Category Archives: BlogBattle

#BlogBattle entry – Settling Accounts

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Explorer, Collector, and Uncooperative Witness

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


“Don’t worry, Teagan,” Grant said, his hand on her shoulder. “Let me do the talking and we’ll get through this just fine.”

A hammer slammed against the sound block at the central seat overseeing the hearing, and all commotion in the chambers of Congress ceased. An old Senator with white handlebar mustaches squinted through a monocle at the pair. A few other elder statesmen sat on either side, and a stenographer sat at a typewriter, ready to record details.

“This hearing will now come to order,” the Senator said. “For the purpose of settling discrepancies in the accounts of Mister Grant Rowan McSwain and Mistress Teagan Ca—cow me—hell, whatever it is O’Daire—”

Caoimhe,” Teagan said. “Say ‘key’ with a little ‘va’ at the end, and—“

She noted the stern, narrow-eyed look from the Senator and snapped her mouth closed.

“Teagan key-va O’Daire,” the Senator continued, “concerning the disposition and whereabouts of properties of the United States of America, namely, fifteen bars of Fort Knox bullion each weighing two pounds, and of less import to this committee, the Crucifix of Castellano. I’ll remind you both, you are under oath and the conversations here will be recorded and classified until further review. So, Mister McSwain, what happened to our gold?”

“That’s my report in your hand, Senator Dixon,” Grant said. “Everything’s in there.”

“There’s a whole lot in there, Mister McSwain.” Dixon shuffled the papers and eyed their contents. “Not a lot that makes sense though. You say here that you were contracted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations?”

“Indeed. I have a signed letter from Agent Shane Dawkins that states—“

“The Bureau claims they don’t have an Agent Dawkins in their employ.”

Teagan tensed as the hearing started off exactly as she feared. “We’re being set up, Grant,” she whispered.

Grant stood his ground. “Well, Senator, they’re lying to you.”

“That information came from a source with access to the Director himself,” Senator Dixon replied. “You expect me to take your word over Director Hoover?”

“Sources with access to the Director also claim J. Edgar Hoover isn’t a loon,” Grant said. “Doesn’t change the fact I have a photograph of him in a hula skirt and a coconut bra—one that is currently in the care of an associate, with orders to release it to the press in the event of my untimely demise or incarceration.”

The other senators gasped. Dixon simply leaned forward. “Are you actually blackmailing a Senate committee under oath?”

“I’m telling you the whole truth about what will happen, under oath. Nothing more.”

Dixon sat back and thumbed through a couple pages. “So that’s how we’re going to play this? Fine. Let’s talk about the destruction of the H.M.S. Perceval.”

“Not my fault,” Grant stated. “Like I wrote there, it seems the Leviathan no longer responds to the Ixthacan summoning ritual with the same… cooperative temperament.”

“They’re notoriously fickle,” Teagan added.

“A shame to lose that trick, really,” Grant continued. “You should have seen the mer-men’s faces… I mean, up until it ate them.”

Dixon glared at her, then back at Grant. “Leviathans.”

“Well I don’t know what the proper genus and species would be, but that’s the term we used. Actually, maybe they belong in their own family.”

“And you performed the ritual because of these… We’ll just call them pirates if that’s alright.”

“Pirates with gills and skin of scales,” Grant said. “I suppose ‘pirates’ works, since that’s the life they chose. But ‘mer-men’ is more accurate.”

“Or Atlanteans,” Teagan chimed in.

“Aw, hell. Atlantis!” Dixon scoffed and turned to his peers, one brow raised. “Are we really supposed to continue this farce? Can I just declare these witnesses hostile, slap ‘em in irons, and toss ‘em on a boat bound to Alcatraz?”

“I believe we’ve established that Mister McSwain and I have bad luck with boats,” Teagan chimed in. Then she saw Grant’s perturbed look and said no more.

A senator in the farthest seat shook his head. The man seemed a couple decades younger than the others, with slicked back dark hair showing debonair streaks of gray at the temples. His fine mustache and goatee added to his roguish charm.

“Hoover was clear about the importance of this, Dixon. He buys into this stuff, asks specifically about these sorts of things—just like the reports coming in concerning the Kaiser’s expeditions in Africa and across Europe.”

“Might I remind you, Senator Thornton,” Dixon snapped, “these two petty cultural thieves are not cleared for classified information?”

Thornton examined Grant for a moment then chuckled. “I suspect they know more than we do, Senator.”

“We’ve encountered Germans several times,” Grant said, “a strange group that claims to work for the Kaiser, but seems too well-equipped and well-funded for that. They’ve been on our tails, looking for Ixthacan artifacts, objects of power, anything with an associated myth or legend.”

Dixon shook his head. “This reads like a penny pulp. I am not bringing a report full of gibberish like sea monsters, mer-men, and—”
he scanned the page. “Oh, yes, vampires—to Director Hoover, let alone the President.”

“Hoover buys into all of this anyway,” Grant said. “And to answer your earlier question, that’s where Castellano’s Crucifix is. With a vampire. Teagan blew a hole in his chest with one of the deck guns, then I impaled him with that golden cross. He got real feisty after that, but we trapped him on the ship as it was going down.”

“I don’t understand. What were you doing on a pirate vessel off the coast of Egypt in the first place?”

“They rescued us after our vessel sank. Or I should say they enslaved us, and I think talked about using us for chum so they could lure the sharks they were hunting.”

Dixon cast Thornton a sidelong glance, and the slick younger politician merely shrugged.

Grant chuckled and turned to Teagan. “Should I tell him about the connection we found between the Ixthacans and other ancient civilizations?”

Teagan laughed. “No, Grant, I think this is a good time to—“

“Aliens!” Grant spread his arms wide, reaching up toward the heavens beyond the high ceiling. “Extra-terrestrial life forms that I think made contact with humanity in various advanced civilizations around the world.”

Propped on his desk with his elbows, Senator Dixon flopped his heavy jowls into his hands. Senator Thornton, bemused and nonchalant throughout the proceedings, now fixed his gaze on Grant with a keenness that unnerved Teagan.

Grant pressed on, unaware or unconcerned. “The Ixthacans, Egypt, the tribes of Europe, China… Maybe others. We found portals connected to those four regions at a minimum.”

Dixon closed his eyes and took a long, silent moment before opening them again. “Aliens.”

“Yeah,” Grant said with a vigorous nod. “And they’re not nice. They see flesh as weakness and impurity, something they purged from their world.” He raised a finger with sudden recollection. “Also you’ll want to know they’re made of living mud.”

“So you were searching for portals to the world of the mud-men,” Dixon said, “and your vessel was attacked by vampires, so you sank it and got rescued—“

“Enslaved.”

“—Enslaved by mer-men, which caused you to summon the Leviathan, who broke free of your control and wreaked havoc and mayhem across the Mediterranean before disappearing into the Atlantic.”

“I did cause minor mayhem, I admit,” Grant replied. “But I was not aware of any havoc being wreaked.”

“We’re done here,” Dixon declared, and slammed the gavel on the sound block. “I move that first, we chalk this up as a total, disastrous loss, and second, that we make it clear to all Departments that Mister McSwain is not a reliable asset for the interests of the United States—particularly because he is absolutely beside himself with wild imaginations and baseless claims all unsupported by evidence.”

“I second the motion,” one of the other Senators said. “So long as those exact words are recorded for future reference, so that no one’s precious time may be wasted in such manner in the future.”

The vote passed unanimously and Grant and Teagan found themselves escorted from the chambers in haste.

Once outside the Capitol building, Grant took a deep breath and smiled as he surveyed the majesty of Washington D.C.

Swait Jaysis, Grant,” Teagan said with a long sigh. “That was a pretty little mess you made in there.”

“It’s perfect, Teag.”

