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 Black Storm Rising: Against the Swamprats

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PostSubject: Black Storm Rising: Against the Swamprats   Wed Feb 13, 2008 1:49 pm

(This story is a continuation of the storyline started in Le Château des Chats: Dark Tidings)

Dark Storm Rising: Departure


Lighting flashed across the churning seas as the trees on the shore bent under the weight of wind pressed against them. Men hurried to and fro, clutching fast to their hats lest they should lose them as they moved about their business. Upon the beaches of the Le Château des Chats a great array of food and provisions, both martial and victual, were being prepared and carefully loaded into the waiting ships. Dogs barked in the early pre-light gloom, and men shouted to be heard over each other and the constant boom of thunder.

Bare chested men, sweating despite the chill wind due to their exertions, carried great crates of small arms and shot up the waiting gangplanks, while on their heels long lines of soldiers waited to make ship. On the decks of the waiting vessels Bosuns stalked about, inspecting the rigging and tackle, ensuring all was in order. Sailors crawled over the surface of the ships, making last minute repairs and getting the fleet in readiness. Over four hundred men had been assembled, several having arrived early in the morning from the nearby town of Tampa, having been hired nary the day before for the expedition. Madam Baudelaire spared no expense, and had paid the soldiers directly from her own coffers. Over twice the needed provisions were being stowed aboard the vessels as well, food for the captured French colonists they hoped to rescue, as well as inventory to trade with the local natives in order to secure a guide to the pirates hidden base.

Watching the frantic activity, Josie stood on the small hill overlooking the Château's small cove, now a frenzy of activity, and saw all was almost in readiness. Standing beside her were two of her Captains, being Pascal and Captain Pépin.

Leaning in close, Josie's long time friend and confidant Mademoiselle Pépin spoke up, raising her voice to be heard over the din of noise, "Captain Royer says his navigator knows of a relatively safe harbor just up the coast from Carlos Harbor. He is consulting with the man and his charts at present."

Josie simply nodded, showing she had heard and understood her friend. It had been decided that Captain Royer would lead the expedition, his innumerable years of service and experience in the French Navy making him the ideal candidate. He had taken the task to heart, and set about the business of organizing the force with a stern determination and vigor that demanded one's best. The expedition forces were shaping up rapidly, and would be ready to sail with the tide in but a few scant hours.

Looking up at the dark storm clouds, which had yet to release their watery cargo, instead content to brood over the land below them, Pascal spoke up as he rubbed his hands together to keep them warm, "We could ask for better weather though, safe harbor or no."

Her face stern, Madam Baudelaire replied tersely, "We sail as soon as all is in readiness, whether we have clear skies or tempest. Those people need us, and I will not let fear of getting wet deter our efforts."

Pascal, somewhat rebuked, looked as if he might consider correcting his Madame's interpretation of "fear of getting wet" versus "giant ship-wrecking storm", but he thought better of it and simply nodded, shoving his hands inside his wool merchants jacket. "But of course Madame" he replied, looking back towards his own ship, The Velvet Hammer. The Hammer was being loaded to the gills, carrying most of the provisions and weapons for the expedition, being the only true cargo vessel the small fleet had. Experience had taught him to be wary of overloading such a craft in the face of such storms, for such foolishness could cause a ship to founder if caught alone in such terrible squals these seas were capable of producing, but he reassured himself they had not far to go to reach the outskirts of Carlos Harbor, a few days journey at most.

Below them the shrill sound of a whitsle could be heard, the first mate of the Bloodwine, acting as Captain Royer's Adjunct, indicated the last of the supplies and men had been loaded onto the waiting ships. Dozens of workers that would stay behind helped clear the small docks in preparation for the fleet's departure.

Turning to her two Captains, Madam Baudelaire said, "The hour is upon us. Good sailing, and may God watch over us on our endeavor. I shall be taking the voyage aboard the Bloodwine with the good Captain Royer."

Seeing her two subordinates salute smartly, Josie turned and walked down the hill towards the waiting ships, her two Captains following closely behind her.

