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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!”

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 Trace of Terror – a #BlogBattle entry

Blog Battle entry for Week 51 – Trace

Genre: Action

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Doer of Amazing Deeds, Dashing Explorer of Dangerous Locales, and Reclaimer of the Treasures of Antiquity…accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

A Trace of Terror 

Rickety stalls and wooden carts laden with produce or hand-craftedgoods blurred as Teagan raced past, and her heart pounded in her chest like a steam engine. Panting for breath, she kept her eyes on Grant and tried to ignore the burning sensation in her side.

Even with the noise and bustle of the Caracas market, she heard his angry voice clear as day. “I can’t believe you gave him the actual map!”

“He had a gun!”

Grant’s wide shoulders slammed into a rack of jewelry, sending beaded necklaces flying. He spun off the impact and regained his pace.

An old woman yelled a string of curses that made Teagan’s freckled cheeks burn. “Lo siento,” Teagan said as she dashed by.

“Why didn’t you do some of that sleight-of-hand, thief-y stuff?” Grant asked, seemingly unfazed by the exertion of their frenetic chase.

“He checked the map,” Teagan said, breathless. “And he knew… what he… was looking for…”

The small clusters of people moved for Grant as he barreled down the street. Teagan had to weave and elbow her way between bodies.

Grant paused at an alley, and Teagan caught up to him again.

“Dead end,” he said, and pointed at a distant warehouse between the wooden stalls and back doors of stores. He started down the alley, checking for any sign of the German thief and muttering to himself. “After all that work pulling the Corazon de Oro out of the water, discovering the topographical map etched into the ridges on the side…”

He left out the part where Teagan nearly drowned, and she wasn’t sure whether the omission was out of kindness or simply because it hadn’t crossed his mind.

He wiped his brow and stared down the alley. “Now that damn Kraut has the only lead to the source of Vallarte’s treasure.”

Teagan caught her breath and shot Grant a glare. “If only someone had a photographic memory!”

Grant’s eyes narrowed. “Just because I can remember the map you traced doesn’t mean I can find the hidden mines. They could be anywhere in the Carribbean.” He lowered his voice and his cheeks flushed. “And you saw that I can’t produce even a remote facsimile.”

Teagan stifled a snicker. She’d seen toddlers with better control of charcoals. The ‘map’ Grant drew only led to a headache if one stared at it too long.

They checked the shops as they moved down the alley, but saw no sign of disturbance. Then they reached the warehouse and found the doorframe busted where the lock had been forced. A heavy chain and lock held the wide shipping dock doors closed.

“I don’t see any other exits,” Grant said. He slipped inside and held the door for Teagan.

Dust motes floated in sunbeams shining on stacked crates of furniture marked for shipment to Europe. The room smelled like sawdust and wood polish. A nearby ladder provided access to a grid of walkways ten feet above the floor. Grant grabbed the rungs and ascended. “I’ll take the top, you take the bottom.”

Teagan opened her mouth to protest, but Grant had already disappeared. The floorboards above her creaked at first, and Teagan winced. Then Grant moved with unexpected stealth for his large frame.

Suddenly, the silence felt oppressive, and every noise sent a jolt of fear down Teagan’s spine. This is a terrible plan. She looked around for a makeshift weapon, and eventually found a crowbar.

White-knuckling the bar over her shoulder like a baseball player waiting for a pitch, she crept through the maze of boxes. With each squeak of a floorboard, with every scrape, she spun toward the sound and her heart skipped a beat.

“Grant,” she whispered. No response.

She hissed out his name a little louder. Still nothing.

By force of habit, she almost put her hand in her pocket, reaching for the Saint Nicholas medallion she always carried. But the crowbar provided an immediate and tangible sense of security, one she wasn’t willing to give up even for a moment.

The hammer of a revolver clicked into place behind her, loud as a gunshot in the silence. Teagan froze.

“Set ze crowbar down,” a soft-spoken man said, “on ze crate next to you.”

Teagan did as commanded and raised her empty hands level with her head.

The man behind her chuckled. “You couldn’t just let ze map go? Vas ziss treasure vorth your life?”