“We’ll never work for the Americans again, and you think that’s a good thing?”

“We’ll never work for the American government again,” Grant said. “There are folk in the States who will be curious about our findings. But Uncle Sam won’t ever take another look our way.”

Teagan glanced back and spotted Senator Thornton watching. “I’m not so sure…”

Fighting Fire with Fire

Here’s the #BlogBattle entry for this week’s word, “deterge” (to cleanse something). 1,499 words… sorry, I usually go over and have to cut it down.

No surprise, it’s more adventures of Grant & Teagan, coming right off the heels of last week’s entry. (Thanks for those who voted for last week’s entry as the winner!)

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Daring Doer of Good Deeds, Feisty Fighter of Fiends, and Cavalier Combat Champion

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

 

Slumped against the stump of a fallen tree, Grant’s blurry vision wavered as he watched Teagan rummaging through the foliage.

“I need more torchlight, Grant,” she barked.

He grunted and raised the torch higher, surprised by the exhaustion in his muscles but not by Teagan’s temper. She’d been like this for hours. Ever since it all went fuzzy.

The first rays of dawn peeked through the leafy branches far above, casting radiant beams into the darkness below. They seared Grant’s eyes, and his thoughts filled with an urge to flee. The trees were no refuge from that blazing fury in the sky. Perhaps a cave… and if he couldn’t find one, he would claw his way into the ground to escape that burning eye.

“Finally,” Teagan gasped, and Grant refocused his thoughts. She looked vibrant, her soft skin so bright even in the dim light, her hair a tangled mess swaying back and forth with each motion, her hands moving swiftly, the veins in her wrists throbbing and pulsing an intoxicating and sensual rhythm…

She dropped a few dark berries into a canteen cup, then drew a flask and small glass bottle from her pack. The flask Grant had seen before, but the bottle’s clear contents stirred in him an unexpected loathing.

“Stupid,” Teagan muttered to herself. “Why did I let Father MacCleary head back to town? I could really use some more holy wa–”

Teagan’s eyes flicked toward Grant, and she swallowed the rest of her comment. Silent, she poured the bottle into the canteen cup and mashed the berries, then shook it gently in one hand.

“What’s in the bottle, Teag?” Grant asked, caught off guard by the growl in his voice. “What are you making? What were those?”

“Belladonna berries,” Teagan said.

“Belladonna…” Grant mumbled. Memories came with difficulty. “Isn’t that poisonous?” He shivered, the slight bout of strange sickness developing into a debilitating chill.

“They’re only deadly if you use too much. That’s what the water and scotch are for—to dilute it. A good cup of Irish firewater to deterge the wound and warm your bones.”

She paused. “We’re fighting fire with fire here, one kind of death with another death. You might see some bizarre things. Belladonna has interesting effects.”

Grant noted how Teagan’s eyes stayed fixed on him while she poured her precious stash into the cup. The sharp odor of scotch filled Grant’s nostrils. Then she drew closer, hesitant like a forest creature, skittish and ready to bolt. What’s she afraid of?

Something rustled in the distance and Teagan’s head whipped toward the sound. “Tarvinthian’s still out there,” she said, and Grant felt a swell of loyalty he couldn’t explain.

“I don’t have time to wait,” Teagan said, watching Grant’s reactions. “I’m going to give you most of this to drink, but I need to wash out your wound.”

What wound? When did I get wounded? Grant squeezed his eyes shut, as if he could force the cloud of confusion out of his mind. He noticed the scrapes on his knuckles and the spattered blood on his tan shirt. There was a fight.

Eyes trained on him, Teagan crouched beside Grant and dabbed a cloth in the solution she’d prepared. The swish of water and scotch in the metal cup sounded like waves battering the side of a battleship. The thump-thump of Teagan’s heartbeat rushed through Grant’s ears like a lover’s whisper.

She extended the damp cloth toward his neck, and his hand flew to the wound. Teagan jumped back, nearly spilling her cup, but Grant focused on the breaks in his stubbly skin. Two punctures, not too deep. He pulled his hand away and inspected his fingers. Not a lot of blood loss? A neck wound should bleed profusely.

Teagan inched toward him once more. “You alright, Grant? Ready for the medicine? It’s going to sting…”

Her voice faded as Grant’s gaze lingered on her slender neck. She didn’t have any injury like his. Just an artery he could almost see through her skin, pumping precious, sweet life.

Then his world erupted in fire and anguish like the end of days. Searing pain coursed through his neck, clearing the fog in his mind and filling it with screaming.

Teagan dribbled the concoction across the wounds in his neck, and his chest burned as if the liquid carried acid straight to his heart. When he opened his mouth wide to howl at the torment, Teagan poured the rest down his throat.

The world shifted. The scattered rays of light became beams of glory from above, burning through shadows beneath the trees. The forest swayed and groaned like a living throng, each trunk a twisted face meant to instill horror in the hearts of the timid.

And Teagan—wings of blazing light sprang from her back, and a sword of gleaming metal shaped very much like Grant’s machete appeared in her hand. The crucifix dangling around her neck flared with some internal power and stunned Grant, forcing him to avert his eyes from the symbol.

Teagan hovered above him like a valkyrie descending from the heavens. Her trousers and thick linen blouse became a radiant breastplate and a set of layered metal like a skirt. Astounding and imposing, Teagan took a defensive stance over Grant as if to ward away unseen foes with her blade of light.

Then Grant beheld the Devil himself, a disfigured man with skin made of shifting shadows. The world seemed to darken and recoil from him as he approached. Eyes ablaze, with horns jutting from his forehead and chin, Tarvinthian glided through the air held aloft on leathery wings, his fingertips extended into curved obsidian claws. Long fangs protruded from his smirking yet ruined face, and even in that wounded state, Grant gawked at the wonder and commanding presence of this being.

My Lord… You’ve come for me.

The great one looked upon Grant with a mixture of surprise and pride. He said something to Teagan, but the words slipped through Grant’s addled mind. His chest felt like a furnace stoked to a white-hot blaze, and his head pounded with pressure like an overripe melon ready to split open.

Clouds danced across the sky like dust-devils on the prairies back home. The entire world seemed in motion, swirling and undulating, exploding like the colors in a kaleidoscope at the Fair. Grant groaned and fought a wave of nausea. “It’s the medicine working on you, fighting off the neurotoxins infecting you with vampirism,” Angel-Teagan said in her lilting Irish accent. “Let it finish its work before they take hold.”

Then she stabbed at the great devil before her, and bolts of light sprayed from her sword in all directions, illuminating the forest and burning Grant’s narrowed eyes.

Also the tree branches are all made of snakes. And the snakes are all made of mud like the creatures of Pandora. Grant shook his head and tried to focus, but Angel-Teagan and the devilish vampire lord sparred overhead, spinning between the tree-snakes. I really need to collect some of these berries for another day.

Angel-Teagan ducked under Tarvinthian’s sweeping strikes, keeping him at bay with careful swordplay. But he had her on the defensive, and already she bled liquid light from several scratches and minor wounds.

My Lord is toying with her, like a cat batting a mouse around for amusement.

The trunks of the trees shimmered and lined up like a military formation, though Grant’s vision of them wavered like looking through a rippling stream. The ranks of the forest seemed like a cage, trapping the devil and angel within their bounds. And the angel was losing.

Grant strained against the ground, his palms pushing against the earth. The grass screamed obscenities at him and the stump mocked his effort, but Grant managed to rise to one knee. His heart pumped molten lava through his arteries, the belladonna poison and holy water finishing its work. Grant winced but embraced the pain.

Tarvinthian’s devilish form vanished, leaving a scarred man in a torn tuxedo. Still his presence reverberated through Grant, demanding the allegiance such a transcendent being deserved.