----

Josie cursed as the quill went wide once more, leaving a long smear of ink across the page for the second time in as many minutes as the deck beneath her heaved once more. The deck beneath her groaned, heard even over the wail of the wind against the port holes. A particularly heavy gust found its way through some of the cracks and caused her hooded lantern hanging from the ceiling to flicker rapidly, sending crazed shadows dancing over the Captain's Quarter's walls. Sighing and returning the quill to its home, she bottled the inkwell and pushed her journal aside.

Who am I kidding she told herself. I don't have anything to write more than I did half an hour ago, and trying to in this weather is daft. Standing up slowly, her legs shifting under her as the boat rocked back the other direction, she crossed to the small liquor cabinet secured firmly against the wall. Perhaps some Black Rose Privat will calm the nerves she considered, carefully pouring herself a glass, not without difficulty in the rolling ship.

The storm had been raging for nearly two days, and indeed the small fleet had "gotten a little wet". They had already lost two men overboard amongst the three vessels, one having been simply plucked from the rigging and tossed out to sea as if by some giant hand as he attempted to reef the topsail against the gale. The other had disappeared after a mighty wave had crashed over the overloaded Velvet Hammer's bow. Shaking herself out of her reverie, Josie took a long draught from her silver wine goblet, enjoying the rich flavor of her estates famed merlot. Soon the wine warmed both her body and spirit, and she found her spirits lifted somewhat.

Her thoughts drifted back to those of Emily, whom she had no choice but to leave behind under the careful ministrations of Miss Margo as she made her journey. She was almost back to full health, but still rarely spoke and often woke crying or screaming, or both. Do not worry my love, you will have nothing to fear very soon now... Josie thought grimly as she finished the last bit of wine, placing the goblet back on its hook.

Overhead she could barely hear one sailor shouting out to the next, struggling to be heard over the crash of the ocean and the wail of the wind. Josie stepped over to her bureau, where upon it laid her black laquored pistol, its blue-tinted barrel covered in delicate etchings. Above it, mounted on the wall were the reassuring sight of her sword and dirk, their deadly edges gleaming in the shifting lantern light. Reaching out, Josie ran her fingers over the delicate etchings below her. The weapon had been her Father's once, left behind at their Family home in Champagne for her Brother once he was to come of age. With both now dead and their old lands burned and gone, the weapon was one of her only links to her past and family. In its own way, she felt the weapon wanted, deserved, revenge just as much as her.

Distracted from her grim thoughts, Josie looked up as she heard the cry go up from above. "Land ho!" came the shout, repeated by those on deck so all might hear. The fleet had been forced out to sea in order to better weather the storm, and had only earlier in the day turned back towards shore... and their destination.

A knock came on Madam Baudelaire's door, polite, but insistant as the voice of her cabin girl, Marie-Thérèse, could be heard to say, "Captain, the lookout has spied land Madame."

Crossing to the door and opening it, Josie looked down at the young teenager and said, "Very well. Come and help me make myself ready for landfall once you have sent my compliments to Captain Royer for a fine piece of navigation."

"Yes mam" the girl replied, turning and sprinting back into rain drenched decks at a pace only one born to a ship could master in such a storm.

Josie turned back towards her weapons, her face grim, yet expectant. Soon now, soon...


(...to be continued...)
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PostSubject: Re: Black Storm Rising: Against the Swamprats   Wed Feb 13, 2008 7:09 pm

Black Storm Rising: The Hunt Begins


Madam Baudelaire winced as she watched the last longboat beach itself at too great a speed on the rocky shore of the small cove. It would appear the term "Safe Harbor" was somewhat overstated... Josie thought to herself grimly as she watched the longboat splinter and come apart, spilling its contents of men and cargo across the front of the beach. Several dozen of the waiting sailors and soldiers rushed to their companions aid, pulling them from the windswept waters even as another wave crashed against them.

Looking up from the scene, that had been repeated more than once in the last several hours, Josie could barely spy her three ships at anchor offshore. The rains continued to pound down around them, the sound of the heavy raindrops falling to the jungle floor around her from the cover of the broad leaves overhead. The expedition had spent the greater part of the last three hours ferrying its men and goods to shore, and was now making a small camp at the edge of the dense jungle lining the beach. Further inland it would give way to swamp until the land rose once more to form a small series of natural foothills, the last reported spot of the Swamprats secret base of operations.

