Friday, 7 December 2007

Too Little Information

Extract from Alfonso Avalanche’s Caledon Citizenship Application Form:

To ensure you are the kind of person we are looking for in Caledon, please provide in the space below 8 (eight) random facts about yourself (Please note - evidence of the authenticity of these facts may be requested from you by a Caledon Ministry of Information Officer):

1. Despite my profession, I do not possess a full Circus Strongman licence.

2. I served as an engineer onboard the Circus Dreadnaught Barnum during the Clown Wars and was briefly attached to the Human Cannonball Commando unit.

3. My Uncle Monty had an unfortunate accident while juggling elephants.

4. I wrestled all comers at my Uncle’s circus under the name of “Gigante Enmascarado”.

5. The Flying Circus’s main tent is in fact constructed from steel plate, rather than canvas (to hopefully avoid a reoccurrence of the unfortunate “elephant juggling” incident).

6. My Professorship issued by the Royal Society for High Adventure was purchased over the aethernet for the low, low price of L$100.

7. My mother was the Circus strongwoman, and bearded lady at my Uncle’s circus.

8. The steam powered elephant gains its lift from a unique uni-directional pressure system that is accomplished by an unusual arrangement of boiler pipework.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Big Finish

JTTTLBTMI Crossover Part 4 (Strongman and Pixie Finale)

Governor Shang stood high above us all, a maniacal grin playing across his features as he surveyed the chaos and destruction before him.

I gasped. The Governer? Here? Behind all of this?

“Mr Guvnah Sir’s been a very naughty man!” said Fuschia, and she was right.

Everyone was still frozen in place, looking up expectantly at the Governor. I seized my chance and continued my dash up the stairs. The clattering of feet broke the silence and the clammer of the crowd roared back around us. Pursuing tribesman mounted the stairway behind us and as we approached the top the Governor slowly turned towards us and withdrew a small box with a single red button from his pocket.

Still a good few paces away I dived forward to tackle him, but the button was pressed, a trap door opened beneath him and he dropped through it. My hands snagged on his jacket and hair as he slipped through my grasp. I was just a moment too late to catch him, but fast enough to catch something else. With a tearing noise I found myself holding a shredded jacket and an amazingly lifelike wig and face mask – so maybe it wasn’t really the Governor after all.

Sprawled over the trap door I peered down into the darkness catching a flash of long blonde hair as the figure plummeted out a view. A lady…?

“Quick! Quick! Quick!” Shouted Fuschia as she came running up behind me. I twisted around to see tribesmen now pouring up the stairway on both sides of the dais towards us, viciously sharpened fruit at the ready. Without pausing for thought Fuschia grabbed me by my collar and leapt down into the trapdoor dragging me behind her. As we followed the Faux Governor on his speedy downwards journey, I really hoped there would be a soft landing.

The walls of the narrow tunnel had been polished and as the passage in which we plummeted jogged to the left we found ourselves starting to slide rather than fall. Fuschia was giggling about it being just like a big helter-skelter, while I nervously glanced behind us, but could see no pursuers in the gloom.

We slid into a brightly lit section of tubing, no not brightly lit, but glass, taking us through a bright white room. Below us we caught site of a huge machine churning out what looked like mechanical bunny rabbits. Then back into darkness…Then out into another cavern. This one glowed red from the sea of lava bubbling away beneath us and there on a narrow finger of rock, I’m sure that was Baron Bardhaven and Mr Abel sword fighting, Mr Benmergui holding a carved stone idol in his off hand…but no time to get a good look as we were soon back into darkness again.

I felt more than heard the mountain roar, the tunnel around us starting to crack – then fall apart and soon we were falling through darkness and then…oblivion…

I woke with a sore head, Fuschia poking me in the ribs. I was lying on my back and opening my eyes I could see a tiny grey circle of light way, way above me.

“Wake up, big ‘un, you’ve had more than enough rest.” She sounded worried and reaching up I felt the damp bandage she’d wrapped around my head. “We fell out of that slidey-tube and you hit your head and you looked like you probably needed the rest, but the mountains gone all shakey and angry again…

I winced as I got back to my feet. I ached all over. We appeared to be at the bottom of some deep shaft. In the dim light I could make out a few large rocks and animal bones, but no sign of any exits or passages. Looking up I could see the shattered remains of the tunnel-tube we’d fallen out of and far, far above it a stormy daylight coming from, I presumed, outside.

The cavern convulsed and rumbled. Dust and small stones began tumbled down around us from the walls of the cave. “It’s been doing that more and more for the last few minutes,” Fuschia said. “That’s why I woke you up – I think we’d better go.”

