Saturday, June 19, 2021
Welcome back, my chuckaboos. How is your weekend? The Delta Pearl is here and it’s bang up to the elephant! There are a few more things to resolve, so let’s vamose.
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 76 — Lunge
A loud whistling sound came from outside. I hurried back to the opening, because I had heard that noise before and it was coming closer.
“Another rocket?” I exclaimed hopefully.
It was indeed, a small rocket and it was strapped to Victor’s back. It wasn’t nearly as large as the other two my inventor had built, but it sped high into the sky.
Unfortunately, he shot straight up and past the Geostrophic Pearl. A moment later, a parachute opened and he drifted down to eyelevel. At first, I could only see his feet as he slowly lowered. I held to the side of the opening and leaned out toward him. However, he was out of reach.
“Émeraude, it’s like the bonding. The Pearls — both of them need the bonding ceremony to be sung!” he yelled.
“Here, can you get this tuning fork? You and the Mate both need to hold one when we start to sing again,” Victor added as he drifted down.
The tuning fork was as long as a man’s forearm. Victor tried to lob it to the open hatch, but his parachute had already drifted lower than the opening.
To my amazement, the moonstone monkey hooked his prehensile tail around the lever that opened the lower hatch, and leapt outside. As the clockwork descended, his tail extended, becoming longer and longer, until he could reach Victor and take the tuning fork. Then the monkey’s tail retracted and brought him back up to me.
“The telectroscope!” he hollered up at me. “Use the telectroscope when the singing begins so everyone’s singing can combine. And remember to make sure the sound is on!”
Victor yelped as he splashed into the river. Not the best swimmer, he floundered. However, Obsidian Durango was circling with the naptha launch, watching for where the inventor would land. In a jiffy, the Cadet fished my inventor out of the river.
Meanwhile Cécile had folded and rolled a sheet of paper into a shape like a tube with feet. She attached a string to it, and held it above a globe. The mambo chanted foreign words I couldn’t understand. The globe began to spin, though she never touched it.
Abruptly I realized the paper object she was meant to represent the airship. She had created a symbolic Geostrophic Pearl.
I felt a subtle movement as the airship shifted direction. Tiny below us, the Delta Pearl was even more distant. We had moved away from the river. The dirigible was above solid ground.
Malachite burst into the room. He pushed his top hat to one side and thoughtfully scratched his head. His eyes narrowed as he beheld me.
“I hear the clockworks. They whisper among themselves. Coo-wee! Boo, you have them all stirred up! Mais, jamais d’la vie — never in my life have I seen them act so!” Malachite declared with a smile and an exaggerated manner.
For a moment I was uncertain whether he mocked the clockwork creatures or me. However, his grin quickly became a sneer. He tilted his head and took a step closer to me.
“I believe you are a bad influence on them, Émeraude Perlezenn. You are no young lady, and not worthy to apprentice Cécile Perle, my Voodoo queen. Why, you are no more than a bonne a rienne — good for nothing,” he told me.
“But no matter, cher. You don’t have to be alive for me to use you to make my queen whole.”
Then he lunged at me.
Without thinking, I stepped backward toward the opening.
Blue John shouted an unintelligible groan.
Cécile looked on with an expression so calm that it made my blood run cold.
A loud mechanical growl drowned out the painful sound the Mate voiced.
The mambo snapped her fingers and the leopard jasper jungle cat moved to her side.
Summoning strength that I didn’t believe he had left, Blue John Boulton rushed Malachite. The two men struggled, but the Mate was too weak from his injuries.
Malachite’s grin was evil. I thought about both the contrast and how much he otherwise resembled the Dealer. It was as if they were mirror opposites. I didn’t know if Malachite would be as strong as Jaspe, but considering Blue’s weakened state, he didn’t need extra power.
The long tuning fork was still in my hands. I took a swing at Malachite with it. He effortlessly knocked me down with a mere swat. I stumbled backward across the room before landing on what was left of my bustle. My frock had been ruined when I first attempted to get inside the airship.
The men were perilously near the opening. Blue John’s words echoed in my mind.
“Émeraude, go back to the Delta Pearl. It eent theirn — it’s ourn. They musn’t take her. I’ll stop Malachite or die trying!” Blue John Boulton whispered fervently. “There’s naught ye can do to help me. I’m wounded but I can take him to hell with me.”