Teagan’s radiance faded and her wings disappeared. Tattered linen replaced gleaming metal, and blood leaked from too many scrapes on her arms and legs. She panted and stumbled, the machete wobbling in her hand as she feebly warded off Tarvinthian’s approach.

Yes, the Vampire Lord’s voice echoed in Grant’s mind. Newborn, rise and do my bidding. Slay this woman who dares wound your Master. Then you shall take your place as my favored thrall.

“Sorry, Tarv,” Grant said through gritted teeth. “But I’m already enthralled by another, and I’m not about to let you have her. What say we add to those scars?”

He brandished a knife and lunged.

The Hall of Meating

This week’s #BlogBattle entry, incorporating “sacrilege” with last week’s “derelict” since I skipped that one.

 

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Explorer of Exotic Vistas, Defeater of Deadly Villains, and Charmer of Care-Free Vixens,

 

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

 

Even on an alien world, under the light of two moons in a sky of magenta, Grant remained true to his nature—an anchor Teagan desperately needed as she sought a solution to this chaos. Surrounded by featureless humanoid shapes of hazel-colored mud, Grant threw himself against the overwhelming odds without hesitation. His thick fist splattered the face of one creature, and his boot kicked through another’s leg.

 

The soft earth rose to a low hill nearby, and Teagan spotted a mud-spattered structure like a ziggurat or pyramid. She ducked beneath an arm of living clay and swept her attacker’s legs with a low kick. The creature bellowed and flailed in the air before it splatted into the mud.

 

“Some kind of shelter, Grant,” Teagan shouted, pointing at the building—the only one in sight. The barren horizon rose and fell in slight ripples and small hills, but Teagan saw no flora, no fauna, no signs of intelligence.

 

A voice boomed in her head, one single echoing word: A-round.

 

She clutched her ears in vain and struggled with each step, her boots creating pockets of suction in the moist earth. Beside her, Grant tore through the mud, his boots cutting deep troughs, and his fists carving a path through the alien foes.

 

A-round you, the voice repeated, pausing between each syllable but picking up speed. In-tel-li-gence. We are all around you, flesh-one.

 

To Teagan’s right, Grant caught a lunging mud-man and flipped it overhead, using its momentum to smash it into the ground. With Grant bringing up the rear, shoving the creatures back, Teagan reached the bottom of the hill and started the ascent toward the exposed structure. As she climbed, her foot sank through the hazel clay and hit the stone of the covered building.

 

You do not belong here, the voice hissed.

 

“Are you hearing this, Grant?”

 

Grant dodged a swing from one of the misshapen beings, and huffed in exhaustion. “What are you talking about?” Unable to wait for the answer, he intercepted another mud-man and grappled with the creature.

 

You hear me, the voice whispered.  I sense it.

Teagan scrambled out of the muck and up the steps. Two metal doors leaned against the wall, broken from their hinges. Though weathered and discolored, Ixthacan runes and art covered their surfaces.

 

The voice, now eloquent, continued its tirade in Teagan’s mind. Long has it been since our kind was forced to form crude, linear concepts and structured expressions suitable for the lesser minds of flesh.

 

“I think it’s reading my mind, Grant.”

 

Correct, the voice answered. Regrettably. An image filled Teagan’s mind–her form made up of rotten steaks.

 

Grant stood at the edge of the stairs, shaking clumps of mud off his hands and clothes. The creatures stopped their advance where the stone pyramid rose out of the mud. “I don’t know why they stopped,” Grant said, “but this dirt is shifting and moving, rising up the sides.”

 

Sacrilege. Meat-husks do not belong here. The way back is closed to your kind.

 

Teagan ignored the gibberish and looked at the peak of the pyramid. “I don’t get it. This is Egyptian architecture, quite similar to the great structures in Geza. But those are Ixthacan runes on the entryway…”

 

“The one we should maybe go through? Those clay things are still oozing this way.” Grant pulled Teagan along and moved past the metal doors into the darkness. As they crossed the threshold, a set of stones in the walls emitted a soft blue glow.

 

Your meeting place has been reclaimed, the voice continued. The foothold of flesh on this side is shattered. Your kind is banished, forbidden from these halls.

 

Teagan gritted her teeth and pushed the voice out of her mind. More characters and runes covered certain stones on the walls. Shelves held golden relics and ancient sculptures.

 

“Those aren’t Ixthacan,” Grant said, pointing at a set of characters.

 

“Holy Mother of God,” Teagan blurted, “are those ancient forms of Chinese characters? And look—that bladed spear matches the style of early Chinese weapons-craft. And that earthen statue of an imperial soldier—the Qin dynasty, perhaps? Judging by the armor?”

 

“But these are clearly Egyptian hieroglyphs,” Grant replied. “Look at the gold cat statue.”

 

“Where the hell are we, Grant?”

 

You are intruding upon sacred ground, the voice answered unbidden. Spreading your disease beyond the bounds of your prison. A low wave of hazel muck spread like a glacier, oozing through the entrance behind them.

 

Grant dashed to the spreading clay and kicked huge divots in it, trying to push it back. “I don’t care where we are so much as how do we get out of here!”

 

“What do you want?” Teagan shouted, and ignored the confused look from Grant.

 

An end to the disease you bear. Hatred flowed through Teagan’s mind, and the voice seethed in reply. The flaw in your forms that developed into soft, weak meat. The ‘devilution’ that forced us to purify our genepool, to prevent the epidemic.

 

“I’ve heard such talk before,” Teagan said. The so-called science of the hard-line Germans came to mind. “Surely we can reach some kind of accord.”

 

You waste words. You waste raw materials. You waste life. You do not belong here. You will die.

 

“So very evolved of you,” Teagan shot back. “Sorry to disappoint by suggesting we talk instead of killing each other.”

 

Grant stomped a mud-man’s torso as it rose from the spreading clay, then kicked the head off another. He glanced back at her and asked, “Who are you talking to, Teag?” Then another mud-man leapt on him, and Grant smashed it into the wall with his broad back.

 

You cannot kill us, foolish progenitor, no matter how hard your worker drone tries.

 

“You should tell him so, get him riled up. Maybe he’ll do a better job of it.”

 

He cannot hear us. We deign to speak on your level. We are incapable of descending to his.

 

Strange thoughts resounded in Teagan’s mind, and foreign memories rushed through her vision. A world at war under twin violet moons… armies of living earth driving out the deviants whose bodies solidified into muscle and bone… slaughter and fear, desperation and despair, followed by capture and exile.

 

Minions of the Great Rebel, the voice boomed, and Teagan collapsed to one knee. Begone! Sinful flesh was banished from this plane, dispersed and scattered onto derelict, lifeless planets floating in the empty expanse of the void. How dare you—the exiled and forsaken—now try to return?

 

“My God, Grant,” Teagan gasped as the memories coalesced in her mind. “They cleansed a full third of their population. Anybody with the DNA that might permit this evolution into flesh some generation down the line—they killed or exiled them all.”

 

Grant grunted in response, thrashing and dodging among a crowd of mud-men.

 

The others, the voice cooed in Teagan’s mind, the ones you fear, who sought entrance to this world? These Germans—they are not wrong, fleshling. They wish to cleanse, to purify. Where they err is that they do not see themselves as part of the problem.

 

The telepathic connection formed an image of a portal back to Castellano’s repository in South America. Perhaps we did not fulfill our task so many ages ago. We shall correct this.

 

“Grant, they’ve changed plans. They’re going to invade.”

 

Between stomping mud-men, Grant surveyed the room. “So many treasures of antiquity,” he muttered. “So many connected historical mysteries we could solve.”

 

He doffed his pack and swung it like a weapon, splattering two more mud-men across a glowing wall. Then he rummaged within it while kicking mud-men back. “Does that connection you’ve got work both ways? Can you tell how to get us home?”