Turning to her left, she thanked Marie-Thérèse as she handed her a luke warm mug of coffee. Taking a sip, Madam Baudelaire grimaced as the hastily made brown liquid hit her tongue. This has got to be the worse cup of coffee I have ever had she thought. Seeing the expectant look on her cabin girl's face, and knowing the extreme troubles she had gone through to get the fire lit, against the storm no less, to have it made, Josie instead said, "Ah, a wonderful cup of coffee Marie. You have my thanks."

Looking relieved, the young girl curtsied and let a smile come across her boyish face, saying, "It was nothing Mademoiselle."

Returning the smile, Madam Baudelaire continued, "Now, if you don't mind, could you please fetch the good Captains and escort them here. I have things I wish to discuss with them."

"Yes Mam!" Marie-Thérèse replied, turning and sprinting back out through the throngs of soldiers in her search for the three Captains. Waiting a moment as she watched her young cabin girl leave, Josie discretely poured the foul brown liquid from her cup and set the drink aside. Adjusting the fit of her corsette once more, Josie turned thankfully towards the warmth of the small fire and awaited the arrival of her Officers.

----

"To set out at once would be folley of the highest order of magnitude Madame!" spoke the impassioned voice of Captain Royer.

Madame Baudelaire returned his stare for a moment, letting out a sigh after a moment as she realized he was right. "And your opinion, Pascal?"

Taking a moment to gather his thoughts, the rotund Captain cleared his throat and spoke hesitantly, clearly not relishing the idea of disagreeing with his Madame as he said, "I must agree with the opinions expressed by the good Captain Royer. The voyage, although not long, has been hard on both the men and equipment, and they need a chance to redeploy and sort themselves out. A day or so at most, Madame. No more."

Turning towards her long-time friend Captain Pepin, Josie looked at her inquiringly. Taking a stiff shot from her personal flask before answering, the older woman looked up and answered, "You would not drink a wine after it had been in the cask for less than a week, would you Josie? Here it is the same."

Throwing her hands up in mock despair, yet with some very real frustration, Madam Baudelaire said, "At first the elements are against me, and now my very own Captains! What will be next? I'll have you know, I will remember this when it comes time to pay out the bonuses!" she let her voice soften to let them know she was not being serious. Shaking her head, she took the small silver flask from Captain Pepin and took a swallow. "Sacre blu, this swill is aweful!" she said as she nearly gagged on it.

"Finest whiskey available, made in old Ireland. Got some from a fellow Confederate named 'Pete' a few weeks ago" replied Captain Pepin, smiling as she took back the flask and stowed it inside her longcoat.

"Remind me to introduce him to finer drinks ere we meet in person. I am afraid I will never get this taste out of my mouth" Josie said as she turned back towards the fire.

The moment of tension over, the three Officers and Madam Baudelaire began to speak in earnest about what the next few days would entail, having to speak loudly to be heard over the raging storm overhead.

----

At the dawn of the new day the storm had abated, leaving the skies a dull, slate grey devoid of features. The oceans had calmed somewhat, and visibility had increased dramatically. The work in camp had begun in earnest, crates being unpacked and pried open, revealing their fresh, dry contents that were quickly distributed amongst the waiting troops. A dozen parties of men, each ten strong, were sent into the surrounding jungles and swamps to see if they could make contact with the local natives. Without their aid the expeditions chances of success were close to nothing.

Small arms were given to the waiting men, each being armed with a musket and enough powder and shot for a sustained engagement. In addition half a dozen donkeys had been carefully transported via longboat from the Velvet Hammer and were being loaded with supplies. They would carry the larger crates of foodstuffs and provisions for the force. The first day went by rapidly, and although Madam Baudelaire was eager to get moving, she displayed a great patience as she awaited the return of her scouts.

It was the early evening when the first of them returned, numbering only eight strong now as they reported having come into contact with a small band of buccaneers that had been making their home nearby. Apparently the confrontation had not gone well, and now the buccaneers were a half dozen less in number, and two of her scouts had died. The rough men that made their living off the land could often be described as pirates, but clearly weren't the Swamprat scum they were looking for.

