A Random Bit of Something I’m Working On

The following is just a little excerpt of something I’m working on. A little bit of context: the Nor Eastern spy, Pixie Sinclaire, has hired Roderick La Pierre and the crew of the Pernicious Platitude to retrieve a certain something for some certain people. That certain something appears to be more than it seems and Rigel Rinkenbach wants to discuss it with the Captain. Never mind how Rigel Rinkenbach came to be on La Pierre’s ship…that’s all explained in Where, No One Knows. I just thought I’d offer a more up close and personal view of life in the Blackwood Empire that isn’t provided by the Gazette. Enjoy!

***

“Evenin’, Captain.” La Pierre turns from the deck railing to find one of his crewmen leaning against a bulkhead.

“Grimley.”

“The Nor Easterner wants to talk to you below decks.”

La Pierre curls his lip in disdain. Below decks has always been an unpleasant place. It’s where the crew sleeps, and where they keep the cargo. Sometimes that cargo stinks, especially that one time they had to smuggle a herd of Caldebek Plains sheep across the empire. They were attacked, the sheep got spooked, and they all crapped themselves at once. To make matters worse, they had fed the sheep the wrong kind of grain the night before, so the sheep crap was of a less than normal consistency…seeped right through the floor boards, it did. They must have fertilized half of the Crowndonian plains for the next year, that day.

Even worse than that, by far, is the fact that Rinkenbach has set up his lab below decks, and labs freak La Pierre right the hell out. He just doesn’t understand it, all that science stuff. That lab has all manner of strangely shaped glassware that casts eerie reflections upon the wall, and Rinkenbach likes to work by the disconcerting green hues of eldri-gas lanterns. Which La Pierre also doesn’t understand, because the Eldri-gas lanterns are the one piece of equipment in the joint that Rinkenbach doesn’t hold some sort of patent on.

La Pierre once asked Rinkenbach if he thought it a bit uncouth, only buying stuff he owned. Rinkenbach found the question ridiculous. Why shouldn’t he? He developed most of the equipment out of necessity, out of a need to work with something that didn’t exist, so, he invented it. No reason to go anywhere else. (Except in the case of the Eldri-Gas Lantern, which is something he didn’t KNOW he needed, at least not until he had used it.)

“Yes, sir. Below decks.”

“Very well.”

La Pierre nods and walks past Grimley, who just stays at his spot against the bulkhead. Kind of strange, but La Pierre doesn’t really take much notice. He heads below deck, to Rigel’s lair…um, lab.

He stops at the hatch and prepares himself, then opens the hatch. As soon as he does, a flash of light fills the room and a geyser of smoke jumps into the air from behind a table.

La Pierre starts coughing uncontrollably, waving his hands ineffectually in front of his beet red face in a futile attempt at clearing the air around him of the noxious whatever the hell it is that explosion just produced. Rigel pops up from behind the counter with his back to La Pierre.

“RINKENBACH! WHAT IN BLOODY HELL WAS THAT?”

Rinkenbach turns around. He is wearing thick lab goggles. He reaches up and peels the goggles away from his eyes. His hair is blown back and the tip of one tendril of hair is glowing orange and smoking. Thick soot covers his face except for his eyes.

“Ah, captain. You made it. And this…” he gestures to the mess on the table before him. “This is dinner!”

He reaches down and pulls out a crock pot full of a putrid green mush.

“Spinach and artichoke soufflé!” he says proudly. “Lightly glazed in sweet butter and spiced with plains bone salts. I’m told that it is a Crowndonian specialty. A little taste of home, for you. I thought you’d appreciate it!”

“Um…” La Pierre looks at the dish, wincing. The spinach and artichoke soufflé glazed in sweet butter (which isn’t sweet, and isn’t butter, it’s lard) and spiced with plains bone salts (which isn’t salt, it’s finely ground bone powder), is indeed a Crowndonian specialty, but it was something devised at a time in Crowndon’s history that is better left to memory. It is a dish concocted due to necessity rather than desire, by a group of about 10,000 Crowndonian soldiers who were captured during a war three hundred years before. They were kept in a prison camp deep in Monteddor and abandoned by their captors. They subsided purely on what they had on hand…namely spinach, artichokes, and pigs.

The event of their rescue was something celebrated throughout the Crowndon military, a well worn tradition in which every soldier under Crowndon’s banner was made to eat nothing but the soufflé for an entire week. He’d shoveled his share of the muck down his gullet for years and never wanted to do so again.

“That’s very considerate…I think. Tell me this isn’t the sole reason you had me come down here.”

“What? I didn’t ask for you to come down here.”

“Huh?”

“Oh, but I do have something to show you!”

“But…” before La Pierre has time to process the information that Grimley just lied to him, Rinkenbach grabs the sleeve of his coat and pulls him over to a nearby work bench.

“I was a bit curious about what Pixie had hired us to retrieve for her, so I had Klaus get into the safe we pulled from the passenger ship. Inside was this!”

Rigel points at a green jewel, suspended over another work bench by a strange, vice like apparatus. It is unlike anything La Pierre has ever seen before, cut into a strange eight sided shape, none of the sides the same size. It is the size of his fist. Visions of money spread through his mind.

“What is it?” La Pierre asks. His next immediate question is whether or not it’s more valuable than the salary Pixie Sinclaire has offered to pay for the jewel, but he refrains from asking it. Any intention of screwing over Sinclaire would lead to unnecessary trouble with Rigel, who is obviously smitten with the woman. The two have a past that La Pierre only knows a few details about, but he knows enough to know that much.

“I have no idea,” Rigel says. “But look at this.”

Rigel flips a switch and the bench lights up, illuminating the jewel. He taps on the jewel, and something inside, some sort of powder, shifts.

“What…?”

“It isn’t a jewel. There’s something inside of it. It’s a container. I am willing to bet that whatever Pixie or whoever Pixie is working for is after, it isn’t a jewel, but whatever that substance is.”

“Can you find out what it is?”

“Not without opening it, and that would be a horrendous breach of Pixie’s trust on my part, even more egregious than the breach I’ve already committed by opening the safe. I can hide the safe. I can’t hide opening the jewel.”

“Do it, and tell her I ordered it.”

“Very well. That’s what I was intending to tell her about the safe, anyhow. I just hope it’s enough to keep her ire directed toward you.”

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A Random Bit of Something I’m Working On

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