The Mekhanics of La Rue Part Two

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The thing about a city like La Rue Macabre is that legends and rumors spread like wildfire. When a fishing boat said it would be the first to chart out the whole of La Rue, many laughed at the crew for dreaming big. When they left port however, no one would hear back from them for years. It was not till the Duke of Macabre ventured too far away from the chartered areas that they discovered what remained of the first crew. To this day, those broken shards of wood and documents are put in a museum for those to learn about why most dare not venture out from the city.

When the remains returned to the city, the sailors and captains began to speculate. Some say that they merely tested the waters too much and paid the price, while others say that an outside force destroyed them to protect the treasures within the swamps. How some say that there is treasure within La Rue was anybody's guess, but with rising reports of alligators the size of a small yacht being talked about within the city limits, some have started to believe in the stories told by drunken sailors and theorists who come out in search of the next big theory.

The Donkey's Ass floated over the depths of these swamps. Josephine looked far into the landscape and saw a few lights dotted around here and there, each one twinkling like stars in the night sky. It made Josephine ponder on the idea that people would rather live far away from the mainland than living within the city. They would see the odd spark of lightning that could be attributed to a thunderstorm had it not come from those lights, some gentle and small while others zapped with the brightness turned up to proper lightning.

Was it because they needed a safe space to practice their magic in a safe environment? Did they desire this hermit lifestyle away from a well known and kept city, preferring the quietness of this realm? Or were they forced into this place for the safety of the citizens of La Rue, deemed too dangerous from possible misuse of magic?

Those kinds of stories were what piqued Josephine's interest: the stories of the mad and the curious. Those who would rather hide than remain in the open, what secrets would they hold? Josephine shook their head to get rid of these thoughts and turned to head back inside. As they did so, they noticed that their dwarf captain, Black Jaw, was busy tying down several ropes and knots. He looked up to see the Mekhanic's cloak gently billowing in the wind, seeing different cogs and gears ticking along in their place.

"My eyes are up here captain," Josephine said in their emotion-less voice. Black Jaw stood up and dusted himself off while Josephine knelt down to inspect the rope work. "What are you doing out here anyway? Performing ship duties?"

"Oh this?" the dwarf let go of the rope in his hand, letting it fall to the floor with a soft thud. "I'm jus' lettin' out some bait and stuff to distract the local wildlife."

"I take it the natural wildlife is not to be taken lightly?"

"Heh, you ain't heard the stories of the Gatorpeople here?"

Josephine shook their head, Black Jaw sighed and walked off to the cabin door. Josephine followed and saw their boyfriend, Benjamin, sitting in the corner. Since they had departed La Rue's port, the connection between them and the network was scarce at best. For Josephine, it was nothing more than a minor nuisance, but for Benjamin… it was harder for him to adjust to the quietness without the Noosphere.

Benjamin didn't even notice Josephine as they walked in, he was just staring off into space, attempting to access it for the seventeenth time today. They would grow more worried about their partner with each passing day, making them wonder if Ben was falling into depression or desperation. Sure, he and Josephine would share moments together while on this trip that were nice. Losing access to the Noosphere for so long, however, left Benjamin in a slump, something that not even Josephine could pull him out of.

The dwarf took Josephine to the kitchen area and pulled out a six pack of beer from the fridge. He offered one to them but Josephine shook their head. Black Jaw sat on the desk and popped open the top with a flick of his finger and slurped it down slowly, savoring the taste.

"Gatorpeople." Black Jaw spoke after chugging down the first bottle, chucking the bottle behind him into the recycling bin. "Are perhaps some of the most dangerous beings out there. They are very reclusive and only send out their most… acceptable sorts out to La Rue and even then, people stay away from them in case one decides that you look tasty."

"Why does Cotton Eye Joe keep them around then?" Josephine asks, sitting down across from Black Jaw and holding their hands together to show patience. "From what I gathered from our elders, the Swamp God does not allow violence in his realm. From what I've seen, the fleshcrafters do not conduct their usual rituals when they live here. Certainly holding them on a leash."

"Aye, but Joe has arrangements made with the Gatorpeople that they in themselves become legends and stories passed around town till no one knows which one is right."

"Such as?"