 

Teagan smiled and the voice in her head recoiled in sudden fear. A line of light sliced through the air in front of the Qin soldier, and expanded into a shimmering circle filled with an image of the repository’s dark cavern.

 

Grant’s hands grabbed her and pulled her in. She braced for the disorienting shift, the blades of light and cacophony of this alien transport. But instead, they stepped across worlds with minimal resistance, like rising from beneath the surface of a lake.

 

Strands of clay came through as well, stretching across the floor and dragging more of the hazel mud from the other world.

 

Something hissed beside Teagan. Grant held a bundle of dynamite, the braided wick already lit.  “You said they had a plan. There’s nothing I’m better at than messing up plans. Usually my own. Let me do what I do best.”

 

He tossed the bundle through. “Cut the portal, Teag… and hit the deck.”

 

The Duplicitous Dare (part 2)

I was just going to use the snippet I wrote last week for this week’s entry. But I have way too much fun picturing these characters and their antics. Also, I get 500 extra words to play with? How could I resist?

So here’s the continuation of the tale of Agent Dare (pronounced dah-rey in Japanese, meaning “who?”).

(1,494 words, Genre: Adventure)

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Explorer of the Unknown, Finder of the Undiscovered, and Protector of the Undefended
…accompanied as always by his hapless assistant Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

There was no avoiding the unpleasant fact, Teagan realized. Her partner, Grant McSwain, was a colossal fool.

He and the Empire of Japan’s agent Dare dove into Teagan’s hiding spot behind the battered delivery truck riddled with bullet holes. Slugs from Yakuza tommy guns thudded into the vehicle’s steel body, and the rat-a-tat of multiple machine guns resounded in the narrow Little Tokyo alleyway.

The lithe Asian woman held a pair of revolvers like a misplaced cowboy from the cover of a pulp Western. Grant knelt beside her and reloaded his own six-shooter.

The gunfire died down to sporadic thunder, and Dare gave Grant a rather forward look, her lips parted as if for a kiss, her husky breath promising more. “Mister McSwain,” she said in that frustratingly exotic and enticing accent, “do we have a deal?”

Teagan’s face twisted in confusion. What?

“We’ll get you out of here with your wealth so you can start a new life,” Grant said. “You’ll give us back the classified notes about the German submarine base. Yeah, we got a deal.”

The air stank of sulfur and gunpowder, a combination of fireworks set off in celebrations and the ongoing shoot-out between the Tong and Yakuza. Both sides had been double-crossed by this woman known as Dare.

And us caught in the middle, Teagan thought. No thanks to Grant.

The tommy guns hammered the truck again. In between bursts of gunfire, the Tong’s Colt revolvers let out deafening booms. Most aimed at their Japanese rivals, whose turf the Tong invaded by coming after Dare. But some of the rounds thunked into the truck. Neither side would let her go without a fight.

“This lorry is going to be scrap metal if they keep this up,” Teagan said, unconcerned whether Grant or Dare heard. Never one for modesty, Teagan hiked up her skirt to draw a pair of two-shot Deringers from a garter holster. She smirked when Grant’s eyes bulged at the sight of her exposed thigh. Even Dare raised an eyebrow and nodded approval.

Teagan leaned low and aimed around the front of the truck. As one of the Yakuza spotted her, his head blossomed in a spray of crimson. She rotated the barrels—the double-shot pistol’s imitation of reloading—and popped a round into one of the Tong creeping toward their position.

Dare dropped prone beside Teagan and fired under the truck.

Men screamed and heavy bodies thudded to the ground. Dare picked them off with ease. “Two more down,” she declared, and flashed Teagan a smug look.

Grant took out another Tong gunman, then hit the dirt as slugs tore holes in the side of the truck’s cargo bed.

Dare popped off a couple shots over the truck’s hood, then crouched beside Teagan. “Your weapons are poorly chosen,” Dare said. “Foolish Westerners, with your ‘Saturday night specials.’ You already expended half your ammunition.”

Teagan slipped the empty Deringer into her handbag and drew another from the garter on her opposite leg. “Who says I only brought two?”

Grant shook his head, his cheeks flushed. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Teag! What sort of Saturday nights are you having?” Then he feigned irritation. “And why haven’t you invited me?”

“No blasphemy,” Teagan scolded. “And trust me, you couldn’t keep up.”

Dare laughed and dropped another Yakuza. “I am beginning to appreciate you, Miss O’Daire. The accounts I heard are surely the fiction of men put to shame by the weaker sex.”

If the praise was a clever ruse to disarm Teagan’s suspicions, it worked. She found herself grinning, and replied, “You must have quite a collection of similar stories, Agent Dare.”

“I never stick around to find out how they end,” she said with a light-hearted tone. “Presumably with torture and death. Neither the Tong nor the Yakuza are very forgiving.”

“Good thing we’ve earned both their ire,” Teagan said as she took aim.

A Yakuza rose to spray the truck with his tommy gun, but fell with a bloody hole in his forehead. Teagan rotated the Deringer barrels and scanned for another target.

“I’ve got an idea,” Grant said.

“Oh swait Jaysis,” Teagan muttered, her Irish coming out under stress.

“Hey,” Grant objected. “No blasphemy, right?”

“Wasn’t blasphemy, ye dunce. ‘Twas a prayer for protection,” she said. “From stupidity.”

Grant huffed but made no objection. “You two are going to cover me,” he explained, “and I’ll grab a couple of tommy guns off the dead Yakuza.”

“Ye trust this one that well, Grant? Ye’ll put her sights at yer backside?”

Dare stiffened. “We have an agreement. I am honor-bound.”

“You an’ the Tong had an agreement,” Teagan said. “Same with the Yakuza. Sure an’ both of those went arseways, yea? Now ye expect we’ll be trustin’ in your great sense of honor?”

Dare glanced at the two-shot pistol remaining in Teagan’s hand. “I do not see that you have any choice.”

Teagan sniffed with as much derision as she could muster, then drew her last Deringer. “I got four shots, not two.”

Dare rolled her eyes and took aim at the Tong.

Teagan stuck out her tongue when Dare turned away. It wasn’t so much Dare being right that irritated her. And Grant’s willingness to charge heedless into danger didn’t bother Teagan at all. Quite the opposite, in fact—although his last few expressions of bravado had been ill-conceived and poorly timed.

Maybe her source of frustration lay elsewhere. The intensity on his face when his eyes met Dare’s… the eagerness with which he formed an alliance with her… the obvious interest when he regarded this vivacious—and deceitful!—woman.

Grant dashed around the truck, ducking and dodging. Gunfire erupted from both ends of the alley, and Teagan snapped out of her thoughts.

She shot a Yakuza struggling with a jammed weapon, then took out a wounded man aiming at Grant.

Behind her, smoking revolvers in each hand belching fire, Dare fought back the Tong. She fired a couple shots, then spun low to the ground and popped up in a new position, keeping the distant Tong guessing.

Teagan put down another Yakuza, then dipped behind the truck. “I’m empty.”

Dare crouched but kept her eyes and guns trained on the Tong. “My assessment proves accurate,” she said. “You should have brought something more powerful.”

Grant slipped around the front of the truck and tossed Teagan a tommy gun. “This should suffice.”

Teagan hefted the weapon and aimed toward the Tong.

“Now, that fires over a dozen rounds a second, Teag,” Grant said. “You’re gonna want to—“

Rat-a-tat-a-tat!

The spray-and-pray method did little to incapacitate the Tong gunmen. But fear of that rapid fire drumbeat drove them to hiding each time Teagan squeezed off a burst.

Grant moved to get a better angle and strafed the Tong position. “Now’s our chance, Dare,” he shouted. “The Yakuza are down and we’ve got the Tong at bay. Tell me where to find the classified files.”

