, what sort of vessels you saw there, what intelligence might remain.”

Teagan reluctantly sat at the table and took another drink of tea, hoping to regain some energy. Fuzzy thoughts floated through her mind, and dissipated like mist every time she tried to grasp one.

Then sudden sleep overtook her and she dropped her head into her arms on the table.

* * *

She awoke when the door opened. Two agents stepped in, both male. “Alright, McSwain, O’Daire, let’s get to the bottom of this. We’re ready for your account.”

Teagan’s head pounded and recollections faded in and out. The exacting method Shay used to make tea resembled a Japanese style ceremony. And Shay’s almost unconscious bow fit Japanese culture.

Grant asked the question on Teagan’s mind. “Didn’t you talk to Shay?”

The agents froze. “Who’s that?”

Teagan’s minimal grasp of Mandarin came to mind. ‘Shei’ isn’t a Chinese surname. It means ‘who?’

Her fists balled, anger clearing her head. “I don’t know, but we’re going to find out.”

Operation: Leviathan, a #blogbattle short story

The Adventures of Grant McSwain, Explorer of Exotic Locales, Finder of Forgotten Treasures, and Charmer of Classy Dames

Accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway and occasional fire demon

“Grant,” Teagan called from above, “Are you certain you’re fit for this?”

He hung on the side of a tall cliff, suspended from a rope wrapped around his leg and pinched between his feet. Waves crashed against the rock face far below, spraying white foam. Gulls called and circled in the blue sky.

With each arm-over-arm motion lowering him down the cliff face, Grant felt the sharp pain in his gut—his gunshot wound was recovering but not fully healed.

“Never better.”

A guard stood sentry duty on a metal observation deck twenty feet above the waterline. The man smoked a cigarette and leaned out over the railing, listening to the ocean. Grant counted on the calming noise to cover his approach.

Below the deck, the low tide revealed a small arch in the stone, the top of a much larger mouth to a submerged cavern.

This must be where the Twins stashed their submarine, a vessel mentioned in documents Teagan recovered from the plane wreck. The classified papers were marked “Betrieb: Leviathan” and pointed the pair to this secret Brazilian base.

He realized Teagan was right, and it struck him how frequently that was the case.

Grant hissed through gritted teeth to ignore his pain, and continued his descent toward the guard. He reached the end of the rope ten feet above the deck, then sprang toward the guard. Though the sudden impact shook his wound, his powerful elbow struck the man in the back of the head and knocked him to the ground, unconscious.

Grant changed into the guard’s uniform—just a little snug, he told himself—while Teagan shimmied down the rope.

She dropped to the ledge and laughed when she saw him. “That coat is stretching like pulled taffy. I feel sorry for those buttons.“

Grant folded his arms across his chest and heard a seam pop. “So let’s not get caught. If we do, the guards won’t be looking at me. You’re the prisoner the Twins want.”

“Vilhelm,” Teagan said coldly. “The other one—the one with the wandering hands—is dead.”

Grant picked up the fallen guard’s rifle and slung it over his shoulder. Then he pulled open the heavy steel door, revealing a hall cut into the mountainside. “Shall we?”
Deep in the winding maze of tunnels, they found a massive cavern housing a berth for the largest submarine Grant had ever seen. Dark hallways stretched into the mountainside where two armed men stood guard. The skin of the submarine glistened under banks of lights. Fuel trucks pumped diesel into the sub’s refueling ports.

“There’s your Leviathan,” Grant said.

“My God,” Teagan said, “that’s big. It’s like a couple U-boats smashed together.”

“Maybe you can call it a W-boat,” Grant said with a chuckle.

Teagan glared at him, oddly reminiscent of her time as a fire demon in the camp of the Atuachans.

Grant felt no regrets, and grinned broad at her ire.

A network of scaffolding and walkways hung suspended from the cavern ceiling. Grant and Teagan crept toward the submarine, careful to avoid the light.

But the underground base seemed practically deserted, and they reached the submarine with ease.

Grant opened the main hatch and clambered down a ladder, then helped Teagan down. “Operation: Leviathan,” Grant whispered as they moved through the cramped spaces of the sub. “What’s that even mean?”

“It comes from the Old Testament of the Bible,” Teagan said, “especially Job, chapter forty-one. ‘Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear. He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride.’”