Black Jaw sat back and popped open a second bottle with the use of the table edge. He looked up to the ceiling, his eyes glossed over with something that Josephine saw once or twice in the faraway gazes of old people that pridefully recalled stories of old. Black Jaw sipped as he looked back and spoke softly, a thing that dwarves are rarely known for unless money is somewhere involved in the process.

"Hmmm… well, there is the story that Cotton Eye Joe is not the actual God of this place. Legend has it that he's a usurper that overthrew the Old Swamp God and claimed this place when that Civil War broke out."

"Impossible. Records would have suggested that this place had a completely differ-"

"HA!" Black Jaw laughed out loud before sitting forward holding his chest. His breathing became ragged and weaker, making him breathe harder. "Sorry but there are not any records detailing that. If it would be that easy to figure out when La Rue was made then half of its traditions would die instantly. Nah, I bet that some Gatorpeople came into La Rue and made a great big stink about how they weren't running things."

"Then what do you think happened?"

"I think that Cotton Eye Joe keeps them around cause he felt sorry for them. Think about it, New York flushed hundreds and hundreds of alligators in like the 80s or so. Where did they go? Here in La Rue."

"So what your saying is that these 'Gatorpeople' are actually alligators from over several hundred miles that magically appeared over here, yes? I have never heard a more preposterous story before that"

"Says the mechanical person who worships a god made of rust and broken bolts."

Josephine glared at Black Jaw as the boat swayed slightly, causing Black Jaw to sharpen up. He got up and rushed to kill off the motors just down the stairs while Josephine listened carefully. An odd light bash against the wood here or there caused the boat to rock harder, the sounds of something fierce and primitive just on the other side of the thin walls adding more to Josephine's… not fear, they lost that feeling when they replaced their frontal lobe with a piece of tech that could let them access the Noosphere. No, it was complication and stress being added to their calculations.

After the sounds left, Josephine looked around the room. Black Jaw was looking out the porthole, seeing if whatever was causing the noise was still out there. He appeared to have sobered up, his eyes alert and scanning for danger while it was quiet and still. Benjamin, now alert to his surroundings, looked at Josephine worried. It was obvious that he was worried, even if his dimly lit blue eyes didn't show how scared he was.

The boat suddenly lurched forward, which caused the occupants to stumble forward and head over heels. Josephine clenched their mechanical feet to grab onto the timber to stop themselves from falling over while the others continued to roll to the side of the boat. Black Jaw could be heard from near the fridge after being thrown around. Benjamin was still in his seat but he certainly felt the force, on account that he was massaging his neck. Josephine wished they had taken medical training, but sadly the past is behind them and all they could simply do was comfort Benjamin.

"What's going on Black Jaw?" Josephine asked the dwarf, currently struggling to get back up. They noticed that he had made it as far as the door and finally got their balance back. He struggled to remain upright as he turned to speak.

"Its the holding line!" Black Jaw shouted, trying to get out of the room while remaining stable. "We gotta untie it or cut it off! Otherwise we're going to be dragged off to Heimdall knows where!"

Joesphine picked up the dwarf and threw him back next to their boyfriend. "Look after him! I'm going to cut the anchor off!"

Black Jaw was about to speak out loud his objections but he knew it was pointless. Instead he tended to Benjamin with some exercise to handle whiplash, telling Benjamin to sit still and shut up. Josephine smiled before they began their walk out of the doorway, their feet grabbing onto the timber steps as hard they could before they made it top side.

As soon as they made it top side, Josephine looked around. The trees were speeding past the boat at a very fast pace. Inside their mind, they eliminated the thought of jumping off and several other options of escaping this situation. At the moment, Josephine looked around to find the rope Black Jaw used to tie down the anchor. It took them less then three seconds to identify which rope belonged to the anchor and stomped their way over to the point.

Josephine flicked their wrist and slides out their sword — a xiphos blade, forged in the fires of Ancient Greece during their golden era of Mekhane — and gripped it tight in their hand. They raised it high above their head and brought it down with as much strength as they could onto this rope. After three swings with their blade, the rope snapped and the anchor dropped into the watery depths below. The boat slowed down gradually till they were floating adrift in calmer winds.

They breathed out a sigh and opened up their compartment to place their sword back in when they noticed that something was on the deck with them. Josephine turned slowly to see a massive creature standing on the deck, body turning left and right to look around it. The pair made eye contact for a brief second before Josephine got into their battle stance.