Dare checked the alley behind the truck. “It’s with the satchel of safe money, stashed in the cabin of Fortune’s Favor on pier six. Shall we withdraw?”

They dashed down the alley, Teagan and Grant taking turns spraying bullets to deter pursuers. Then they heard the sirens of police paddy-wagons approaching.

“Ditch the weapons,” Grant said as he tossed his tommy gun in the back of a parked car. “We need to split up.”

Dare scanned the streets, a look of trepidation forming on her all-too-perfect face.

Grant put a hand on Dare’s shoulder. “Take that alley down two streets then turn right, heading west. You’ll avoid main roads the police will use. Teag and I blend in a little easier. We’ll head up another block and meet you at the pier.”

Dare nodded. Then she took Grant’s face in her hands and kissed him full on the mouth.

Teagan felt her fists clench, and the rage within flared when Dare gave her another triumphant look.

The woman took off in the direction Grant indicated.

“Come on, Teag,” Grant said, “let’s get to the boat.” His long-legged stride covered ground swiftly, and Teagan had to nearly jog to keep up.

“Aren’t you worried she might beat us there?” Teagan asked, breathless.

“Not really,” Grant said. “My directions lead to a dead end next to the police station. I know better than to trust a pretty face.”

Teagan stopped, her heart full of surprise and unexpected joy. And yet that last statement stung.

Grant noticed her and drew near, placing his hand on her cheek. “All the pretty faces except one, that is.”

They recovered the files and money eventually. But for Teagan, the details blurred together with the sensation of floating on air all the way to the pier.

The Duplicitous Dare #blogbattle

Genre: Adventure (999 words)

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain and His Hapless Assistant, Teagan O’Daire—Both the Unsuspecting Victims of the Unnamed Vixen 


Teagan flung the dim sum restaurant door wide and crossed into the crowded street to meet up with Grant. The moon stood high above Los Angeles, its soft radiance overwhelmed by the glow of a hundred paper lanterns on ropes between buildings. A wave of sounds and smells crashed over Teagan—stewed pork, stir-fried vegetables, dozens of voices bartering and bantering in a harsh, tonal language.

Lots of restless bodies on the street, Teagan noted. Many looked homeless, their clothing dingy, their hair greasy and unwashed. Desperate eyes sought paying work, but who had money to spend? Even in Chinatown, the Great Depression took its toll.

“Any luck?”

Grant shook his head, then looked up and down the street. Fake pagodas and decorative Hollywood style façades captured the attention of Westerners, while stylized Chinese characters in gold-leaf calligraphy mystified the uninitiated.

“No one knows anyone named Dare.” Grant said it like the English word for challenge.

Dah-rey,” Teagan corrected. “And in this part of town, you should ask about Shei. Little Tokyo is a couple streets south of here.”

“Maybe that’s where we should be searching, Teag.” Grant rubbed his face in his palm. “No one here tells me anything. Watch.”

He approached a food cart with a sign proclaiming the best soup dumplings in Chinatown. A wiry gray-haired man behind the cart smiled wide. “You want hsiao-lung-pao? Two dollar one dozen.”

“Sorry,” Grant said. “I’m looking for someone named Shay.”

Shei?”

“Yeah.”

The merchant cocked his head. “Ni zhao shei ah?

“That’s what I said.”

Teagan snickered. “I told you, her alias means ‘who?’ He’s asking who you’re looking for, and to him it sounds like you don’t know.”

She drew a bill from her purse and handed it to the man. “Six please. Hsieh-hsieh,” she said with a grateful nod.

The man placed the steaming swirled buns on a disposable mat of woven straw and offered the makeshift plate to Teagan. His eyes flickered toward Grant and he laughed. “Ta de naozi huailema?”

Rusty Chinese filtered through her mind. Is his brain broken?

“Indeed,” Teagan said with a smile. “Grant, let’s try Little Tokyo.”

They strolled south, eating dumplings and enjoying the foreign atmosphere, each pointing out oddities and unknown attractions that caught their eye.

Then Grant stiffened.

“What is it?”

He kept his eyes forward and whispered, “Don’t turn or make eye contact. But we’ve got tails on our left. About two houses back now. I’m guessing Tong.”

Teagan fought the urge to search for the threat. “You sure?”

“Grew up running ‘shine for a mob boss in the Prohibition days. Seen enough gang toughs to know—they’re not just guarding their turf.”

“Maybe they’ll have information we need?”

Grant chuckled. “Tong ain’t known for their friendly disposition, especially to us foreign devils. We should get into Little Tokyo quickly.” He picked up the pace.

“They won’t enter?”

“And tangle with Yakuza? Nah.”

Teagan hesitated. “Yakuza too?”

“You’re the one that suggested following our leads to Dare.”

She sighed.

“Dah-rey,” Grant corrected.

They entered Little Tokyo and saw drifters seeking work. Teagan examined the faces watching her, and felt palpable hostility. She edged closer to Grant.

He offered her his muscular arm. “We’re not particularly welcome here, are we, Teag?”

“The government’s been saying the same thing to the Japanese,” Teagan said. “Coolidge’s Immigration Act cut off all new arrivals from the Empire. Since then… well, maybe President Roosevelt will change things.”

“We have enough problems of our own to deal with,” Grant said.

They approached an older woman with a rack of shoes on display and Teagan checked her notebook. She spoke in a slow, clipped tone. “Dah-rey doko dess-ka?

The woman laughed and repeated the question. “Dare?

Grant crossed his arms. “This is searching for a twig in a pile of chopsticks, Teag.”

Teagan ignored Grant and considered her question. Maybe if I add an honorific term, it’ll be clear who I’m looking for. “Dare-san doko dess-ka?

The woman’s eyes lit up, and she glanced around before leaning in close. “You seek Dare-san? Yakuza seek Dare-san too.” She pointed a bony finger toward a truck with a covered flatbed in an open lot between two tall apartments.

Teagan and Grant dashed toward the lot, then Teagan paused to look back.

The woman had gathered up her rack and hustled into one of the apartments with uncanny speed for her age.

Grant approached the truck and froze when four Asian men jumped out. Two held tommy guns, and two carried cudgels. One pointed his club at Grant. “What you want, gaijin?”

“I’m looking for a mysterious woman—goes by Shei. Or maybe Dare.” He finally said it with proper Japanese pronunciation.

Face twisted in anger, the man stalked toward Grant. “You Shei’s partner or something? Did she bring you the opium she stole?”

The scrape of footfalls behind her caught Teagan’s attention and she turned to find half a dozen armed men. One stepped forward and pointed his pistol at Grant. “Where is the Yakuza piaotzu named Dare, laowai? I heard you say her name. Where’s the safety money she took from us?”

The Yakuza raised their guns. “Get off our turf, Tong dogs. And don’t come back unless you bring us Shei.”

The lead Tong laughed and aimed at the Yakuza who spoke. “Give up this Dare and our money, and we’ll leave at once.” His men formed a rank beside him.

Teagan pressed against Grant. “Sounds like we all got played. Got a way out?”

Grant raised his hands and scrunched up his face, narrowing his eyes with a wide toothy smile. “Evelybody carm darn,” he said with a poor mockery of an Asian accent. “We awr go home now, no trouber!”

Rivalry forgotten, every gun pointed at him.

Teagan stood horrified and dumbfounded, jaw hanging open.

Grant shrugged. “Yeah, I got nothing.”

Dead in the Water

From the Continuing Adventures of Grant McSwain, Maritime Global Circumnavigator, Menace of German Cretins, and Master of Gargantuan Creatures

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

Wind rustled through Teagan’s hair and saltwater sprayed droplets across her face as she leaned over the rail of the swift-moving vessel. The afternoon sun blazed and the heat and humidity of the Caribbean thickened the air.