Later in the evening two more patrols came back empty handed, each reporting trecherous terrain and dangerous swamp animals in the surrounding area. One party had lost a man to some form of snake that had skimmed across the surface of the water as he waded waist deep across the swamp, his musket held over his head to keep the powder dry. Josie was starting to get discouraged.

On the morning of the third day her luck changed for the better. Two parties returned simultaneously, both having met up in the swamp by accident as they stumbled upon a fair sized native village. One of the sailors was a mullato who had grown up in the region, and knew enough of the natives language to speak to them. When it had become clear that they were here to rid the place of the marauding pirates making their home here, the natives had offered to help immediately, offering up a half dozen of their male warriors as scouts.

Madam Baudelaire did them one better, and sent one of the natives back with a dozen of her men carrying fresh food and supplies for the tribe as a token of her gratitude. By just after noon the force had mobilised and began marching in earnest. The force was split into roughly three teams, each consisting of just over a hundred men being lead by a pair of native guides. They followed the same path initially, but the plan of action called for them to split forces once they neared the pirates hideout in order to completely encircle their opponents.

The jungle through which they travelled soon gave way to swampland, tall reeds swaying in the chill wind as the skies overhead maintained their stormy composure. Despite the storm and foul weather of just a day or so past, the insects and mosquitoes of the region were out in force, biting anyone and everyone any place their body was exposed. The expedition was forced to make camp early that night, their guide telling them that there would be no land suitable enough for such a large force for several more miles if they pressed on.

That night was miserable. The weather, still oppressively grey, had gotten hot and muggy, and everyone had a thin sheen of perspiration covering their foreheads and arms. A disturbing cough had begun through great segments of the troops, and everyone's mood was tense and on edgy. Josie herself found it difficult not to snap at her underlings, and retired early for the evening, eager to be done with the day. She slept poorly however.

----

The next day was a distinct improvement, the dour clouds overhead cracking for the first time in a week to reveal small slivers of blue sky beyond them. The force got an early start, eager to be away from the constant annoyance of bugs and water. They made good time for their first time, moving quickly over great sections of swamp now that the land had dried out somewhat. By the end of the day they had left most of the swamp behind them, and had begun to notice the land rising ever so slightly below them. The cypress were being replaced by the occassional fir and oak, and the land was becoming rocky and firm.

That night would be the last time the group camped together before their assault. Lookouts were posted now that they were close to their destination, and fire restrictions were in place. Now would not be the time to lose the element of surprise, no matter how attractive the prospects of a fire seemed. The men were tense, yet upbeat for the first time since they had set out. They were close, they could feel it. Weapons were cleaned and re-cleaned, swords sharpened and muskets primed.


Madam Baudelaire had one last meal with her Officers and their First Mates, digging into the provisions more sought after items and goods to offer a sumptous feast. Wine was had by all, and a double rum ration given to the troops. That night they slept well, nervously expectant as to what the new day would bring....


(...to be continued...)
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PostSubject: Re: Black Storm Rising: Against the Swamprats   Thu Feb 14, 2008 12:15 am

[Excellent stories, great to be in a society filled with talented writers]
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PostSubject: Re: Black Storm Rising: Against the Swamprats   Thu Feb 14, 2008 5:33 pm

Clutching the book in suspence as she lay in bed, Serafie could not wait for the next chapter. A mostly empty glass of red wine was close by on an end table. She especially enjoyed every read from this auther and spared no expense to have all of her books shipped to Tampa from Europe.

(love the stories, they help make the game more immersive. If Madam wrote books, Serafie would be eating them up ) cheers
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PostSubject: Re: Black Storm Rising: Against the Swamprats   Thu Feb 14, 2008 6:02 pm

(...thank you Cathern! I have been an dedicated reader of your stories as well, and have enjoyed the insights into your character's mindset and personality you manage to work into your stories. Bravo!)


Black Storm Rising: Rat Slaying


Josie bit her lower lip as she tried to calm her nerves. All around her she saw her comrades in arms doing the same, each coping with the stress of waiting in their own manner. One soldier had his eyes closed and his lips moving silently in a last minute prayer, another kept rolling a piece of eight over his knuckles, time and time again. Tensions were high as everyone crouched behind the last line of scrubby oak trees, all that seperated them from the heart of the pirate camp only fifty yards away.