Josephine's eyes adjusted to the different light to see the monster before them. It stood as a bulky figure, no shirt or armor was visible but it was clear that this thing was strong. The monster had scales that would often be seen in a mural of a dragon, and muscles that look like they could crush a man with ease. It had a viscous look in its eyes but also one of caution. It was studying Josephine like an engineer would to a hardware problem, figuring out how to best solve the issue.

The creature mimicked them, lacking a weapon it attempted to copy them as well as it could. The creature snarled at them, taunting Josephine to come strike it first. Taking the initiative, they made the first move. Josephine's feet rushed ahead as they brought their blade close to go for a stab. The creature brought its tail in front of it to shield it from the obvious attack.

The feint worked as Josephine shifted their weight to one side as they brought their leg into a roundhouse kick. The mekhanic's foot made a solid thud as it connected with the rough skin of the monster's tail, causing it to recoil as Josephine pressed on with the offense. They used both the momentum and recoil to throw it all into a slashing motion. The blade had cut into the tail and a quick look at the blade told Josephine all they needed to know.

They ran forth once more to slice at the creature, only to be blindsided by a punch. They had been thrown head over heels, and off the edge, only staying on the boat after grabbing the ledge at the last possible second. As they slowly pulled themselves up, Josephine looked up to see a second creature of roughly the same size as the one they had fought. The creatures grabbed Josephine and hauled them over the side. Josephine tried to free themselves from the strong grip of these creatures before they saw Benjamin and Black Jaw walk out to the deck, hands held high above their heads.

"Tis better to go quietly then lose ourselves out here," Black Jaw explained before Josephine spoke out about the choice of surrender. It made sense logically, just a major shock for them to get over. Black Jaw turned to look up at one of the beings and spoke loudly. "Listen here, you overgrown lizard, I wanna speak to your chieftain now."

"Why should we listen to you?" the Gatorman growled loudly, gripping tightly on Josephine's arm to the point that it was causing the arm to crack a bit. "You are nothing more than Small-Blood. Small-Blood are inferior to us."

"I am no 'small blood' Gatorman," Black Jaw said through gritted teeth. "I am a simple captain with his cargo. All I ask is we talk with th-"

The one gripping Josephine's arm tight laughed out loud and forced the other Gatorman to laugh with a smack on the arm. The pair then straightened up and looked at Black Jaw with a glint in their eyes. Josephine spent enough time with gangsters and greedy nomads to know what it means. They tried to stand up, despite the pressure the two strong Gatormen holding them down, and gets their feet onto the gator's foot.

"HA!" laughed the rough monster, not learning from their encounter with Josephine. "I'm wearing special boots! Can't see how you thought this through, really."

Without uttering a word, Josephine's foot clenches down and crushes the Gatorman's foot. With a scream of monstrous proportions, he released his grip on Josephine. This gave Josephine the chance to bring up their other leg to smack the one cracking their arm, impacting straight into the groin. It forced the two to release their hold on them, crying out in pain from these strikes.

As the two Gatormen recoiled in pain, Black Jaw and Benjamin charged forward and tackled one of them with their combined power. Josephine, meanwhile, brought up their good arm and repeatedly switched from punching to kicking to punching again. Not letting up on their foe, they kept pushing on till the Gatorman was on the edge. When they noticed that he was on the edge of the boat, Josephine brought their leg up to kick them off for good.

Yelps and growls from their left caused them to face the remaining Gatorman, who was on his knees as Benjamin kicks while Black Jaw puts all of his weight on top of the beast. Josephine approached and axe kicked their foot onto his snout. They then clamped down hard on the snout to keep him down while Black Jaw ran off to get the additional rope needed to tie down the Gatorman.

After making sure the bonds were secure, Black Jaw had let out a sigh of relief. He rubbed his arms and legs just in case the Gatorman got him with something. Benjamin grabbed a hold of the side to check the waters while Josephine loosens their grip on his snout. Josephine walked over to Benjamin and placed a hand on his shoulder, trying to comfort him. After all, he was never a fighter, he was just a tech supporter.

"Hey Benjamin?" they asked as sincerely as they could despite the metallic voice that Josephine produces. Benjamin looked back up at them, his blue eyes glowing in the dark and looking into Josephine's red mechanical eyes. "Are… are you okay?"