Grant stared at Teagan, and she blushed. He shook his head and asked, “Why would you have that verse memorized?”

“I grew up in a devout Catholic family,” she said. “They viewed reading the Scriptures like eating a meal. In fact, some days we went hungry, but we never skipped our daily reading.”

They reached a pair of chambers with ornate décor, incongruent with the spartan atmosphere of a military submarine.

Teagan paused at the door. “So I always picked the interesting chapters, the ones that talked about powerful creatures and the end of days in strange, fantastic terms. The mystery and thrill of discovery attracted me even then. This looks like the Twins’ rooms. Shall we?”

Grant stepped inside and looked around. Exotic skins covered the bed and floors. Oxidized metal artifacts of ancient cultures lined the shelves. Tapestries with occult symbols hung on the walls.

Teagan gasped. “This is a treasure trove, a private collection with more than most museums. Is that the banner of Vlad Tepes? And what sort of creature has fur like a beast but a shape like a man?”

Grant began rummaging through the desk drawers, and directed Teagan toward stacks of papers and tied-off notebooks.

“What exactly are we looking for, Grant?”

“Operation Leviathan implies they’re going to do something with this sub. Uncle Sam will pay a pretty penny to find out what.”

Teagan held a notebook marked with Ixthacan symbols and flipped through its pages. Then she froze and stared, her face pale. “No, this can’t be right.”

Grant rushed to her side, even though he couldn’t make sense of any of that Ixthacan scratch. “What is it?”

“It’s a legend,” she said. “A tale of a ritual for summoning a destructive force from the ocean depths. I think they mean to—“

“I shoot you,” an angry German voice said, “you don’t die. You crash my plane, unt still you do not die.”

Vilhelm stood in the doorway, his scarred face flaring red, his Luger pointed at Grant.

“But as you Amerikans say, perhaps third time ist ze charm, ya?”

Feather

This went over on word count and I don’t have time to edit it down to fit the Blog Battle standards. But I had fun with it, and it made me do some writing. So here’s another installment of Grant and Teagan:

The Adventures of Grant McSwain, Man of Intrigue, Daring Do-Gooder and Fearless Explorer

accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway and occasional fire demon

 

This is the Caproni Ca.90, from Wikipedia Creative Commons license
 


A high-pitched whine pierced Grant’s ears and a constant thunderous rumble shook him awake. Strong winds battered his face, bearing a strange scent of lilac. He cautiously opened his bleary eyes, and found them safe behind a pair of pilot goggles. A leather cap with ear muffs strapped under his chin offered minimal hearing protection.

Far below him, snow-capped mountains formed a jagged horizon. Oh my God, I’m flying in an aeroplane.

A wide wing above and behind Grant shaded him from sunlight. On either side of Grant, four large piston engines hammered away, spinning propellers in front and behind their shaking frames. Centered above the cockpit, another pair of engines strained with effort. Several bullet holes riddled the engine on the left, and it sputtered smoke. The glass around the cockpit had broken in places, with spider-web cracks across what remained.

The plane lurched to the left, and Grant felt sudden discomfort in his stomach like a punch to the gut. Then a sharper pain struck, and he sucked in air between gritted teeth. Breathing brought agony. Something was wrong.

Teagan’s rough-chopped, wispy hair fluttered in the wind, the source of the lilac fragrance. Grant would never admit it, but the hasty haircut of the Atuachan savages gave Teagan a rather fetching new look. How she managed to cling to feminine refinements on their forays into uncivilized lands was beyond his comprehension. Why she bothered also fell in that category. Who wasted valuable space in a rucksack on perfumes and shampoo where a bottle of fine whiskey could fit?

The stabbing in his gut throbbed. He gripped his side and the pain intensified.

Teagan turned her head back and yelled, “Don’t touch it! You’ve been shot.”

A foggy memory filled his mind—the German twins laughing over him, the one with the scarred face holding a smoking revolver, the other clutching a satchel full of Ixthacan artifacts and Vallarte’s gold.

“He shot me?” Grant winced and shifted to a position he told himself felt slightly more comfortable. “That damn Kraut actually shot me?”

“My skill with medicine is minimal,” Teagan shouted. “But I believe you’re bleeding inside… and your intestines may have been perforated.”