The expedition forces had spent the greater part of the day approaching the camp, taking every precaution to move as silently as possible. Luck was with them, and that coupled with the pirates apparent complete disdain for security, had allowed them to get into position just before nightfall. Perhaps it was their confidence that their hide-out was so remote and inaccessable, or perhaps the lookout had decided to shuffle off for a game of dice, Josie would never know, but she did plan on taking advantage of it either way.

As they had originally discussed on the beach so many days ago, their force broke into three sections before circling and approaching the camp. Captain Royer's men would lead the initial charge, first firing a volley of fire from their muskets before engaging. Pascal's troops were to hang back and act as a rear-guard, spread out around the peripheral of the camp to catch any runners and add fire support were needed. Josie had attached herself to Captain Pepin's group, whose sole purpose was to rescue the captured French colonists and get them to safety during the fighting. It was up to Captain Royer when to engage, and now that they were seperated and in position, there was nothing to do but wait.

As Madam Baudelaire slowed her breathing she managed to calm herself somewhat, focusing herself on the task at hand. She heard the rowdy, boisterous voices of the pirates enjoying their evening meal, singing loudly as they ate around a series of large campfires. They had at least two French prisoners, both woman from the looks of them, serving them and doing their bidding. The rest of the prisoners were towards the back of the camp, near where Josie lay in waiting, guarded by only a handful of dejected looking guards who clearly would have prefered to be with the rest of their companions enjoying the meal and entertainment.

The camp was a sprawling thing, laid out with little rhyme or reason as far as Josie could tell. Several structures littered the area, looking for all the world like the make-shift shanty town it was. A large clearing had been made near the center of the camp, and was home to at least three large bonfires that seemed to act as the central meeting ground for the Swamprats. A small hill rose towards the rear of the camp, a natural cave barely visible at the base of it. It was next to this that the makeshift cages full of prisoners were located, the two guards standing on either side of cave entrence speaking with one and other.

A flock of birds suddenly flew up from the far side of the camp, beating their wings rapidly as they ascended into the darkening evening sky. Several of the pirates on the edge of the camp turned in their direction, heads craned up at the fowl as they disappeared into the dusk. It was then that the first musket report sang out, its booming report heard even over the obnoxious singing...

----

Even as the first pirate fell, a ragged hole blown through his chest, a chorus of gunfure followed close on its heels. Over fifty muskets fired in the first volley, the nearby bushes and shrubs exploding outwards as the hidden shooters fired at last. A pall of white smoke rose over their heads and the scent of ignited powder was rich in the air around them. The edge of the camp near them wilted under the weight of fire, great chunks being blown out of the nearest flimsy structures from the few shots that went wide. In the first moments of the engagement over twenty pirates fell to the ground, most not even being aware of what had killed them.

----

Josie stood up from her hiding place, lowering her sword as she yelled, "Now!" A half a dozen shots belched out, striking the bewildered guards who were staring in disbelief at the other side of the camp. Both bodies slammed back against the hard stone behind them, crumpling into heaps at the foot of the cave. Several of the prisoners screamed pitiously, huddling together in the center of cage for protection.

"Come on! Follow me!" Madam Baudelaire cried as she sprinted forward, soldiers and sailors following in her wake. She was half way across the distance to the prisoners when a half dozen pirates suddenly burst forth from the mouth of the cave, vicious snarls on their faces as they came out shooting. A shot flew so close by Josie's head that it blew the hat off of her head, her unruly blonde hair falling over her face as the hat went twirling away. Three men behind her screamed briefly and fell, their companions leaping over them to engage the enemy.

Josie had no time to think, no time to appreciate how close she had come to death, instead she reacted. Pulling forth her black lacquered pistol she fired it at point blank at one of the pair of pirates rushing towards her, blasting him off his feet to go twirling away, his shoulder a bloody ruin. His companion took no notice of his friends untimely demise and closed the remaining distance towards her and brought his curved sabre down towards Josie's head. Dropping her pistol and letting it hang from its black leather cord, she had just enough time to bring up her sword and parry the attack that would have ended her life. The pirate pressed against her, his stink alone almost overpowering her on its own. He leaned in close to the two blades as they were locked together between their faces, leering at Josie with his one good eye.