The fuel for the vessel’s engine ran out two days earlier, so nothing broke the silence other than the crash of waves against the bow. A sense of tranquility refreshed Teagan’s weary spirit so long as she paid no attention to the choppy motion propelling the ship through the swells.

She looked away from the water’s rough surface. Best to avoid considering the source of that power.

But Teagan had to admit the plan Grant devised worked better than anticipated.

Grant on the other hand remained incapacitated. The large man hung doubled over the handrail on the port side, far enough away from Teagan that the splashing water below her drowned out his much less pleasant sounds.

He straightened, and clutched the railing with white knuckles and a quivering arm while wiping his mouth with a rag. “God, Teag, how do you do it?”

She took a deep breath of the ocean air and grinned wide. “I used to go on fishing trips with my brothers, out to the Aran Islands just beyond the bay. This feels so much like home.”

The vessel suddenly cut left, across the current. Teagan wobbled but steadied herself with ease, her sea legs quickly returning after far too long on land. “Well, almost like home,” she admitted.

Near the stern, Grant clung to the railing like a soon-to-be shipwreck victim. He stared at the churning waters behind the boat, his breath ragged. “We passed Antigua days ago,” he moaned. “It can’t be much longer to the Florida coast, can it?”

“Avoiding the Bahamas makes the trip a little longer,” Teagan said. “And keep in mind that the roundabout navigation was your idea.”

“One I deeply regret,” he replied.

Teagan strode across the wooden deck to the stern of the vessel and put her hand on Grant’s shoulder. “Watch the horizon, not the water. And try to take slow, full breaths to calm your nerves. We’ll get through this.”

The vessel lurched and picked up speed. The thick ropes at the bow creaked and the ship’s hull groaned with added strain. Teagan grimaced. “At least I hope we will.”

They travelled in silence for a time as the sun crawled beneath the horizon. The ship bounced on the ocean swells at a speed the vessel’s shipwrights would never have imagined possible. As the sky turned shades of red and purple, either Grant managed to overcome his seasickness, or his body gave up the fight.

Teagan ran her fingers over the jagged wood of the broken mast, and the twisted hemp strands of the thick ropes, then shook her head with amazement.

On the horizon, Grant spotted a shadowy mass. “Land ho,” he cried, with a proud fist raised into the air.

“Aren’t you still on the Federal Bureau’s Most Wanted list?”

Grant turned and flashed Teagan a smile. Unlike Teagan, who covered up head to toe after the first terrible sunburn, Grant’s skin darkened to a light caramel. Proper color had returned to Grant’s stubbly face, and the sight of land seemed to revitalize him. He posed like an Old World explorer, leaning forward, one foot on the railing at the bow, as if he propelled the ship forward by sheer force of will.

“Bah. The FBI,” Grant scoffed and dismissed Teagan’s concern with a wave of his hand. “‘Removing protected cultural relics’ is a made-up offense. I don’t think such a law even exists.”

“What about the part where you robbed the Smithsonian?”

“Oh, that. There is that. No worries… this is my ticket to get back into Uncle Sam’s good graces.”

“Please tell me you mean the satchel of classified documents and German submarine blueprints you recovered from the ruins of the base.”

“That’s the icing on the cake,” Grant said. He looked down at the massive shadowy figure beneath rushing waters and laughed. The taut ropes stretched below the waves and wrapped around the hulking body of the leviathan.

“A really, really big cake,” Grant said, “with tentacles.”

The vessel groaned and shuddered as the bow crashed through a powerful wave that splashed across the deck. Grant and Teagan gripped the slick rails, but the water pushed them from the bow. The silver plates used in the Ixthacan summoning ritual clattered across the wooden boards, torn from the tiedowns Grant fashioned when they’d embarked.

Teagan watched one of the plates with wide eyes. “Grant,” she said, “aren’t those part of what’s controlling the creature?”

Grant’s face blanched. “Well, Teag,” he said with a gulp, “Let’s be honest. Can you really claim to know how the ritual works in the first place?”

The vessel lurched, dead in the water. The ropes, once taut, hung limp over the bow.

Grant looked over the railing and frowned. “Hey, Teag? Back in Ireland, did you do a lot of swimming?”

“Some,” she said. “But we generally tried to stay in the ship.”

Four black, scaly tentacles burst from the surface of the water and stretched dozens of feet into the air, two on each side of the ship. They lashed the wooden vessel, shattering the railings and the deck with loud snaps. Teagan and Grant stumbled as the vessel’s hull cracked.

“I don’t think that’s an option,” Grant shouted, then dove over the side.

The front half of the vessel rose into the air, lifted by the leviathan’s twisting tentacles. Teagan gasped as more of the creature’s limbs crushed the ship’s stern beneath the waves.

She shut her eyes and leapt into the waves below.

To be continued in The Voice of the Vixen

Indiscriminate Assistance – a #blogbattle entry

It’s not quite the quality I wanted, but I had to fly yesterday and I’m flying again today. So I’ll be content with getting another Grant and Teagan submission in. Hope you enjoy this newest installment.

From the Continuing Adventures of Grant McSwain, Champion of the Daring, and Foiler of Dastardly Deeds 

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


Teagan rammed her shoulder into the side of a large wooden crate of electronic parts and pushed it into place against the iron door of the radio room, sending a cloud of dust into the air. A thick beam of wood held the entrance closed. It shook as the German guards battered against the metal from the other side.  

Then the whole cliffside base rumbled like an earthquake.

Teagan watched the ceiling, fearing a collapse. Then she turned to her partner, hands in tight fists on her hips. “Grant, what have you done?”

Grant McSwain sat in front of the large microphone, his hands fumbling across banks of controls for shortwave radio communications and the personnel address system within the base. His unapologetic eyes met Teagan’s and he laughed.

She took a deep breath that did nothing to calm her wild anger. “You said you were going to call for assistance!”

“I did.”

“I thought you meant the local authorities,” Teagan said, “or some government agency.” She checked the weight of another box and decided it would do nothing to barricade the door.

“That was the original plan, sure. I improvised.”

The base shuddered again, as if God punched the surface of the earth with His fist. Muffled shrieks and frantic voices filled the hallway outside the radio room.

Teagan considered throwing the box at Grant. “You summoned the Leviathan.”

Grant shook his head. “No, no, you’re not blaming this on me,” he said, and thrust a thick finger her way. “You’re the one who wrote out the incantation phonetically. You know I can’t understand that Ixthacan gibberish.”

“Then why did you read it over the base address system?”

“First, if Vilhelm wanted it,” Grant said, “I didn’t want him to have it. Second, it seemed like a good distraction when we had nowhere else to run.”

In the nearby cavern that housed the massive German submarine, stone crumbled in a combination of bass like thunder and metal twisting with an ear-piercing shriek.

Teagan winced and gave Grant a withering glare.

Grant met her stare while tuning the radio. “Did you honestly believe there was a creature to summon?”

“Did you have reason to think there might not be?”

Grant tweaked some knobs. The radio hissed to life with soft static. “Any sheriff, any station,” Grant called, “anybody hearing this: is there anyone in a position to provide aid?”

A heavy battering ram thudded against the iron door in a steady pace, the rhythm broken by another tremor that rattled the walls of the mountainside base. Otherwise, the room fell silent save the crackling quiet of the radio.

The voices outside screamed and cut off abruptly when something crashed into the door, shearing the steel framework supporting the radio room. The thick beam holding the door shut snapped with the impact. Teagan’s makeshift barricade tipped to the left and dumped parts across the floor. Then everything lurched forward, and Teagan propped herself up against the wall.

Once the beam broke, gravity swung the battered door open. A scaly tentacle, thick as a full-grown oak, slid through the twisted wreckage of the metal stairs, withdrawing toward the water. In the tangle of steel supports, bloody limbs stretched into the air seeking aid that would never come.