The last few minutes? How long had I been unconscious? Again, giving me little time to think, Fuschia grabbed me under the arms and flapping her butterfly wings began lifting me up towards the light. “Ooof! We’d better stop you eating so many fairy cakes. You’re definitely getting heavier.”

Slowly we climbed as the rock walls moaned and grumbled around us, occasionally showering us with rocks. Fuschia deftly avoided the larger ones and eventually we emerged from the cave mouth into a scene of chaos.

We were halfway up the side of the volcano and most of the jungle below us was burning. The bits that weren’t burning appeared to be falling into the sea. As Fuschia gained altitude I could see lava flowing freely between the trees and with a growing rumble one whole side of the mountain began to collapse.

“Wait! Wait!” I shouted. “We’ve got to go back for everyone else!” Fuschia began pirouetting in mid air back towards the volcano just in time for us to catch the full brunt of the island exploding.

The retina burning flash was followed a split-second later by an ear splitting crack and then we were hit by the pressure wave.

We were blasted through the air. A feeling I was getting more and more used to on this journey. We both held on to each other as we splashed down into the water as rocks, fireballs, trees and bits of mountain crashed down around us.

I struck out for a large piece of floating, smouldering debris, something to hold onto, to help us get our breath back. Beyond it I could see the blackened smoking remains of Philip sinking below the water.

The deadly rain eased, settling into a steady fall of ash. I reached the big piece of flotsam helping Fuschia on to it before pulling myself up to join her and suddenly realizing what it was.

I ran my hand along its surface feeling its soft vibration, the soot and grime coming away to reveal it’s battered, blue wooden shell and the words “Police Public Call Box”. It was Oolon’s Cabinet. And the doors we were sitting on suddenly opened and we tumbled inside.

Oolon looked up from the console as we splashed, dripping wet onto the floor just inside the doors. “Ah Fuschia, young Avalanche you’re just in time, Terry’s just put the kettle on.”

I began spluttering out “What..? How..?”.

“Oh don’t worry, I’ll explain later…” A frown played across his lips, “Don’t worry, everyone’s safe, but there are a few more people we need to fish out of the old briny.” He strode over to a tall cabinet and pulled out a pair of oars. “You couldn’t do me a favour and paddle us about a bit..? I’m afraid the Old Girl’s taken a bit of a knock and needs to get her strength back before she can do it on her own and I don’t want our friends to get too chilly.”

I took the oars as Fuschia curled up happily on the chaise long.

One thing about life in Caledon, I thought as I clambered back outside, it’s never dull…

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Fight Club

JTTTLBTMI Crossover Part 3

Lady Darkling’s song rose above the deep rumble and roar of the mountain, the eerie music and the bubbling of the lava below us, a gentle soothing tone, ethereal and unworldly. The hot air felt a little cooler, the sparks and embers that floated through the air pirouetted around her and a strange peacefulness fell across the cavern.

“She’s singing the mountain a lullaby,” Fuschia laughed. “Putting the mountain and the burny rocks to sleep for us to get across the bridge. She's not daft, her.”

It looked like it was working; the lava boiled away slowly beneath us but sent forth no more burning balls of molten rock. The song grew louder and louder as Lady Darkling drifted across the bridge, carried by her music and that of the mountain and we all followed, carefully watching our step. I was halfway over when I suddenly realised we were all singing along, joining Lady Darkling’s song, keeping the mountain slumbering.

As the last of the penguin sherpas crossed the bridge, the mountain must have decided to turn over in its sleep as a huge gout of flame leapt up from the pit, spraying the bridge we had just crossed only moments before. We feverishly hurried onwards; there was no telling how long the mountain would stay rested.

More caverns, more tunnels, more twists and turns and finally a decision, a fork in the path. Without hesitating, Lady Darkling carried on down the left hand path and was followed by Baron Bardhaven, Miss Kelley and Mr Abel. Lady Eva, however, stopped just short of entering the cavern and cocked her head to one side. “Listen…”She said. So we did.

The strange melody had become part of the background noise, along with the rumbles and groans of the caverns, but it was much louder here – and much louder from the right-hand path. Lady Eva, Lady Gabrielle and Lady Amber were already drifting in that direction, their bodies swaying in time to the beat of the music and before I knew it, I was too. I shook my head, trying to clear it of the music, but here it really was becoming loud. We followed the Duchesses and Baronesses onwards with Oolon fractiously muttering about “hypnotic sub-harmonics in the lower frequencies”.

Almost without warning the passage we were following opened up into a huge chamber filled with native men and women in various states of undress, cavorting around bamboo poles and swigging from half coconuts with little umbrellas in them.