"You look like a pretty catch, birdy. I can't wait to get you home and pluck you myself" he growled, eyes full of murder as he used his greater strength to force her backwards precariously. Suddenly his expression changed to one of confusion as his grip lessened on his sword. When he tried to speak, only a gurgle of blood came forth as his sword fell from his hand.

Holding her dirk lodged quite firmly into his abdomen, Josie looked him in the eye and replied, "Not this time pirate. Don't you know rats can't catch birds..." as he let him slump to the ground.

She looked up in time to she the rest of her men running past her to engage the remaining pirates, who stood their ground and fought to the last despite the overwhelming odds against them. In other men she might have considered it bravery. Here she just wanted to see them dead.

----

(...to be continued...)


Last edited by on Thu Feb 14, 2008 6:15 pm; edited 2 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Black Storm Rising: Against the Swamprats   Thu Feb 14, 2008 6:08 pm

Black Storm Rising: The Bloody End

----

The second volley had completely leveled one of the neary shacks several pirates were hiding behind, exposing them to the merciless rounds to follow. However, for all its fury, far fewer pirates fell, most having dropped to the ground and taken cover as soon as they heard shooting, reacting to instincts honed over a lifetime of fighting. Realizing they were outgunned, the pirates did one of the only sensible things they could. They charged directly at their attackers, yelling as they came. A few hung back, taking pot shots with their muskets and pistols, firing haphazardously into the pell mell melee that had erupted throughout the camp, not caring too much whom they hit as they cackled and reloaded.

Captain Royer was in the thick of it, a tight knot of experienced veteran marines surrounding him as they pressed the attack. Despite his advanced age, Captain Royer held his own, his sabre flashing back and forth with amazing speed, leaving a trail of crimson in its wake with every passing of its deadly blade. The expedition troops rallied around him and surged forward, pushing the pirates into a tighter and tighter circle as they fought for their lives.

----

Madam Baudelaire watched as the soldier in front of her hacked the rope holding the cage shut with his sword, wrenching the crude door open for his waiting madame. Josie stepped in gingerly, her blades sheathed and her hands out reassuringly in front of her as she walked slowly towards the captives. Her heart broke as she saw the conditions they had been forced to live in, their clothes nothing more than rags, their bodies covered in mud, fesis, and dried blood and bruises.

"My name is Josephine Baudelaire, and I am here to free you. We have food and water and fresh clothes for you, but you must come with us immediately. It is not safe for you here" she pleaded with them.

Several turned their faces towards her, staring blankly as if they could not comprehend what they were seeing. An elderly gentleman, his grey hair matted against his balding head, made to speak but only gurgles came forth. Josie noticed with some revulsion that his tongue had been cut out of his mouth.

Seeing that they hadn't moved, she stepepd a little closer and knelt nearby, saying in a quieter voice, "Please, I need you to come with me. I promised someone very dear to me I would find you, and I do not want to disappoint her." At this she paused, afraid to ask her next question, "Is there a little girl by the name of Ingrid-Elisabeth here?"

At this one of the woman looked up, a protective defiance in her eyes as she said, "You won't dare lay a finger on her!" It became clear that the group huddling in the center of the cage had been hiding the girl in their midst, protecting her with their very lives if need be.

Speakingly slowly, but calmly, Madam Baudelaire said, "I am here because her sister Emily, who escaped this place and found her way to my estates by the will of God. She pleaded with me to find her sister, and all of you, and so moved was I that I gathered together all of my forces and set out at once. I have grown very fond of the girl, and would have her reunited with her one remaining family member. I swear on my honor as a Frenchwoman that they will be cared for as if they were my own children!"

Hearing the passion in the kneeling Josephine's voice, the pleading, compassionate request struck a chord with the huddled prisoners, rekindling their humanity and spirit. It was like a candle that had been flickering and on the verge of going out had been hooded, glowing brighter and stronger than it had mere moments ago. Slowly they parted, revealing a thin, scared looking little girl, aged no mroe than three or fours years old.

