Saturday, June 12, 2021
Welcome, my chuckaboos. I hope everyone is safe and well. The Delta Pearl is almost ready to come into dock. It’s been a complex story, stretching over many months. For quite some time, I’ve only been able to offer extra-short episodes. Happily this one is a normal serial-sized length.
I’m about to unearth some details from the past, as I tie-off the many threads of this story. If you didn’t see the recap last weekend, it might be helpful to you. Use the “Delta Pearl” category on the right margin as a shortcut to all the chapters.
Clockwork creatures continued to emerge from corners and hidden crannies. A silver swan, a citrine bumble bee, and a sapphire bluebird flew to perch on Cécile’s outstretched arms. A moonstone monkey, a rainbow fluorite rabbit, a small rose quartz kangaroo, and a gold grasshopper hopped to stand beside the mambo. Soft clicks and whirs from dozens of other clockworks filled the room.
The Voodoo queen turned toward the empty hallway. Light flashed off the cheval mirror. A tall thin man in a green pinstripe tuxedo was in the reflection. Malachite. He was coming closer.
“I fear it is too late for hiding,” Cécile murmured. “He comes.”
Then she turned to face me. That time I really did scream.
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 75 — Pin
At Cécile Perle’s warning, the moonstone monkey scampered down the hallway toward Malachite. The clockwork made a huge clattering commotion. Dared I hope the creature could lead him away?
Yes, Malachite knew I was there, but I didn’t want to remind him. Seeing his reflection in the mirror, I stuffed my fist into my mouth because I couldn’t stop my horrified scream. I wanted to close my eyes and pray that the monkey made enough noise to cover any sound I made.
However, my eyes were stuck open. I couldn’t take my shocked gaze away from the Voodoo queen’s face. The woman was beautiful, but she had been… altered. Her face was ageless, neither young nor old, and without wrinkle. However, her complexion was the same pallid gray as Malachite’s. What startled me so was her eye. One eye had been replaced by a device similar to a jeweler’s glass, but it had gears and rings that I expected allowed changes to its focus.
When the mambo moved, I could hear the faintest sound of gears whirring. I trembled to think what might be under her taffeta skirts. She seemed to be part human and part clockwork.
If Cécile noticed my dismay, she chose to ignore it.
The Mate lay against a wall doggedly holding onto consciousness despite his wounds.
“Blue, I don’t understand. What is all this?” I asked and tried to stop gaping at Cécile’s face.
“Malachite made the clockworks, but it was Cécile’s Voodoo that gave them life,” he replied raggedly.
“Yes, that’s what she told me,” I said, still finding it hard to believe. “But the Delta Pearl has innate magic too.”
Yes, she does and that was Malachite’s problem,” Blue John Boulton said. “Malachite wanted to take over the Delta Pearl. Cécile had been physically and spiritually connected to the riverboat.”
“Malachite was in love with me,” Cécile explained and tried to quiet Blue. “He wanted it all. The Delta Pearl, the captaincy, and me. He tried to get control of the riverboat, but the Delta Pearl, she belongs to no one. When his takeover failed, she banished him.”
“He begged me to go with him, but I could not. And I would not. Malachite believed that if he separated me from the riverboat, if he could sever the bond, then he could take make me go with him. But since I was unwilling, that made the bond even stronger. I could not go. My heart belonged to another,” Cécile murmured.
As she spoke, tears welled in her one human eye. A red spark appeared in the depths of her mechanical eye, and her lips tightened angrily.
“In his rage, Malachite damaged the Delta Pearl. He accidentally killed me… or as good as anyway… He managed to split the bond. When that happened, I was maimed. Malachite took me away, nearly dead.”
“I had taught Malachite as much of my Voodoo as I could,” Cécile continued. “But what I taught him was only for the making of the clockworks. Also, the magic was not a natural part of him as it is for me. When he tried to use it on me, to keep me alive… Well, you see the result. Now I am as much machine as woman. Once I was a Voodoo queen. Now I am only a bird in a gilded cage.”
Immediately, I remembered Eliza’s music box, and the papyrus scroll. The malachite scarab had dropped the scroll to me, when its master tried to use that net to kidnap me. The holes punched into the scroll had been a match for the music box cylinder, which played the song “I’m only a bird in a gilded cage.”
“Worse, I am severed from the other half of my soul — the Delta Pearl. It leaves me in constant mental anguish. The closer we two come together, airship and riverboat, the more distressing it is to both of us,” she added.
Abruptly I remembered how Victor described the physical sensation when the brown cloud, which was actually the Geostrophic Pearl airship, drew near the riverboat the night that she jumped to a future time.
“I felt the most terrible sensations. It felt like I was on a giant, powerful magnet. As it would be if someone tried to force such a device to touch another magnet, but one of the opposite pole. I could feel the approaching power, and then the way the two repelled one another,” Victor had told me.
“And Blue John was somehow more closely bonded to the riverboat than the rest of the crew,” I murmured in growing comprehension. “So, when the two parts, now opposites, are pulled close together, he is also distraught.”
I looked out the porthole. The Delta Pearl was far below. Tiny shapes of people worked fervently on something. To my amazement a hot air balloon quickly inflated. As it rose higher, I could recognize the shapes of the Captain and the Dealer in the gondola.
