I found getting back to the boat a bit slow going. My head was still reeling from the events, mainly from coming face to face with the man behind so much horror here in the colonies, and from finding out I had helped a wanted fugitive.
The fact that Von Grimm had called the Rommsbachian ‘Mister Klaudhopper’ didn’t fully dawn on me until I was half way back to the docks, and it was only after seeing a poster for Klaus Klaudhopper that I fully put the picture together. I told myself that it was better that the only person who may be able to answer questions about what happened on Waystation Bravo should get away from Dr. Argyle Von Grimm, even if it meant he was still at large.
However, I deigned to alert the proper authorities that Klaudhopper was in the area.
Once returning to the docks, I located a Marshall’s office and told them what had happened. Only one man manned the desk, and he informed me that they were well aware of Von Grimm’s presence. They had not heard of Klaudhopper, however, nor did they seem particularly interested. Understandable, I suppose, given the more immediate threat of a bunch of mechanized hoodlums tearing the town apart. Since Von Grimm and Klaudhopper were both involved, I felt it likely that dealing with one may mean dealing with the other, so I did not push the matter.
It was only after returning to the boat that I realized that would not happen, for who did I find, standing on the deck, looking out over the river? Klaus Klaudhopper.
I must have gasped in surprise, or made some sort of noise, because he turned to me. Recognition came over his face and he smiled. He thanked me for helping him escape. It took me off guard.
While he struck me as a dangerous man, I did not think him necessarily an evil one, certainly not someone who would maliciously cause the destruction of a Waystation. I told him I knew who he was, and let him know who I was.
“Ah,” he said. “That’s very good. We can strike deal then, ja? You keep mouth shut, I give you exclusive on what happened at the station, once I feel safe.”
I agreed to his terms. Little did I know that we would not get the opportunity.
I came to find out that it was Meriam who suggested that Mr. Klaudhopper come with us after they escaped the library, and that Mr. Klaudhopper had given them an alias (understandable, given the circumstances). Still, I suggested that he stay away from Mr. Mackay, who no doubt would have recognized him on the spot.
Word around the boat that night was that the Von Grimm gang had left the town around sun down, without causing too much damage. They had apparently shot a man’s horse and burned down a hotel…unsubstantiated claims, but I’m loath to believe it. At any rate, the night passed without incident.
We left port at noon the next day, with Doctor Trenum and Mister Mackay finding their way back just minutes before departure and sporting several bags of winnings from some casino or another, not to mention severe hangovers. Klaudhopper vanished shortly before, probably hiding away in his cabin.
Our troubles did not start until well after dark. Most of us were on the boat’s amusement deck when we received word of a fire below decks. Shortly after that, the boat’s paddle wheel stopped turning, and gun fire from the riverbanks began. The gun fire from the banks was a distraction, as several armed assailants, both men and women, scaled the side of the boat from canoes. My first thought was that Von Grimm had caught on to Klaus’ ruse and pursued the boat, but I could tell immediately upon seeing our attackers that this was not the case.
They were a well-trained offensive force, not interested in wanton destruction. Though they were well armed (most of them sported revolvers, which would indicate that they were also well funded), they mainly used their arms for intimidation and crowd control. It was only until Mister Mackay and his security force broke out their own weapons that things threatened to turn truly violent.
But even then, our mysterious attackers practiced restraint. They had Mackay and his team surrounded on the main deck, locked in a standoff. It was then that they informed us of what exactly they were looking for, and of course, that something was Mister Klaudhopper.
Mackay told them that Klaudhopper was not on board to the best of his knowledge. That was when the boat’s upper most port-side cabin at the aft of the boat erupted into a cloud of flame and splinters. Both sides of the skirmish looked up at the wreckage in disbelief before hurling accusations at one another.
A voice interrupted the proceedings, from the roof of the bridge. It was Klaudhopper. All guns pointed toward him, but he did not duck or scurry away. Instead he issued an ultimatum…everyone drop their weapons, or he would blow the entire ship.
That’s when he held up a stick of dynamite.
That tiny stick of dynamite changed everyone’s mood, real quick. I’ve never seen so many loud, A-Type personalities struck so completely dumb that fast before, and I’d be lying if I said I did not enjoy it just a little bit.
Klaudhopper informed us all that he’d lined the interior of the ship’s cargo hold with dynamite he’d found in a shipment heading out from the port of Docryville. It was a claim we were all willing to believe, since the town and many of its sisters in the area had heavy mining interests.
He warned our attackers, whom he called “Cartographer Scum-suckles” (whatever that means), to vacate the vessel or else be blown to hell and gone. And since he wasn’t too keen on Mister Mackay and his men pointing their rifles at him, Klaudhopper ordered them off as well. Which of course would have been very bad for our expedition.
The saving grace of all of this (partially, in any case), was Doctor Trenum. With everyone preoccupied with Klaudhopper, and Klaudhopper preoccupied with the small army below him, no one noticed her make her way up to the roof of the bridge and behind the mad Rommsbachian.
She bonked him over the head with a coal shovel, knocking him down but not unconscious. The situation would have been ended there, except that something completely out of any of our hands occurred, as the dynamite he’d held rolled off of the roof and lodged itself in a wall sconce holding a gas light.
The last thing I remember before Mister Mackay grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me over board was watching Doctor Trenum pull Klaudhopper up by his left arm and jumping from the boat.
Mister Mackay and I plunged into the water, along with several others. Even beneath the surface I heard the deep THUMP of the explosion as the bridge disintegrated into flaming splinters. I broke the surface, saw Mackay swimming for the shore, and followed him.
Upon making land I saw Doctor Trenum hauling Klaudhopper out of the water, alternately laughing and cursing in Rommsbachian. That laughter ended quickly when Mister Mackay set upon the man, demanding to know who he was and who the attackers were.
Klaudhopper clammed up and has not spoken since. I saw no further sign of our attackers.
And that is where I find myself now, dear readers, sitting on the river bank, soaking wet and writing these events down while they are fresh on a sheaf of paper that somehow survived my fate deep within a sealed trunk. I can hear the rapid clopping of horses’ hooves galloping in the distance. With any hope they can get us squared away and back on the road to Lelina.
The men who found us were a posse of Colonial Marshals who’d been traveling south and heard the explosions. Mister Mackay threw Klaudhopper at their feet and informed them who he was. They arrested him and sent him, along with three of their number, to the nearest outpost ten miles to the west.
The Marshals agreed to escort the rest of us to the next town. The trip was without incident, although in my exhaustion I could have sworn I saw movement in the brush, trailing us. I suppose it may have been our attackers, but surely they would have trailed Mister Klaudhopper. We arrived without incident after noon and were treated to lunch by the Marshals’ Chief after he found out who Doctor Trenum and I were. Apparently he’d been told to expect us.
After eating and getting patched up, the Chief informed us that he would be sending several Marshals with us (a revelation that elicited much grumbling from Mister Mackay). He could not cite a specific reason for this, except that the situation in Lelina had changed. Townsfolk have started going missing.
Just one or two at first, the Chief told us. But this past weekend, ten people vanished in one night. I remembered Doctor Rothery’s tale of the Mist Walker. It is foolish, but it caused me to shiver.
We are set to leave in the morning. I am unsure what resources will be available to me in terms of sending out missives, as the area is said to be remote, so I will be sending copies of most of my gathered notes to my editor at the Blackwood Gazette. I know not what we will find in the swamps surrounding the town of Lelina; only know that the horizon ahead is gray, and the air increasingly muffled and humid.
Wish us luck.