Looking towards Josephine, the little girls said, "E-emily?" The look she gave Madam Baudelaire broke her heart.

"Yes love, she's safe and sound at my house, playing with Miss Margo and causing Gaston no end of trouble I am sure. She misses you very much" Josie said, her voice waivering.

After a brief moment of tension, she walked forward and put her hand in Josie's, following her out of the cage. The other prisoners, seeing this, soon followed after, shuffling out of the cage, or in some cases being carried out when they were found to be too faint to move on their own. The group was ushered through the remianing fighting, a strong cordon of men on either side of them as they made their way back into the forest.

----

The fighting took the greater part of two hours to finish. The pirates gave no quarter, nor did they expect any. The fighting had been savage and brutal, often descending into a bloody hand to hand brawl on both parts as it raged through the middle of the camp. The expedition forces had thought themselves victorious after the firsst hour, all of the pirates laying dead at their feet. The losses had been high on both sides, despite the expeditions advantage of surprise. Although none would admit it, the pirates were easily capable of outfighting most of the French sailors man for man.

It was when they went to investigate the cave when things went wrong. A group of soldiers lead by Captain Pepin slowly entered the cave, swords and muskets held before them as they raised their torches high. It was then that the furious report of a cannon firing was heard, belching fire out of the cave's interior. A mass of grapeshot flew through the ranks of the oncoming soldiers, killing most of them instantly as the tightly packed lead balls met with flesh. Captain Pepin herself screamed in pain as one of the shots ripped her knee off at the leg, causing her to collapse to the ground screaming, wounded, but still alive.

Next begun the bloody task of rooting out the last holdouts of the pirate gangm holed up as they were in their bolt hole. It took three waves in total to oust them, each one rushing towards the heavily defended cave mouth one after the other in order to ensure that the pirates had no time to reload their cannon. What they discovered beyond was a warren of tunnels and caverns that lead deep into the earth, having been formed out of the natural limestone deposits laced throughout the region.

Vast chambers full of riches were uncovered, along with other more horrific discoveries, like the room full of human bones that had been bound together to make furniture and other dark designs. Exploring the entire complex took hours, and it was not until the break of the new dawn that they had completed their search.

More ill news was soon discovered as the expedition gathered its forces and regrouped. Pascal had not returned to the camp that night, nor had over twenty of his men. Those that did from his group on the perimeter reported that they hadnt seen him in hours, but had heard some fighting, but had assumed it to be from the cave or camp itself. A search was organized, and later found the mutilated remains of the merchant Captain and several of his guards, hacked bodily limb from limb. Nearby a small cave exit was discovered that lead into the cave system lacing the ground under them. It was Captain Royer who bent over and noticed the playing card stuck into the bloody chest of Pascals corpse, a dagger pinning it in place. Pulling the dagger free and tossing it aside, he picked up the card and handed it to Josie. It was the Jack of Spades. The two looked each other in the eye, holding each others gaze for a long time.

----

The return trip was easily more difficult than the voyage there had been. They now had dozens of wounded men with them, not to mention the stumbling forms of the French colonists they had come to free. Captain Pepin had to be carried on a makeshift stretcher the entire journey, her fevered screams heard throughout the long column of soldiers. Over three hundred souls had marched into that swamp. Fewer than two hundred were marching out.

Few words were exchanged between them as they moved, each absorbed with their own thoughts. They had won. They had accomplished what they had set out to do, but at what cost. In recompense for their efforts, the confiscated loot they had uncovered was worth a small fortune, comprising of several thousand pieces of eight, silver plate, and assorted stolen gems and jewelry. It wasn't enough to take the horrifying shock out of the loss of life that had occured however. Saying good bye to their native guides on the final day, they were more than happy to leave this stretch of land for good, and never come back.

Weighing anchor and turning back out to sea, the three ships of the Baudelaire fleet made for home, the skies overhead a clear blue for the first time in weeks. Two of the three vessels were being Captained by their First Mates as they picked up speed, deploying full sail and leaving the lonely strech of land behind them once and for all.



~~L'Extrémité
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