Face white, Grant watched the tentacle slither away. He and Teagan both sat frozen, awaiting a devastating blow to the radio room, afraid any motion might draw the attention and wrath of the leviathan.

The mountainside shook again, but this time the impact seemed far away.

Grant sighed with relief then switched on the base address system. “Achtung! Gehen sie in die U-Boot,” he repeated in rough German.

“What are you doing?”

“It’s panic out there,” Grant said. “No one’s going to know what to do, so they’ll listen to the first order they hear.”

“And meanwhile, what will we be doing?”

Grant gestured toward the elevator to the small, nondescript outpost far above on the surface. “We’re getting out of here.”

He lowered Teagan through the slanted doorway and she hopped to the floor, landing in a crouch on an unstable metal platform. Across a gap of a few feet, another walkway stretched toward the waiting elevator.

Grant dropped through the door of the radio room and hit with a thud that shook the damaged structure. It wobbled but held together. He checked the distance, then made a running jump over the jagged wreckage. “Come on, Teag,” he called.

But there it was. She couldn’t look away.

Tentacles flailed dozens of feet above the water’s surface, crashing into the walkways and structures surrounding the submarine’s berth. A huge pointed head rose from the waves with giant black eyes on either side and a maw lined with rows of sharp teeth. One of the creature’s manifold limbs batted aside a trio of German sailors running for the supposed safety of the submarine, and another tentacle lifted a screaming man high into the air before dropping him into the leviathan’s mouth.

The horror shook Teagan’s heart… but the mystery and majesty of the creature filled her with awe and wonder.

The submarine inched forward, moving toward the underwater tunnel leading to the ocean. Then a pair of tentacles wrapped around the vessel, lifting it out of the churning waters. Metal groaned and squealed. The vessel broke in half with a resounding snap.

“Teag!” Grant cupped his hands over his lips and screamed. “The elevator, before that thing takes it out of commission!”

Teagan leapt across the bloodied steel of the ruined walkway and chased Grant with all due haste.

The automated pulleys of the elevator strained and groaned, but raised the pair from the devastation of the underground base like souls set free from the pit of Hades.

Teagan Oh-Hair and the Barbaric Barbers #blogbattle

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Hero of Countless Tales, Harrower of Cold-blooded Villains, and Handsome Bachelor

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



Teagan blinked several times, trying in vain to clear away the stinging smoke and the fog of unconsciousness.

I’ve been drugged. 

She moved to rub her eyes, but her hands stayed behind her back and coarse rope dug into her wrists. The crackle and heaet of a nearby bonfire flooded her senses, along with a sweet smell and sizzle like bacon.

Feral boar, perhaps? Do they raise swine in the mountains of Uruguay?

A chilling sense of foreboding told her no. She tugged on the rope, hoping for some give in the restraint. But she remained firmly held against a thick tree trunk.

“You’re not going anywhere, Teag,” Grant said. His dejected voice provided a small sense of comfort. She thought she could make out his bulky form, kneeling between two tribesmen’s spearpoints.

The tribe came into focus as tears from the smoke cleared Teagan’s vision. Several men in animal skin loincloths chanted around the bonfire. They wore carved bone jewelry on leather straps, and carried sharp spears that glinted in the firelight. Nearby a few men and most of the women tore at pieces of steaming roast meat laid out on a large round table. Like many tribes Teagan had read about, the uncivilized Aktuacha left more skin exposed than covered. 

Grant’s wide eyes and red cheeks caught Teagan’s attention. He turned this way and that, as if unsure where to look.

“Surely you’ve seen a woman disrobe,” Teagan said, trying not to laugh. Their uncertain situation and the hostile growls of the Aktuachans should have stifled every bit of humor. But perhaps because of the danger they faced, Grant’s embarrassment at something so natural struck Teagan as hilarious.

Then she felt the breeze across her skin in places she ought not.

“Where the hell is my shirt?!”

“I think they tore it apart fighting over the fabric,” Grant replied.

“And where is Juancarlo?” Their guide claimed intimate knowledge of the mountains and assured them he could help find Vallarte’s gold mines. Moreover, they had to beat the twins dispatched by the German Kaiser before the desperate Weimar government could claim the treasure. This was an unacceptable delay. “When we get out of here, he’s dismissed for certain!”

“I think they’re tearing him apart right now.”

The aroma of pork. The sizzling fat.

Teagan vomited, involuntarily straining against the rope.

One of the tribesmen rushed toward her, shaking a bone fetish atop a staff decorated with feathers… and long red hair.

Teagan couldn’t reach her head, so she shook it back and forth but felt nothing on her bare shoulders. The slight breeze cooled her scalp far more than it had a right to.

“Oh my God, did they–”

“He thinks you’re a fire demon,” Grant explained. “Taking your hair gives him your power. Killing your consorts is necessary since we’re tainted by your presence.”

“I… oh God, what happens after that?” Horrifying thoughts swirled in her imagination.

“Well, frankly, I don’t care. Because I’ll be dead and eaten. So let’s stop that from happening, right?”

Teagan struggled once more with the rope, and felt objects in her trouser pockets and belt pouches. They hadn’t taken all of “the demon’s” possessions, just her dignity and pride. With careful effort, her long fingers reached into a pouch near the small of her back, drawing out a pair of metal cylinders.

“I’m sorry, Teag,” Grant said, voice cracking. “I can’t think of any way out.”

“I can.” She held the cylinders, one in each hand, and rubbed them together in motions as sharp and swift as the bonds allowed. “They want to call me a fire demon? I’ll oblige them.”

Bursts of pain and heat shot through her arms, but she let the fury urge her on, smashing the flint and steel together.

The tribe’s shaman approached again, taunting Teagan with the red hair fetish. Behind her back, the dry fibers of the rope loosened with a snap, then came apart.

She held the smouldering rope aloft in blistered hands, then kicked the shaman’s staff into the bonfire.

The man gasped and fell back, and the rest of the tribe followed his lead. 

The fire demon they feared snatched a burning branch from the flames and howled with rage, dashing around the tribal village. As she passed thatch huts, she set them alight. When anyone came close, she shook the coil of burnt rope and makeshift torch at them with crazed eyes.

The forest and clearing glowed orange in the light of many fires, and the tribesmen fled Teagan’s wrath.

She dashed to her pack, next to Grant’s, and grabbed a fresh shirt along with her knife. Her curiosity burned for a moment, and she almost pulled out the compact mirror to assess the damage done to her luxurious mane. But there would be time for that once they were free.

She raced over to Grant and watched him rise to his feet, blowing on seared skin where he burned off his rope.  

He stared back at her, and she became self-conscious, turning her back on him while throwing on her shirt. “I thought women in states of undress discomfitted you!”

“Not often,” Grant said. “And I’ve told you before, you don’t have much to be embarrassed about.”

Teagan whirled, mouth agape. “I do have a knife, Grant!”

He raised his hands in surrender and laughed, his wide smile disarming her anger. “Only jesting, Teag. I’m not one of these foolish savages.”

“What do you mean?”

“I know better than to infuriate a fire demon!”

A Clash with Death

Genre: Adventure? Action? I’ll see what options fit best but I think it’s obvious what I’m going for.

Flash fiction with the prompt: Chasm

God, I had more fun with this than I meant to. I wanted to go a little further with the “chasm” concept, but my original idea wouldn’t fit in the word count.

And really I just wanted to get myself back in the blog battle even if the piece isn’t my most competitive effort. I think you’ll see more of Grant and Teagan in the future.