Panicked, Teagan’s gaze flickered around the crates in search of an escape route or at least some cover. But the German couldn’t possibly miss at such close range.

“A shame,” he said, “to kill a rather competent and intelligent voman. You showed promise. But my employer desires no vitnesses…”

He raised the gun toward Teagan.

Grant’s bulky form crashed into the thief from above, knocking his arm down and to the right. A gunshot echoed and the board of a wooden crate snapped. The men fell into a heap.

Grant scrambled atop the thief and smashed a fist into the German’s face before pinning the man’s arms beneath his thick legs. Teagan snatched the gun.

“Where’s the map?” Grant screamed, fist raised to deliver another blow.

The German laughed, coughing up blood that speckled his blonde hair. “Fools! I don’t haff it.”

Teagan waved the gun at the man, hoping it seemed threatening. “But you accosted me in the hotel and demanded my tracing of the corazon.”

“Did you know,” he said with a grin, “that I haff a twin brother?”

Grant chuckled. “Really?” Then he punched the man in the face again, knocking him unconscious.

Teagan gasped. “What was that for?”

“When we find his brother, we’ll be able to tell them apart.”

To be continued in Teagan Oh-Hair versus the Barbaric Barbers

"A Heart of Pure Gold" Week 50 #blogbattle

Genre: Action

Word prompt: Pure

997 words

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Hero of Harrowing Deeds, Delver of Dangerous Depths, and Charmer of Cold-Hearted Dames…

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

 

Teagan swept thick layers of spider-silk aside with a machete and slipped between the narrow walls of the tunnel onto a small shelf overlooking deep darkness. Pebbles jostled and fell, clattering on stone and splashing in water far below. “There’s a ledge here, Grant. Watch your step.”

Her partner stood frozen, his sharp and fetching jawline offset by a grimace, his wide eyes inspecting every inch of web. “Set it on fire, Teag,” he whispered.

“The webs are ages old,” Teagan replied. “There aren’t any—“

“Burn it!”

Teagan gave him a playful smirk and waved the torch around the opening. The webs recoiled from the flame as if alive. “Better now, muffin?”

Grant exhaled loudly and took a deep breath, then crept forward.

“If Master Roquefort could see you now,” Teagan said with a laugh.

“Not one word, Teag,” Grant growled.

“He’d think less of your next round of tall tales, I don’t doubt!” She shot him a sour look, wasted in the dim light. “You have that poor sot fooled—a feat I admit might be a trifle too easy.”

“He’s a good chap with a heart of pure gold,” Grant said. “Keeps us paid, doesn’t he? And agreeing to lure out the Pops Kimble twins for the Feds took some guts.”

Grant held his torch aloft. The outlines of an underground structure appeared in the shadows below. “The Fortress of Castanzo Vallarte,” Grant declared. “Hamwich will thrill to hear of this discovery.”

Teagan tied a firm knot around a rocky outcropping and tugged on the rope. “Only if we find the treasures of the Corazon de Oro. Vallarte’s ship bore wealth from the Ixthacan Empire when it ran aground.”

“True, Hamwich may care more about that,” Grant said. “If he ever hears about it.” He took the rope and descended into the shadows before Teagan could press him for an explanation.

She wrapped the rope around her leg and caught the length between her feet for a measure of control. Even so, her heavy leather gloves grew warm from friction on the descent.

At the edges of the circular plaza surrounded by an underground lake, proud likenesses of the conquistador sneered at Teagan as she stalked across the dusty stone. “What do you mean ‘if he hears,’ Grant?”

Grant had already moved to the front of the rough-hewn fortress. He stood at a pair of iron doors, looking for a means of entry. He didn’t even turn at her voice. “I promised the treasures to Bonhomme in Paris,” Grant said. “He offered twice as much as Hamwich.”

A mechanism clicked out of Teagan’s view, and Grant gave a triumphant laugh as the doors swung open. “Don’t worry. I have a reliable fence with a reputation for discretion. Hamwich need only hear tell that someone beat us to it.”

He crept down the wide hall toward the central chamber, pointing out an obvious trap with a long pole.

