The Devil's Bath

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From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Fearless Adventurer and Intrepid Explorer of the Farthest Corners of the Globe

...accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O'Daire, the Ginger of Galway

Grant swatted and chopped at the thick, leafy wall before him until sunlight burst through, illuminating the shaded mysteries beneath the jungle canopy. Teagan bobbed and peered around Grant's bulky form, but could barely make anything out other than a sharp decline.

Grant posed, hands on hips, his green-stained machete out to his side. "La bañera del Diablo," he said with pride. "We found it, Teag. The records of Castellano's expedition were right."

He cast a glance over his shoulder, his strong chin and smug smirk more appealing than Teagan would like to admit. "The path to the Mayan repository of knowledge is within our grasp. Just think of what wonders await discovery... and how much money Roquefort is going to give us for a first pick of 'em!"

She peeked between his forearm and his sweat-stained shirt. A wide basin in the jungle opened up beyond Grant's feet. Surrounded by heavy foliage, no one would guess at its existence—at least not prior to the advent of air travel and its impact on cartography for the unexplored reaches of the earth.

"That looks like a mighty drop to a surface of jagged rocks," Teagan said. "I thought this was supposed to be a small lake?"

Grant pointed at something Teagan couldn't see. "There's the Arroyo de Lágrimas," he said, uncoiling a length of rope. "The Stream of Tears. Used to be part of a sacrificial ritual... the offerings marched themselves down the river and dove into the lake. Or so goes the story."

"Where'd all the water go, then?"

"The Guatemalan government built a dam upstream some years back. Hardly a trickle flows this way, short of a torrential downpour in the rainy season."

He slipped a knot around a tree trunk and tested the weight. "When Castellano found it, the river flowed freely, feeding into the basin and creating hot springs as well as the lake. There's a reason the locals call this the Land of the Eternal Spring."

"I remember something about that in Castellano's notes," Teagan said. "But it wasn't good." She pulled her worn journal from a satchel on her back, flipped through a few pages, then read aloud. "'The steam curled up like the spirits of the damned,' he wrote. 'The very ground moaned and wailed in angry protest at our approach.' Sounds formidable."

"All part of his plan," Grant replied. "Vallarte's local slaves resisted doing his bidding, and his soldiers were a superstitious lot. But he was always nipping at Castellano's heels, trying to discover the repository. Castellano spread word of a basin flooded with vengeful demons cast out of heaven, and the imprisoned souls of the men they'd ensnared—a perfect place to hide treasure from your relentless rival, wouldn't you say?"

"I don't know," Teagan answered. "Judging by what remains of his private thoughts, he seemed to believe it. Listen. 'No apparition proved more terrible than La Novia Triste—the Mournful Bride. Her appearance changed based on the desires of her intended prey. Several of my men dashed into the plumes of smoke calling out to their loves back in Madrid. Each time, the locals fell into a grave hush. It was as if the very skies dimmed at her awful presence.'"

Grant scoffed. "More imaginations to dissuade those who might come after his secrets. Paranoia expresses itself in interesting ways.  I'm telling you, the guy knew more than he was letting on, and he wasn't about to give it away."

He slid down the rope and vanished below the ridge.

Teagan watched the shifting plumes from the black rock at the bottom of the basin. Strands and wisps of steam stretched and beckoned. Curls of vapor formed crude faces of mist, and all their gray eyes seemed fixed on her.

She ran a finger across her medallion and whispered a half-hearted prayer before taking hold of the rope. Grant was already picking his way across the smoky terrain at the bottom of the basin. "Wait for me, you daft ox," Teagan called and descended.

The sun hid behind a puffy bank of clouds, bringing a cooling shade and sweet relief from the oppressive heat. An unexpected breeze chilled the sweat on Teagan's back as she lowered herself down the side of the basin.

She alighted on the cracked earth at the edge of the basin and jogged over to Grant. He squatted near the middle of the deep bowl, counting off something with his fingers.

"What's the matter, Grant?"

He dismissed her with a wave and pointed. A sharp noise built into a whistle like a giant tea kettle. "And... now!" A gout of steam burst from a crack in the earth, obscuring Teagan's view of the high cliffs. "Every twenty-three seconds, give or take," Grant said, "that fissure emits a plume of vapor. It explains how the lake maintained its warm temperature back in Castellano's day."

"That's interesting, Grant. But I don't know how it helps us track down Castellano's treasure."

A distant male voice echoed between the walls of the basin. "I do not know either," the man said. Teagan whipped her head around and spotted armed men at the north end of the basin, their guns trained on the figures far below. One at the front stood at parade rest and glowered at the small pair. "Frankly I am surprised to find ze Devil's Bath at all. I thought it a myth when the twins proposed this journey. And then you two went and killed them."

Teagan glared at the blurry figure warped and distorted by the plumes of steam. "More of the Kaiser's men, I presume?"

"We work for... other interests in Berlin," the German said. "You cost my master significant resources, an expense he can ill afford in these trying times. Your discoveries here might reduce the great debt you owe my people."

Grant said nothing, distracted by something in the basin. Teagan stepped forward, empty hands held out with a shrug of her shoulders. "Your choice of victims is quite poor. We have nothing that will help you, no idea where to go from here."

"A shame," the man said. "Be that as it may, I'm afraid you're never going to find out."

Something boomed in the distance, and Teagan's gaze followed the direction of the sound. One edge of the basin dipped, the rocky cliff cut by centuries of flowing water. "The Arroyo de Lágrimas," she gasped. "They just blew the dam."

Grant didn't respond. He stared into the distant plumes, a look of wonder on his face. "Teag," he muttered as he stumbled toward the fissure, "how did you bring such a fetching dress all this way?"

Teagan followed Grant's gaze and balked. That misty shape—arms outstretched, tendrils of smoke brushing and swirling around Grant's shoulders and waist—could it be the Mournful Bride?

On her left, rolling thunder built to a cacophony, and a rush of water burst from the divot in the basin's edge. It poured like a waterfall into the deep bowl, crashing into the rocks and hissing as it flooded the searing fissures. Teagan's red hair fluttered in the growing wind as the force of the waves sweeping toward her pushed air out of the way.

To her right, ignorant of multiple dangers, Grant lumbered toward the remarkably feminine column of smoke pouring from the broken earth. The shape stretched to inhuman lengths, tentacles of steam curling and wrapping around his arms, his back, his throat. The face grew clearer, its eyes two sparkling lights, its mouth a hungry grin.

"Thank you for your help, Mister McSwain," the German called, though Grant paid no heed. "And goodbye." He vanished into the jungle.

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