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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…]


Here’s a fantasy entry for Rachael Ritchey’s weekly Blog Battle, this time centered on the word, “troop.”
Anyone who is willing to read all the short stories posted today (until midnight Tuesday Pacific time) is allowed to give three votes for their favorites. Check out the other participants’ works and let Rachael know what you think.


Mokreesh watched the oncoming merchant caravan with hungry yellow eyes. His misty breath slipped through sharp teeth slick with saliva.

A line of human travelers wound its way like a serpent through the hills south of Aulivar’s glistening white walls. Several mules–tasty if stewed long enough–pulled creaking wagons burdened with crates and barrels. Human scrawl marked the contents, but Mokreesh couldn’t make any of that out. Besides, the mystery was half the fun of collecting the spoils.

First, we have to win… which means breaking the streak of bad luck. His gloved finger traced the scar tissue that covered the right side of his face, a constant reminder of an Arcanist’s fireball.

That was two months ago, Mokreesh thought. And every raid has gone to piss since. Supplies are dwindling, and anger is brewing.

His second in command Grunnash drew his massive blade. Metal rasped and gleamed in the afternoon sun. Grunnash stood with hands on hips, glaring down at the humans. Never one to stoop or kneel, even if it risks giving us away.

He grinned at Mokreesh. “These sheep are fat for the slaughter. Surely this opportunity is ours to seize. On your signal, my chieftain.”

The other marauders hunkered in the bush and bramble along the hillside, awaiting the word. Mokreesh looked on them with pride. He would restore theirs soon.

“Watch out for your troops” had been the previous chieftain’s last words so many years ago. Mokreesh understood. If you take care of your men, they’ll get the job done. In the two decades since Mokreesh became chieftain, that wisdom brought the clan greatness and wealth.

Until that old crone Kalgha cursed him as a stubborn oaf before the altar of Kurnn. Then the bad luck started. Broken weapons in the middle of a fight, unexpected enemy reinforcements when victory seemed certain, the stray spellcast with a one-in-a-million chance that “happened” to sear off half his face.

Mokreesh didn’t buy into all the spiritual mumbo-jumbo Kalgha used to keep the clan in line. But every time he passed the altar now, he felt the flaming eye of Kurnn watching him. And he’d even tried prayer once, using a young human merchant guard as an offering. The man seemed devout; for six hours he had cried out to his gods for deliverance.

Neither of them got the answer they wanted that day.

Today changes everything.

Mokreesh hefted his battle-axe and raised it high. All around him, his warriors tensed, ready for the charge. Bloodlust and hunger shone on their grinning faces.

Mokreesh opened his mouth to bellow a war cry–

A glint of bronze on a merchant’s face struck fear into Mokreesh’s heart like an icy spear. Unbidden memories of anguish and flame filled his mind. Is that an Arcanist’s etching? This caravan may have magic users protecting it.

He noted a flash of armor beneath a wagon driver’s cloak. Are those trained guardsmen disguised among the caravan?

Was that a Gracemark on that woman’s hand? What powers might she possess?

“No good,” he muttered. “No good.” He lowered his weapon to the ground. The thick axehead thudded into the dirt.

Grunnash hung his head and shook with rage. “Fifth time in a row.”

“It’s a trap,” Mokreesh said. “Let them pass. Let’s relocate to the north road. We might catch some craftsmen bringing wares to–”

A sudden searing pain flared to life in his chest. He blinked at the length of bloody metal thrusting out of his ribcage. Words failed him. Weariness rushed through his body, and standing seemed impossible.

Mokreesh slid down Grunnash’s blade and fell to his knees, clutching the gaping wound. His vision blurred, but he could make out his warriors turning their backs and striding away through the brush. Following Grunnash.

Breathing became beyond difficult, and no amount of pressure stopped the flow. Mokreesh gurgled in the leaves and grass. Stabbed through the heart, from behind no less.  

An image of Mokreesh’s former chieftain floated into his mind–a glimpse from the day Mokreesh bested him in combat and took control of the clan.

“Watch out for your troops,” he had whispered as he died.

And now Mokreesh understood.