“Oh no-no, this is not the way it’s meant to be,” Cécile murmured.
“What is it?” Blue John asked weakly and tried to sit up.
“It’s nothing cher. Lay back and save your strength,” Cécile told him.
The mambo gently placed her hand on the Mate’s chest. She started humming the lullaby I had heard her sing earlier. It was the same song Jaspe used to sing to me when I was small. Blue closed his eyes.
He sank into such a deep sleep that it worried me. I suspected Cécile had done a little more than simply hum a song.
The Voodoo queen glanced at the balloon, which was quickly gaining altitude. She reached up to take a beautifully made model of a balloon from a shelf.
Onyx, the Captain’s clockwork owl, fluttered to the shelf. He perched there, watching curiously.
Cécile tied a length of twine to the toy balloon’s basket. Then she carried it to a very large, heavy quartz geode. She tied the other end of the twine around one of the crystal points that protruded from the quartz. She chanted softly all the while.
Understanding sparked in my brain. I whirled to look out the porthole. The hot air balloon carrying the Captain and the Dealer had stopped its ascent. It floated motionless fifty feet below the Geostrophic Pearl.
Onyx had led the riverboat’s clockwork creatures up to the airship. Abruptly he flew out the porthole. His brass wings folded and he dove toward the descending hot air balloon. The Captain held out his arm, and Onyx alighted.
Cécile slowly wrapped the twine around the long crystal point. She continued to mutter the chant. Each time she wrapped the twine — causing it to become shorter, the balloon outside sank lower. Finally, it came to a rest on the deck of the riverboat.
“Why would you do that?” I cried, knowing she used her magic to prevent a rescue by the Captain and Jaspe.
“Shhh… shush, ma chouchoutte. We mustn’t wake Blue John. He needs sleep if the very small gris-gris I used is to keep him alive. If he had not forbade me to use my Voodoo on him, he could be strong by now,” she whispered but sounded annoyed.
“But the Captain… the Dealer! They would have saved us,” I hissed.
My whispered tirade was cut short. Onyx flew back into the airship. The owl whistled to me. He held a small object in his metal talons. I put out my hands, and he dropped it into my palm.
“The Captain’s all-seeing eye pin,” I murmured, shocked.
It was an intriguing pin. I remembered that it had belonged to his grandfather. An oval white “blister” pearl made the eye, and a large round emerald was the iris. A black diamond made the pupil.
The Captain always wore that pin. I couldn’t believe he would willingly give it to anyone. Why would he let the owl have it?
“The Delta Pearl will not permit a weak heir,” Cécile commented with a little smile.
Then I remembered a conversation I had overheard weeks before. The senior staff of the riverboat had met privately. The Captain meant me to have the pin, or at least its emerald. I gathered it would gradually give me a level of attunement to the Delta Pearl rivaling his own.
In a lightning-fast motion, Cécile took the all-seeing eye from my hand. She held it to her mechanical eye, inspecting it. With a satisfied nod, she pinned the gem to my bodice.
“Mon choupinou Jaspe and Cecil Perlog… Did you know, cher, that your Captain was named for me? But I digress,” she began, but earned a startled gasp from me.
“They are unharmed and safely on the Delta Pearl. The rescue is not theirs to make. That belongs to the Delta Pearl — and to you! You must save yourself if you are to be worthy of the Delta Pearl.” Cécile declared.
The look in her human eye was fierce and frightening — and not altogether sane. I drew back from her expression as much as her words.
Scanning the chamber, I again beheld the dozens of clockwork creatures. Their gems sparkled as the small bodies restlessly shifted. The turning of countless gears created a soft but insistent hum.
Bright yellow-green stones glittered as Peridot gracefully fluttered toward me. The Librarian’s clockwork butterfly secretly contained the gold key that activated the advanced working of the tuning forks used when the crew sang the six-tone scale of the bonding ceremony. Despite my attempts to keep the key when the clockworks exited the riverboat, they had taken it with them.
I glimpsed the small gold rod which was the tuning key. It was in the place which was made for it in the butterfly’s body. Peridot attached herself to my shoulder.
The humming of the gathered clockworks lessened. However, it continued at a lower drone. Ominously it filled the background.
The emerald of the all-seeing eye pin glowed.
End Chapter 75
Let’s see… that takes care of: what made Émeraude scream, why Blue John has been having a breakdown, “a bird in a gilded cage” plus the papyrus (so usefully left by Olga), the all-seeing eye pin plus the “heir“, why Malachite was banished (that was mentioned at Émeraude’s sweet sixteen party when he attacked). No… we aren’t done yet, my chuckaboos!
If you are following my monthly serialized novelettes, Dead of Winter, the June issue is now available.
Dead of Winter: Journey 6, The Fluting Fell
Dead of Winter — The Journeys
Universal Purchase Links
Journey 6, The Fluting Fell
Journey 5, Llyn Pistyll Falls
Journey 4, The Old Road
Journey 3, the Fever Field
Journey 2, Penllyn
Journey 1, Forlorn Peak
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Copyright © 2016 and 2021 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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