Benjamin didn't speak. The only thing that Benjamin did was close his eyes, and cry into Josephine's chest. Sobbing noises came from him as he held them as close as possible. Instead of speaking, Josephine held Benjamin close, for as long as they can. They raised their hand up to Benjamin's head and stroked it gently. Even without skin to feel the motion, Josephine still felt a connection with him. It may not have been what some would call true love since they were mechanical and had no experience but to them, it was love.

Black Jaw interrupted the two lovers as he made a loud hearty laugh. He turned over to Josephine and pointed at the Gatorman below his boot, squirming like a lizard trying to get away from a threat. Despite its size and strength, it is clearly not agile enough to slither out of the rope. Josephine walked over and brought their foot to bear on the Gatorman's snout.

"Hello," Josephine brought up their hood and looked down at the Gatorman. They put their hood on to only illuminate their bright red eyes. They didn't want to mess with the voice, for it brought out a sinister tone despite their metallic sounding voice being neutral. "Tell me, what brought you here? Answer me honestly, and I will spare you."

"Machine-Borne!" the Gatorman snarled at Josephine, struggling against his bonds. "You will not get my tribe's location from me! Never!"

Josephine looked over to their blade and walked over to pick it up. Gazing at the crimson dripping slowly down, they brought a finger up to the blade to wipe it away. Judging from the amount that was there, they must have cut deep into the monster that boarded the boat. They turned and strutted over to the Gatorman and placed the blade on his head.

"I will not ask again."

To further prove their point, Josephine brought the blade down a bit to allow it to cut between the Gatorman's scales on his neck. His face was showing discomfort. Of course, Josephine would stop soon. They just want to see how far they can go before something bad happens. Either this gets cut short by the Swamp God, Cotton Eye Joe, manifesting before them and exact punishment or more Gatormen appear. Or the prisoner chooses death over helping the enemy. Whichever helps their captive prisoner not tell them where to go.

"Alright!" the Gatorman snarled again, this time less angry and more defeated. "I'll take you to our camp. Just… please spare us, we were only hunting."

"What? No, that's not what we are after."

The Gatorman looked up confused at Josephine, before turning his attention to Black Jaw and struggled once more. Josephine calculated in exactly 3.43 seconds the possible options and percentages of said options before Josephine brought their sword down on the Gatorman.

As the Gatorman sat up and massaged his hands, finally free from their bonds, Josephine placed the blade back in their arm compartment. Josephine and the Gatorman stared at each other for some time before Benjamin speaks up. His voice filled with not just determination but also compassion and kindness.

"Hey Gatorman?" he asked the large reptile loudly but also not loud enough to cause him to do something rash. "We are willing to let you go if you can help us get to where we need to go."

"Where's that then, machine-borne? As I already said, I am not taking you to my tribe for your citadel and your expansion."

Benjamin shook his head and pulled out a crude drawing of a map. The same one that Josephine and Black Jaw was staring at to see where they need to go, only to get nothing but headaches due to how badly it was drawn. The same one that the old man from La Rue had given them in exchange for a fan.

"We only seek passage to an Elm tree. It would be different from the other trees here."

The Gatorman nods as he looks down the bow of the ship. He started by turning his head around one way, then the other. Then the Gatorman looked over to the rest of the crew before pointing in a general direction, indicating where to go. Black Jaw checked his maps and walked up to the Gatorman, indicating something about currents and bushes before being shushed.

"I know these swamps," said the Gatorman with a hint of pride in his voice. "The paths and secrets that you flesh-borne do not go cause of doubt. So when I say we go this way, we go this way."

"Now hold on there," Black Jaw interjected, confusion mixing into his words. "Why down there? We're at a high altitude! No, we go this way because —"

As the two argued about the correct course, Josephine analysed the situation and pondered back to the huts and small lights in the distance. They wondered why would they rather live outside safety and comfort of the La Rue city. They wondered why they should take the risk of roaming Gatorpeople, the ever-changing waves that would work against them, to perhaps other dangers within the confines of La Rue's swamp. What could such a life bring them here?

They looked to see Benjamin by their side, and stroked his head. They took him below the deck and put him in his seat. Wrapping him in a blanket, Josephine gave him a kiss on the cheek before they too fell asleep.

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