Blue John was obviously week. Sweat streamed from his face. Malachite didn’t even perspire. I wondered if he could…
With an agonized groan, Blue glanced at Cécile. As I struggled to untangle myself from my wretched skirts so I could stand, his eyes met mine. The tortured expression on his face relaxed.
I can take him to hell with me…
“Blue! No!” I screamed.
Then Blue John slumped against Malachite. Blue’s full weight suddenly pressed against the villain. They both sagged toward the opening.
Abruptly, Malachite twisted himself out from under Blue John. Malachite staggered forward to safety.
Unconscious, Blue John fell out into the empty sky.
A chorus of high-pitched chirps and caws filled the air. All the flying creatures of the gathered clockworks swarmed out of the airship. Largest of them, a pink tourmaline flamingo and a phoenix encrusted with glowing fire opals led the way. They quickly dropped below my range of vision.
Above me I heard familiar clicking. My purple clockwork spider perched at the top of the opening.
“Amethyst! I thought I’d never see you again,” I cried.
My spider blinked her four eyes at me, but otherwise ignored my presence. She busily spun a line of sliver thread. It wasn’t anything I could call a web, but it was more complex than a simple rope.
Malachite stood, dusting himself off with a flourish. He righted his top hat. Then he turned toward me with that same wicked grin.
I backed as far away from him as I could. I had no weapon, but I still clutched the tuning fork, hidden behind my tattered skirts.
Then the small clockworks began returning. My hope died when I saw the sapphire bluebird. The flying creatures must not have been able to stop Blue John’s fall. I knew it would have been impossible… but I had hoped.
The large pink flamingo came in with an awkward wobbling landing. It had been damaged. I guessed its mechanical wings weren’t strong enough to cope with the weight of Blue’s descent. Tears streamed down my cheeks.
Malachite continued an inexorable approach. Before I realized my mistake, I had again backed toward the opening in the side of the air ship. Malachite lunged for me.
In truth, I was just trying to get out of the way, but I thwacked him between his eyes with the tuning fork. A loud tone reverberated from the fork. It set my teeth on edge. Malachite, having the noise, along with the pain of the impact right on his forehead yelled in pain.
However, it barely slowed him. He stuck out his arm and would have grasped my shoulder, but I moved in time. His grab tore my sleeve. I could tell that I wasn’t going to escape him.
Abruptly I heard the deep grinding sound of the clockwork leopard’s growl.
“Gee-peh!” the leopard growled as it sprang into Malachite.
With a lash of his tail, the clockwork jungle cat knocked me out of the way. Amid the rustle of taffeta skirts, Cécile positioned herself between Malachite and me.
Astonishment painted his face. He shook his head and then sneered with contempt.
“My love, she is not worthy to be at your side. She can never be what you are. Only I can love you as you are. Only I am your protégé. I can use her body to heal you. I know that I can!” Malachite cried.
A tear glistened in Cécile’s human eye. She bowed her head.
Malachite made a furious sounding groan.
At a nod from the Voodoo queen, the clockwork leopard sprang against him, knocking him off balance. Then the cat raised a big paw and swatted him so hard that both his feet came off the floor and he flew out into the sky.
Cécile cried silently. Then she started humming that Cajun lullaby. She glided to me and stroked my hair as if I was a small child. I didn’t know I was sobbing until she began trying to shush me.
“It will be alright, cher. Somehow it will be alright.”
Amethyst began clicking excitedly from her high perch. On a trail of silver, my spider swung out of the air ship.
“Amethyst!” I sobbed, because it was all too much.
Tears blinded me, but I felt a blast of hot air. Rubbing my eyes, I watched as the head of the clockwork phoenix rose into view. Its fire opal eyes blazed. The flapping of its wings was thunderous. Brass talons held Blue John’s shoulders.
Amethyst swung back into view. With her silver threads she looped around Blue John. Abruptly I realized that the wingspan of the phoenix was too broad for her to get Blue safely inside.
My spider’s swing took her from the Mate over to the leopard. Her silver webbing wrapped around the jungle cat’s shoulders. The big clockwork pulled Blue inside and to the cot where Cécile previously tended his wounds.
The Mate’s eyes blinked. He looked at us blearily.
“You fool man!” Cécile cried.
Then she launched into a Cajun scolding that I was glad I couldn’t understand.
End Chapter 76
No, my chuckaboos. We aren’t quite done yet! Come back next weekend for a benjo episode. Meanwhile I hope you’ll leave a friendly comment. Until next time, hugs on the wing!
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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