“Rudey people!” Fuschia exclaimed happily and Terry laughed, covering Oolon’s eyes as he began blushing furiously.

“Good Lord!” Lady Eva cried “It’s a Gentleman’s Club!”

I had to agree that’s exactly what it looked like.

The music here was pounding and deafening. The walls of the “club” were exquisitely carved organ pipes, formed by the looks of it from the living rock of the mountain itself. Opposite the entrance, on a raised dais of steps, a figure cloaked in shadow maniacally played the gargantuan organ.

Lady Gabrielle shouted out a warning and I turned to see a large group making their way through the dancers towards us. They didn’t look like a welcoming committee.

We didn’t stand a chance in the yawning maw of the cave opening; we had to make things more difficult for them.

“Into the crowd!” I shouted and set off at an angle into the throng of people, grabbing Fuschia’s hand and pulling her with me. Terry did the same with a befuddled looking Oolon, whisking him off into a group on the opposite side of the entrance. The last glimpse I caught of the Duchesses and the Baroness before the crowd closed in was of them standing back to back, each adopting a fighting poise and silhouetted by a fire ball leaping up from one of the open lava pits in the room. Somehow I got the feeling they could look after themselves.

I pushed on deeper into the crowd, trying to make my way to the dais and avoiding any of our unfriendly greeters. Our luck, however, didn’t hold for long. Thankfully, I’d spent some time when I was younger earning money at my Uncle’s circus by wrestling all comers and when the tribesman lunged for me from out of the crowd, I let go of Fuschia, grabbed his sleeve and collar and suplexed him up over my head and down onto a nearby table. Coconuts, rum, umbrellas and table splinters flew in all directions. With spilled drinks, the crowd around us was turning nasty; Fuschia had drawn her swiss army spork from her sock and was waving it menacingly at anyone who came near her. Things were about to get out of hand very quickly when suddenly four black and white shapes dropped onto the ground in front of us. Four penguins, each wearing a different coloured headband and each brandishing a different weapon (of far eastern origin I would guess), posed dramatically and then leapt into what had turned into an angry mob, buying us breathing space and time to escape. Mr Abel certainly trained his little assistants well.

We jostled our way quickly through the mass of people. At last, we reached the dais and began pushing our way up the steps when suddenly the music stopped, the room fell silent and all eyes turned to the raised platform.

The mysterious organist stood, leaving his glittering marble keyboard, and strode into a shaft of light, illuminating his features and at last revealing his identitiy to us all…

Thursday, 27 September 2007

The Descent

JTTTLBTMI Crossover Part 2

Bunzilla’s roar split the air as a fearsome, carrot-crazed eye peered down at us. There was nowehere to go but into the cave, so that’s where we went - at great speed. From the mouth of the cave I watched it snuffling and grunting at the tangle of balloon, trees and tents. Behind me I could here discussions of where we should go next and what we should do.

From what I could gather, it appeared as if Fuschia and myself had indeed appeared just off the coast of Caledon. This new volcanic isle threatened the very safety of that great nation and this small group had been sent to solve the problem. I’m not entirely sure how they were going to achieve that, but any help we could give them, we would.

Most of the discussion seemed to centre around a tattered map that Mr Abel had discovered. Sadly the major problem seemed to lie in the fact that the cave system was represented on the map by a tangle of lines, almost as if they’d started drawing it all out nicely and then just decided it was too complicated and scribbled a pencil round and round for a bit.

Lady Amber stood in the corner surrounded by a gaggle of penguins swigging from a battered hip flask. The light from the cave entrance glittered off her cleavage…No, hang on, I don’t mean cleavage, I meant her…bosoms. Now that’s odd; everytime I looked at her my eyes slid away onto her… attributes. Something at the back of my head was itching – trying to tell me something, trying to show me something… I caught Fuschia’s disapproving look; I think she’d caught me staring – so I hurriedly looked away and pretended I was studying the cave wall instead.

We decided to push on into the darkness. Baron Bardhaven believed that’s where the source of all this trouble was and that’s where we’d find answers. We pressed on because…well…he sounded like he knew what he was doing and we certainly weren’t going back out there with Bunzilla.

The tunnels wound on and round and round. I began to wonder if the strange scribbles on the map weren’t entirely incorrect; the passages seemed to twist onwards and downwards for such a long time. Baron Bardhaven and Lady Darkling took the lead. At times, Bardhaven peered at the map then indicated a particular direction; at others, Darkling drifted down a certain passage following a mysterious glowing orb as if in a trance. All the while, Oolon kept up a running commentary on the fascinating rock stratification and geological formations while Terry rolled her eyes. The Duchesses chatted excitedly about the grand adventure and the balls that would be held in all our honour when we returned home. Miss Kelley’s eyes darted around each cavern we passed through, gently mewing and watching every movement and shadow.