Teagan followed, fingering the Saint Nicholas medallion in her pocket. “And if, God forbid, he discovers the truth? He funded the expedition, after all.”

“Not to fret,” Grant said. “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.” He flashed her his devilish smile, the one that shook her steel will and resolve. Then he noticed her hand in her pocket. “I assure you, Saint Nick won’t jot your name on his naughty list, Teag. It’s just business.”

“It’s not Santa Claus, you dolt,” Teagan hissed. “After so many voyages and successful expeditions, even a lout like you has cause to thank Saint Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of sailors.” She swallowed a wave of guilt for ill-gotten bounty. And repentant thieves.

Grant brushed Teagan off. “Me an’ God? That bridge burnt long ago.” He stepped into the main chamber and began a methodical search for Vallarte’s wealth. “God’s of the mindset money’s the root of all evil, and I—like Vallarte—am rather fond of it.”

“Love of money,” Teagan corrected while checking their supplies.

Grant laughed. “Yeah, but who has money and doesn’t love it? We have about four hours before we need to head back. Let’s get to work.”

But after three hours of grueling search, Grant and Teagan sat on the steps outside the Fortress, defeated. “What are we missing, Teag?”

Teagan reviewed research notes she’d meticulously copied. “Castanzo Vallarte dedicated the spoils to the Throne, of course. But historians claim he was infatuated with Princess Anna of Austria, before she married King Phillip.”

She glanced at Grant. “How would you try to win the heart of a queen?”

Grant nodded. “Gold more pure and plentiful than she’d ever seen before…”

Teagan surveyed the plaza’s silent sentinels. “Could Vallarte have hidden his treasure in plain sight?”

Grant grabbed a pickaxe and dashed to the nearest statue. Then he plunged the point into the stone man’s chest. Pieces of rock fell away, and Teagan held up her torch.

Gold glittered in the flickering light.

Grant laughed and broke more of the stone. A flow of coins, cups, and dinnerware poured from the cavity. But Grant’s eyes stared into the statue’s remains. “Teag,” he whispered, breathless, “shine the light here.”

She did so, and beheld a massive golden heart on a stone support. “A literal corazon de oro,” she said with a gasp, “meant for his love.”

Grant pried it free and turned toward Teagan, that charming grin splitting his face—then shrieked at the furry spider crawling across the heart.

Before Teagan could react, she caught the massive heart in the chest with a sickening squish of spider guts. The impact knocked her back, and she splashed into the chilly water.

Weighed down by the massive gold heart, she plummeted into the gloomy depths…

To be continued in “A Trace of Terror”

Lolly-Pops of Peril

Genre: Action, 998 words (including the header and teaser)

The Adventures of Grant McSwain–Doer of Daring Feats, Explorer of Forgotten Lands, and Acquirer of Exquisite Treasures, accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway–continue!

Ragtime piano flooded the air from devices like phonographs atop poles. Contraptions of metal and electricity thrilled spectators outside the bar, which smelled like spilled beer and cigar smoke despite being empty. Teagan’s fruity seltzer—an appropriate beverage for the fairer sex, the barman said—quenched her spirits more than her thirst.
The fairground belonged to crime-lord Pops Kimble’s syndicate, with whom Grant had occasional business. Or scraps. Mostly scraps. And Grant loves dashing headlong into danger.

‘Hear the sound of the future,’ signs proclaimed, ‘at the Springfield World’s Fair.’

The present sounded most displeasing to Teagan’s ears, much like the frilly dress she’d been compelled to wear.

Her partner recounted his harrowing tale to their patron, the rotund Master Hamwich Roquefort. “With care for the priceless contents,” Grant said, “I quickly placed the last pack in the boat’s hold and signaled to cast off.” The satchel near Grant’s feet contained the Ixthacan treasures, including that cursed sun plate Teagan nearly died to retrieve.

“A powerful ruckus befell my ears,” Grant continued. He sprang into a rifleman’s pose and shook the table, jostling the shot glasses. “I steadied my Remington and steeled my nerves. The Amazon tribes are known for their unkind nature and bone-craft jewelry. I had no desire to wind up in some cannibal’s pot, my skull strung about a savage’s neck!

