I got up at 8 a.m. and went down to Miss Patty’s Pantry for breakfast. The Chinaman was in Miss Patty’s talking to the miner about going to The Bayou to see Zerida, the woman in the vision we saw on the train as we crossed the breach. They were going to get a bayou tracker to lead the trip. They were not sure how long the trip would take.
I was much intrigued by this adventure, but I knew I must get permission from my employers at The Star. Perhaps I could persuade Miss Collette if I offered to complete any errands for her within the bayou. I finished breakfast and told the gentlemen I was mighty interested in accompanying them but must go secure permission from my employers.
At The Star, I requested a short audience with Miss Collette. I related to her the gist of my breakfast conversation and offered to complete any errands might desire while away, if she would grant permission for me to go. She was concerned about the dangers of such a trip and of what Zerida might ask for in return for whatever the Chinaman wanted, but she granted permission for me to go. She said she did not have any errands in the bayou and not to make any deals with Zerida on her behalf. She said that Zerida is always where she was last time; it’s the rest of the bayou that moves. She also said that Zerida would want something in return for her services. I suggested soulstone might be sufficient, but Miss Collette said she’d probably take a part o’ that and leave the stone. Perhaps I should be more cautious, especially given Miss Collette’s misgivings, but I am so curious about this magickal world that I could not pass up this opportunity to explore its wilderness. I was happy to have Miss Collette’s approval but saddened that I could not serve her in some way on this journey.
I left The Star and started back to Miss Patty’s to rejoin our little adventuring party. The rifleman was sitting next to a man who introduced himself as Bayou Bill, our guide. He said that we don’t track the bayou, the bayou tracks us.
The rest of the group arrives and Bayou Bill states the rules of the expedition:
1. We needed gremlins before we leave.
2. If we run into any spawn mothers, don’t attack the spawn mothers. It’ll be a big fishy looking thing with claws and legs that’s out of water.
3. If we see any swamp spirits, use magical abilities, not guns.
4. If we see any waldgeists, dogs made out o’ trees, stay away from the trees and kill them hard.
5. If we find Zerida’s hut, be thankful and don’t cause her no lip cause she aint’ gonna take too kindly to it and he ain’t dyin’ for our lot.
6. First thing, make our offering to Zerida. Then be patient and quiet until she acknowledges our gift. Then we may begin our parlance. It may be round about, but be patient. If you say no, leave right away. If yes, she’ll give you what you’re lookin’ for. Thank her, walk out of the hut, and be gone. We don’t wanna spend more time there than is necessary.
7. Gonna tie a rope to each of us ‘cause we’ll get separated if we don’t.
8. Don’t bring anything but water, food – preferably jerky, as few possessions as possible, oil guns down, container for powder to keep it try, spare change for when we get out but just plan on gettin’ wet and stayin’ wet. And the mosquitoes are big.
I said we should hit up the store before we went for the jerky, oil and what-not. The miner said we needed buttons, thread, and gunny sacks, and Bayou Bill corrected him, “black buttons, shiny as you can get.” I got a list of the ammo the others need, and I ascertained that three others need an oiled book-cover for their journals, as I did.
I checked out of my room at the Fox & Hound, dropped off my costume at The Star, and collected and paid 8$ for the group’s needs at the general store.
At 2 p.m., we got on Bayou Bill’s carriage near the city gate, and then turned away from it and went through the city to Little Kingdom. Here we got on a ferry and crossed the river. In the early evening we started seeing what someone indicated was gremlin architecture. Little stills and shanties. We could hear the sound of banjos in the distance.
We arrived at a ramshackle dock. Bayou Bill said, “We’re cartin’ it from here.” We loaded up and continued on until it started to get dark. Our guide said we should set up camp. The wagon driver helped him, and the miner and one of the others followed Bill’s instruction to catch some tumbleweed to use for kindling. The man who I didn’t quite understand set out with his rifle and shot some game for our dinner. Someone cooked a delicious gamey stew so we were able to save our jerky for another day.
Sitting around the fire, the wagon driver told the Chinaman he heard someone calling him with a hissing sound. I listened for it and slowly realized, slower than the others, that the sound came from a group of animals whose eyes were glowing in the darkness.
Suddenly a large cat sprang into the light and attacked that man who shot the game for our dinner. The creature seemed to have another head that attacked the miner. The creature sprang back into the darkness, but I could still see it. I used my magick to slowly lift it a couple feet above the ground and held it there so that it could not attack us again. The heads looked at one another and made fearsome “mrow” sounds.
