Steampunk Family
This entry is part of a series, Voyage to Antafrica»

The queen and chamberlain fell to their knees, hands over their ears. The Capsicum Chief whirled around to confront their attacker but found no one. What he found was something he had never seen before. A shower of sparks had hit the screen separating the area they were in from where the queen slept. Avid, grasping flames climbed the dried grass curtain and leapt to the next.

The Chief watched as though hypnotized. Count Montesanto stepped around the prone chamberlain and helped the queen to her feet, pulling her away from the fire. She resisted, as fascinated as the Chief.

“Fire!” Claire shouted.

No one moved. The Antafricans were entranced.

“Water will put it out!” Claire turned to the guards behind her. “Go to the queen’s bathing spring and fetch water.”

The guards looked from Claire to their queen. As the queen did not repeat  the girl’s orders, they ignored her and continued watching the fire grow.

“Fire is dangerous,” Claire tried again. “We should all get out of here!”

The twins grabbed Bettina and Claire, heading for the interior door, but the fire was too close.

“We’re trapped!”

“Follow me!” Adolphus pulled them toward the secret exit in the outside wall. Half a dozen guards blocked their way. They stood, ignoring the children and watching the flames grow, but they were still in the way.

“Bettina,” Annabelle said, “give me your stick. Who has a handkerchief?”

Gerhardt handed over his handkerchief while Adolphus tried to explain the danger of fire to the guards.

“It’s so beautiful,” Queen Drysi said behind them. “Is it your magic?”

“I get it!” Mirabelle fished in her pinafore pocket. “You’ll be needing this.” She produced a small flask of the boiler chief’s special distilled engine cleaner. When her sister had tied the handkerchief around the stick’s net she splashed engine cleaner on it. Bettina stood ready with a match, and lit their torch. Annabelle waved it at the guards.

“Behold our magic!” Mirabelle shouted over the crackle and hum of flames. “Now get out of the way!”

The guards did not move until Annabelle brought the torch close to the first man’s face. A young tomatillo, his papery husk withered in the heat. He jumped back, shouting and scrambling backwards through his companions to reach the exit. His fear was contagious, spreading panic among the other guards. The children followed them out the door. Claire ushered her younger siblings out before her, then turned to make a last plea to the Antafricans to save themselves.

The willow whips holding up the grass curtains burned through and the flaming curtains collapsed, showering sparks over Queen Drysi. Montesanto leapt out of the way. Claire watched in dismay as the queen giggled with delight at the tiny flames finding purchase in her skirts.

“So pretty!” She spun in place to admire the effect.

“No!” Claire shouted. “Put her out, put her out!”

The Count pulled off his cloak and threw it over the queen just as she began to scream. The Capsicum Chief, mistaking the source of his queen’s anguish, attacked Montesanto. To Claire’s horror, the Count dodged the Chief’s first punch, pulled a knife from his boot and stabbed the him. Shoving the dying man into the line of remaining guards, Montesanto dragged the screaming and flailing Drysi further into her chambers, towards her bathing fountain.

Claire grabbed the closest guard. “This way!” and ran outside.
Entries in this series:
  1. On Grandmothers
  2. With A Bang!
  3. In Search of Ancient Angiosperms
  4. Assault on the Galley
  5. The Sorrows of Chef
  6. Faeries, Helpful Siblings, and other Mythological Creatures
  7. Meanwhile, Back in the Lab
  8. A Day of Discovery
  9. The Children’s Hypothesis
  10. A Research Date
  11. Aboard the Schmetterling
  12. The Cave
  13. The Cage
  14. Knee of the Yeti
  15. Kidnapped!
  16. A Clue
  17. The Yeti and the Comb
  18. Fighting the Count
  19. Fighting the Yeti
  20. Falling
  21. Breadcrumbs
  22. The Search is On
  23. Flight to Saigon
  24. On the Streets of Saigon
  25. The Sad Man
  26. At the Grandiere Club Aeronautique
  27. If you Give a Count a Cookie
  28. Out of Cookies
  29. Stuck!
  30. Airships Float?
  31. Where is Claire?
  32. Drowning
  33. Into the Drink!
  34. Boat!
  35. Mushroom Trip
  36. Ambush
  37. The Variegated Strangler
  38. In a Strange Land
  39. Hand over Hand
  40. The Last of the Gouda
  41. An Unusual Breakfast
  42. Downstream
  43. What's for Dinner?
  44. Axe and Fire
  45. Meanwhile, Back at the Airship
  46. Over the Gobi
  47. Return of the Grandmothers
  48. Warning from Huang
  49. Anxious Hours
  50. Ulrik Prepares
  51. Destruction by Dawn
  52. Finding Philomena
  53. No Luck in Pekin
  54. The Children Rescue...Something
  55. Corndog Liberation
  56. The Fate of Corndogs
  57. Have you Tea?
  58. Antafrican Hosptitality
  59. Onion Porridge
  60. Homesick
  61. On the Hunt
  62. Farm Living
  63. Singing for Supper
  64. You Say Potato...
  65. Curiosity is the Foundation of Discovery
  66. An Awkward Position
  67. Trouble Comes Riding
  68. Capsicum Capture
  69. To the Palace
  70. The Death of the Lincoln
  71. War Wings
  72. A Long Way Down
  73. Enter the Lightning
  74. Before the Queen
  75. You are a Tomato!
  76. A Sunken Ship
  77. Eglantine Aubergine
  78. Children of the Soil
  79. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  80. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  81. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  82. The Price of Popcorn
  83. Ulrik and Chef
  84. Fire!
  85. Claire's Bluff
  86. Tomato Queen and Aubergine
  87. It's Going to Blow!
  88. Rhodri in the Gardens
  89. The Servant's Fountain
  90. History Revealed
  91. Fight at the Fountain
  92. Repercussions
  93. Father Discovers the Yeti
  94. Aboard the Lucy Stone
  95. Summoned
  96. The Queen's Accusation
  97. The Queen's Rage
  98. The Khan
  99. The Last War Wing
  100. Eglantine Departs
  101. Thumping Rhodri
  102. Bad News from the Boys
  103. Where's the Count?
  104. In Search of the Count
  105. Spying on the Queen
  106. Confronting the Count
  107. Orphaned?
  108. Orphaned?
  109. Montesanto's Experiments
  110. Montesanto's Experiments
  111. The Queen's Tantrum
  112. Bettina's Tantrum
  113. The Flaming Queen
  114. Uprising!
  115. Uprising!
  116. Escape
  117. On the Run
  118. The Mysterious Coach
  119. Red Racer!
  120. Revolution Reset
  121. By the Acid Sea
  122. Farewell Antafrica
  123. Home Again!
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