“Then what to my cool, collected gaze did appear but Miss O’Daire, stumbling through the bramble like an oliphaunt on the African plains!”

Roquefort gave the expected guffaw and an altogether unnecessary slap on the knee.

Teagan’s eyes narrowed. “Cool and collected? You shot my hat off.”

Grant brushed aside her concern. “Ah, the fragility of womenfolk. So easily spooked. Merely a warning shot to dissuade the heathen cannibals I saw behind you, Teag.”

“No one followed me. And you said you always aim for the chest.”

Grant raised a finger and smiled. “What fortune yours is minuscule, lest you suffer a mortal wound.”

Roquefort coughed and swallowed his entire glass of whiskey, which stoked Teagan’s jealousy and frustration more than Grant’s insult. What I wouldn’t trade for a shot or two, and a reliable pair of trousers instead of this frippery.

“Say,” Grant said, “how did you escape the depths, Teag?”

Roquefort turned to her with genuine interest, and her hopes of being taken seriously swelled. “Well,” she said with a wide grin, “the pit led to a flooded chamber, where an underground river had carved through the—“

“That reminds me of another remarkable expedition,” Grant said. He began another account of a distant land full of dangers he’d overcome, treasures he’d brought back to civilization, and of course exaggerations about both.

Teagan’s eyes wandered and settled on a pair of children—twins, a boy and girl. They sat on shipping crates across the walkway from the bar, wearing matching sky blue and white stripes, the boy in a vest and trousers, the girl in a knee-high pleated skirt. The girl’s blonde locks burst from her floral bonnet in an explosion of curls. The boy’s straight hair swept back beneath a newsie cap. Both held rainbow-colored lolly pops up to smiling lips.

But their joyless eyes stared at the boisterous Grant.

The pair noticed Teagan’s attention and fixed their shared gaze on her. Then something out of Teagan’s view distracted them. They jumped from the boxes and scuttled off.

A couple of burly dockhands followed close behind—chasing them away from the bar, perhaps? Even at midday, the establishment was no place for impressionable youth.

Grant crouched, reenacting their stealthy observation of an illegal dig in the Peruvian foothills. “The fiends,” he said, gesturing toward imaginary Spaniards. “Clearly they meant to claim Vallarte’s lost hoard. ‘Teag,’ said I, ‘we cannot permit such louts to despoil this sacred site!’ After all,” he explained to Roquefort, “one Vallarte chalice fetched a thousand pounds at Sothesby’s. Imagine a full set!

“So, using their powder kegs and my keen understanding of trajectories, we—”

“Master McSwain,” Roquefort interrupted, eyes darting toward the windows, “I am awed by your exploits. But I must know. The Ixthacan lunar phases and sun plate from the ziggurat—you have these in your possession?” 

Teagan’s head spun toward the sweating man. “Neither Grant nor I mentioned the sun plate… only that I fell through a trapdoor.”

The barroom doors slammed open, revealing the two children, each with a lolly in one hand and a shiny Colt revolver in the other. The dockhands flanked Grant, their muscles rolling with malicious intent.

Master Roquefort crumbled into a blubbering heap. “So sorry,” he wailed. “They assaulted my home a fortnight ago, when your telegram first arrived. My precious Ginny, I couldn’t let them hurt her.”

“Shut up, fatty,” the girl hissed, “or I’ll plug you full of lead faster’n a racehorse’s hoofbeats.”

Up close, Teagan could make out the weight of years in those youthful faces.

“Pops Kimble, I presume,” Teagan blurted out. “People expect one boss, and a full grown man at that. But both of you run the show.”

The boy shrugged. “Growth disorder. What can ya do but play the hand you’re dealt?”

His sister gestured with her Colt. “Back away from the goods.”

Teagan did as instructed and locked eyes with Grant. The bait worked.

He gave her his most charming wink. Then he laid out one of the toughs with a right hook to the jaw.

Teagan darted for the pack. Gunfire erupted from several directions, spraying wood chips and glass shards across the polished floor…

[To be continued, in A Heart of Pure Gold…]

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”]