The Chinaman attacked the most wounded head, and it became easier to keep the creature aloft. The other men attacked the other heads, and it was floating dead about three feet off the ground. We looked around for Bayou Bill to inquire whether we can eat this creature, but he did not show up for more than an hour. We had not even noticed he was gone. I claimed the skin for my costume. Cedric could surely work around the buckshot holes. The Chinaman wanted its teeth, and the wagon driver wanted its three hearts and three brains. Finally our guide showed up. He didn’t mention where he had been, but he said we could eat the tiger creature.
We kept a one-man watch the rest of the night, and it passed uneventfully, with a few scares that turned out to be bugs crawlin’ in men’s noses and ears. Bayou Bill cooked up some eggs for breakfast. We didn’t ask where he got these huge eggs, but were just thankful for something ‘asides meat – which we now had three days’ worth – to eat.
We broke camp and continued. We saw some skittering movement around the shanties in the distance.
Suddenly the wagon lurched to one side and we saw a great deal of dirt moving about. Unlike last night, I was quick to react, and I used the same tactic of lifting the creature above the ground. It looked a bit like a man and a bit like a mole. It let out a fearsome screech and began moving its limbs quickly in frustration. The man whose skills I was unsure of shot it with his shotgun, and with that one burst of buckshot it went to meet its surely unholy maker.
I was relieved for a moment, but it wasn’t to last. Two more of these heinous creatures appeared from the earth. I didn’t see, but I assume there was a tussle, for that shotgun wielder fell unconscious, slumped in his seat. We fought off the other two creatures, and the miner pushed our wagon out of the hole they had created.
We continued on to the gremlin village. The little creatures were armed with guns the size of themselves and tried their best to look fearsome. One of them mobbed the miner, and he gave one of them two of the black buttons I’d procured in the general store. He cried out, “Oh, Zerida, Zerida, Zerida,” and was promptly mobbed by some others who beat him and fought each other over the buttons. The Chinaman tried giving some gremlins some jerky, but they spit it out, such is their taste.
For some reason, I had expected that the gremlins would look like the small, green creatures I’d seen with Sonia Criid and at the Guild office, being of similar stature and color, but they were not, nor did they affect my magick in any way.
Bayou Bill made some arrangements with the chieftain to “adopt” some little gremlins, and he recommended we bury anything we did not want to get wet. He said the gremlins do not dig, but the boars might smell food and uncover it. The miner tried some of the gremlin’s jug wine, and the little creatures began a revelry of drinking, dancing and banjo playin’.
The chieftain produced two creatures who he said were his “best guys,” but they didn’t look it. I got the impression they had drawn the short straws, or committed some grave sin against the village. Two skiffs were prepared that each carried their gremlin operators and three passengers. Bayou Bill jumped in the water, saying it was safer but not drier down there. He said being up high you might miss some of the predators whose eyes could be seen from the water. I got on the first skiff with the miner and the doctor, and after some quibbling about sharing a skiff with the Chinaman, the wagon driver got on the second one. We set off about 4 p.m.
A couple hours later, the wagon driver said something about dog trees, which the guide has warned us about. I said as much, and Bayou Bill said, “Yes, waldbeasts. Watch out, there’s gonna be some trees comin’ up here.” The river narrowed suddenly, and we saw a wall of trees ahead of us just 20 feet.
I was once again slow to react. The doctor shot at the trees. I tried to remember what Bayou Bill had said. “Stay away and kill them hard.” The tree branches tried to reach out and slap at us, but our gremlin skiff pilots had stopped us just short of their reach. The little green creatures laughed and giggled at the trees’ vain efforts. Bayou Bill said, “Just wait ‘em out. They’ll come out. Don’t get near the trees.”
At last the waldbeasts loped out of the wrathful forest and stood about 20 feet before us. The shotgun man took two blasts at one of them. The wagon driver shot with his pistol at the other. I shot the one the shotgun man had gravely wounded and killed it, and then I took a second shot at the other one, doing just a little damage for my pistol was easy to aim but not that powerful.
The trees lashed out, but all of us on the first skiff dodged its branches. I thought we should pole the skiff backward, but found the miner was already accomplishing this. As I was turned to see this, I was grabbed by the tree and pulled into the forest. Surprised, I am afraid I let out an unmanly shriek.
The branches scraped me up and pulled me into the air, but thanks to my fellow adventurers I was soon let go and plunged into the water. I was wet and muddy, but hardly the worse for wear.