—–

The Exploits of Grant McSwain, Fearless Adventurer, Man of Mystery, Acquirer of Fabled Fortunes, and Doer of Daring Feats 

(accompanied as always by his hapless asssistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway)

This week’s episode: A Clash with Death, and the Chasm of Despair…

The sun beat down on the thick jungle foliage Grant McSwain brushed aside with the flat of his machete. “Told you,” he said with a grin as he offered his assistant a view of the ziggurat ahead. “The Temple of Ixthapocl, right where I said it would be.”

Teagan clambered the rest of the way up the slope, then took a knee and brushed red bangs away from her dripping face. “The fifth time’s the charm, I guess. As usual.”

Grant ignored the jab. “Now the true challenge begins!”

“Finding the way in?”

“No, that’s easy. I’m talking about sneaking artifacts past customs when we get back to America.” He trudged down the hill toward the vine-covered ruin.

“Always ten steps ahead,” Teagan said. “Sometimes you forget to plan for the obstacles that still block our way.”

Grant shrugged and strolled across the open ground toward the base of the temple. “Who needs a plan when you have style?” His machete made short work of the intertwining vines blocking the entrance. “Already we know that no one else has been in here in years.”

“Through this entrance,” Teagan muttered. The Ixthacas always built secret passages for their own use. Many a conquistador had been ambushed, thinking they found unattended wealth.

A heavy metal door blocked their way, a ring engraved with animals and men in different poses at its center. Grant unfolded a parchment and double-checked the sequence, then turned the ring to the appropriate symbols. “Dance like the serpent,” Grant read aloud, “fight like the bear.”

The lock clicked and dust shook loose as the door swung open.

Grant stepped inside, and Teagan saw the stone sink beneath his foot. She dove into him, bowling him over as three darts cut through the air where he’d been standing.

“And duck,” she said, “like someone who wants to survive.”

Grant dusted himself off and rose, face red as her hair. “Thanks,” he said finally. “Get the flashlight, wouldya?”

The light revealed walls of carved stone, with rows of faces at eye level. Every other mouth hung open, potentially hiding more traps. They took a slower pace, testing any stone in the floor that seemed odd.

The halls inside the ziggurat led to several empty chambers—living quarters, based on the provisions and furnishings. Stairs wound up to the higher levels.

Grant checked each room for anything of interest, a process that took a full hour on the first floor. “I’ve only got one set of spare batteries,” Teagan said. “The rest are back at camp. Ceremonies would be held beneath the moon and stars in the top chamber. Maybe that’s where the good stuff was kept?” 

“Or that’s what they’d want you to think,” Grant replied.

Teagan rolled her eyes and dutifully followed.  

By the time they reached the highest level, the flashlight dimmed and the full moon shining through the open ceiling did as good a job. Stone pillars rose into the night sky at each corner and on each side of the ziggurat’s rooftop. Every pillar bore a plate of silver and obsidian displaying a phase of the moon.  

On a low platform before the altar in the center of the top floor, silver spheres the size of golf balls glimmered in the moonlight, arranged like the brighter stars in the sky. Grant pulled out a knife and immediately pried one from its setting. “Yep, they’re loose, we can grab these.” He drew out a thick leather pouch and began filling it. 

Then he spotted the shining gold plate set above the altar. Engraved lines radiated from the golden sun. “Hey Teag, grab that, will ya?” 

Teagan smiled at the thick gold and approached. But something felt off. She checked the floor, and it looked solid. She inspected the plate from every angle, but saw nothing indicating a trap or trigger mechanism. She tapped the ground in front of the plate with her toes, then put full weight on it. The stones supported her. 

Grant had begun plucking the lunar phases off the pillars, sliding them into his backpack with newspaper padding between each plate. “You gonna get that thing?” he asked. “I don’t want to be out here all night.” 

Teagan couldn’t spot anything amiss. So she jammed a flat steel file between the golden plate and its setting in the stone, then pried the treasure out.  

The Ixthaca worshiped the moon. Why would they put up a valuable image of the sun? 

The plate slapped into her hands, and the stone at the top of its indented setting dropped with a sharp clack against the bottom. 

Teagan groaned. To identify enemies and intruders, of course. 

The floor fell away and she plummeted into darkness with a stifled yelp.  

With her weight suddenly removed, the spring-loaded doors snapped back into place. 

Grant collected the last plate, hefted the sack onto his back, then turned about in confusion. “Did she seriously just take the treasure and run?” 

[To be continued next week, in “The Lolly-pops of Peril”]

In the Shadows – Blog Battle

This is my last Blog Battle entry (probably) until December, since NaNoWriMo beckons and will demand my attention. The genre is sci-fi.

 Clouds blanketed the sky, but the third moon’s violet glow pierced the veil with dim but unwavering light.
Dressed in clothing like dingy, tattered rags, a mother and her son huddled in the shadow of volcanic stone jutting from a nearby vent. Thick ash fluttered through air corrupted by sulfur’s stench.
 “I may not always be here to guide you to a new refuge.” She choked on the words, and not from the fumes. No one traveled at night, when the creatures swarmed across the barren landscape. But her last refuge lay in ruins. Her love most likely lay among the slain. Scattered and pursued, the survivors fled in every direction. 
 The sense of loss hounded her, hammered at her wavering strength, screamed in her ears to give up and die. Her son’s wide, innocent eyes kept her anchored, kept her from wailing and running into the night toward certain death.

 Squatting in the darkness, she looked her son in the eye. “You must be most cautious at night,” she said in a terse whisper.

 “Because Stoneskins hide in the shadows?” he asked, barely audible. He’d learned well.

 “No, because they’re nocturnal. Do you know what that word means?”

 The boy looked around, struggling for an answer. His eyes lit up with insight. “The knocking noise they make when they talk to each other?”

 She chuckled and kissed his soot-stained head. “No, sweetie. It means they only move around after sunset. But the good news is they stay out of the shadows. I don’t think they like the darkness either.”

 A gout of steam released from the vent behind them, and the ground shook. 

 The boy clapped his hand over his nose. “Ew,” he said with a giggle. “It stinks like Dad after dinner.”

 His mother shushed him and tried to keep composure, but the boy’s infectious delight could not be stopped. 

 Laughter felt foreign, alien, after so many years on the run since the colony ship landed on Beta Kaali Two. Sensors set for organic life offered no warning that the very stones of the planet might be alive. 

 A thought struck home and swept her joy away. “We might not see Dad again.” She patted the youngster, and put a finger to her lips.

 But the crack-crack of stones slamming together on the other side of the vent silenced them both at once. A Stoneskin drew near.

 She charged her nano-pistol and checked its settings. The gun’s nanites could disassemble the creatures on a molecular level. The devices proved the colonists’ only defense against the aliens. But supplies had long since dwindled. 

 If any of the Stoneskins attacked, she’d have three shots–maybe four.

 With one arm, she clutched her son to her chest and they became still as the rocky ground. No matter what, she thought, I will protect you. With my life, if I must.

 She closed her eyes and focused on the only sound that brought her peace, the too-fast beating of his heart.

 The rhythmic knocking of his brood mother soothed Ko-Kakrik and he clawed across the ground eager to follow her voice.

 “Do not wander into the shadows, little gravel-shell,” she said with fondness. 

 Ko-Kakrik sensed the vibrations around him and felt nothing apart from his mother’s movements and voice. He clacked his mandible stones together and asked, “Does the darkness deafen us to the sounds of the earth?” 

 “No, my spawnling,” she replied, with a stuttering clack that indicated amusement. 

 The mirth vanished and she cracked out a warning. “That is where the humans often hide. If they see you, they will spit venom from their claws to eat you alive.”

 Ko-Kakrik paused and listened again. For a moment he thought he felt another sound, a pair of thumping drumbeats nearby. 

 His stones beat together in a panic. “Mother?” 

 His mother’s claw rested upon his back and she guided him away. “Come along, and fear not. I will protect you. Even with my life, if I must.”