“That sounds like a foul way to go.”

“It is. And excruciating as well.”

Grant squeezed his eyes shut against the pain, and felt tears well up. “Thanks for the ray of hope.”

“We can make it back to Caracas,” Teagan said. “Master Roquefort might be waiting for us. Otherwise, we’ll have to steal another plane.”

Grant opened his eyes. “…Another plane?”

“Look at the markings on the fuselage, you overgrown baboon.”

Grant craned his head to see the side of the plane. The black and white cross of the German luftwaffe shone proudly from the gleaming metal.

He settled back into his seat, surprised at a crippling wave of exhaustion from such a small effort. “The twins?”

Teagan struggled with some controls out of Grant’s view, then turned to answer. “It’s an Italian prototype, actually. Caproni C-A-90. Only one ever built. The twins’ exploits on behalf of the Kaiser earned them enough money to get their hands on it, and they’ve added the latest technology from various aeronautical manufacturers. Synchronized machine guns, variable pitch propellers…”

She said some other terms Grant couldn’t make out, and he stared at her through the blurry goggles. “When did you become an aviatrix?”

The plane shuddered and Teagan adjusted some levers. “I went with an RAF ace from the Great War for a couple years. Didn’t work out, but I picked up some things.”

Grant sat back with bemused chagrin and watched the thin clouds like stretched cotton floating past. “It’s strange, Teag, but I never considered that you had a life of adventures all your own before becoming my assistant.”

“Well that sword cuts both ways,” Teagan said. “You were delirious when I helped you hobble onto the aeroplane. You thought I was some exotic dancer from Batavia. Kept talking to me about a night of cavorting and revelry in the East Indies…”

Grant opened his mouth to speak, then thought the better of it. The plane shuddered again, and he checked the engines, unsure of what to look for.

“Teagan, is something wrong?”

With the rush of wind, he couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like she laughed. Then an engine sputtered and belched out black smoke.

Grant realized how much open sky sat between himself and the mountain peaks. At the same time, it hit him how little he knew about aeroplanes. “Should it sound like that?” He tried to keep his voice calm, but his white knuckles gripped the edge of his seat. “What’s the problem?”

“Several problems, in fact,” Teagan called back. “The cargo hold is too full, the radiotelephone is inoperative, and three of the six engines are damaged from gunfire. But really the issue is we don’t have sufficient fuel.”

“What?!”

“The crew was distracted with fueling operations,” Teagan said. “It seemed the perfect time to sneak you onboard and steal the aeroplane. I’m doing what I can to glide us to Caracas.”

She pointed at the smoking left engines. The four blades in back and two in front were turned parallel to the aeroplane’s course of flight, cutting through wind resistance like knives. “The Germans installed the newest in variable pitch propellers, so I’ve feathered the props to reduce drag.”

“Oh man,” Grant said, racked with another throbbing pain. “The twins are going to be peeved you stole their toy.”

“Scarface’s brother didn’t seem too happy about it after I got airborne.”

Grant spun—and suffered another stab of anguish for it—then checked the cargo hold. There was no sign of any other passengers. “Where is he now?”

“The cargo hold was rather over the weight allowance…”

Grant checked the rack of tightly-packed parachutes. None were missing. “You jettisoned one of the twins?”

Teagan gave a sheepish shrug. “My mate from the RAF was an amateur pugilist. It seemed like a useful skill to pick up.”

Grant shook his head in wonder. A few silent moments passed as he considered everything his assistant had done for him over their time together. “Teagan,” he finally said, “I’m impressed. I realize I’ve often overlooked your contributions to—is that flame supposed to be there?”

Teagan’s head whipped toward the left engine, with its plume of oily smoke.

“No, the other one,” Grant shouted.

Tongues of fire flashed out of the right engine, and a thick white smoke billowed behind the wobbling aeroplane.

“I have to cut that engine too!” She pulled a lever, and the high pitched whine and rumbling ground to a halt with a sound of metal shearing on metal. The aeroplane dipped toward the ground and twisted into a spiral, pointed at the snowy slopes of the mountains.

Old habits returned, and Grant shouted, “I thought you were an aviatrix!”

Teagan shot him a glare through her goggles. “I never said I was a good one!”