The strange music continued throughout our journey, echoing from the passage walls and fading in and out. The strange thing was, down here it seemed less alien, less unusual. Maybe we were getting closer to the source, or maybe the echoes and harmonics of the tunnels were just right, but I was sure I was beginning to recognise familiar phrases and bars. This was music I’d heard before, music I’d heard in Caledon when wandering through … was it Tanglewood? Or by the Governor’s mansion? Lady Amber slipped into my field of vision and again I found myself … distracted. Even more so as she appeared to be peeling off layers of clothing again - because of the heat she claimed.

And she was right; it was getting a lot warmer. We began passing through chambers filled with lava flows and sparkling embers dancing in the air. Soon we were all removing some of our more bulky clothing.

We finally came to halt in a large chamber. Our path took us across a narrow, crumbling bridge of rock and across a lava flow, all the while fireballs leaping up and exploding over us.

I’m sure this wasn’t marked on the map…

Monday, 17 September 2007

The Poison Belt

JTTTLBTMI Crossover Part 1

The butterfly tunnel swirled around us. It had been a good few weeks away; a nice, relaxing change of pace. Pixie had it’s peculiarities but was certainly a marvellous place to relax.

We were travelling to Caledon rather than the Colony, because Fuschia said that it was much easier to navigate back to somewhere like the Homelands, where the love of it’s people acted as a sort of beacon, making it much easier for Pixie magic to home in on.

I felt the balloon catch on an updraft of wind…we were definitely approaching something…something that smelled like sulphur and smoke… The twisting vortex before us darkened, filling with thick black clouds. This didn’t look good.

I gently shook Fuschia awake and she wrinkled her nose at the smell. “Are you burning breakfast, again?” She mumbled before sitting bolt upright and whispering “Something’s wrong!”

I nodded and was about to explain when the tunnel shattered around us and the balloon leapt violently.

Once onto our feet we could see that we were surrounded on all sides by thick smoke. The butterflies that had formed our passage to and from Pixie were lost in the darkness. It was searingly hot and proving very difficult to breathe.

Where were we? This certainly didn’t look like Caledon. The balloon was twirling and I could see no more than a few feet through the smoke and ash. Fuschia handed me a strip of cloth she’d torn from her petticoats to act as a face mask in order to keep out the choking air.

I tugged on the control ropes of the balloon, trying to gain height and get above whatever we were in. A deep rumble sounded below us and a fireball tore upwards through the sky, alarmingly close. I peered down over the side of the basket and could feel even more heat as well as perceiving a dull orange glow below us through the smoke. Were we above some enormous pyre? Had the alien invaders returned and reduced Caledon to nothing but fire and ash?

I attempted to regain some control over the balloon, but we were caught in an unpredictable updraft and the balloon's control vents were useless in the ash laden, turbulent air.

“Look!” Fuschia shouted. “A funny flying man!” I turned, not sure what to expect. The brief glimpse of him I got before impact was of a young man dressed in a pastel shirt, carrying a spear and wearing a helmet crudely fashioned out of a large coconut, propelled through the air by what appeared to be a battered brass and bamboo steam jet pack. A moment later he’d collided with the canvas above us, punching a hole clean through the balloon’s envelope and sending us on a very fast journey – sideways…

We careered wildy through the air, the balloon letting out a strange high pitched wail as the gas escaped.

The balloon described several crazy loops as we clung desperately to the sides of the basket. We eventually shot out of the bottom of the smoke cloud and I briefly caught a glimpse of a volcanic island (the smoke from which we had just left) surrounded by a huge expanse of water. On the downward swing of one of our circuits the basket skimmed the top of the water, scooping up a good proportion of it along with several penguins, a rather surprised looking Baroness (Lady Amber, to be more precise) and an even more surprised looking hammerhead shark.

The balloon curved upwards again, propelling us up over the island (as the penguins heaved the shark overboard) in what would be our final descent. We swung back down again, this time crashing through some tents that had been erected on the beach, and onwards into the deep jungle trees. Tribesmen scattered in all directions and I’m sure I caught sight of several people tangled in the canopy, rigging, tent, trees and, by the looks of it, cooking pot wreckage that we’d accumulated as we skidded through the undergrowth before sliding to a halt at the mouth of a dark and foreboding cave.

Fuschia helped a rather shaken Lady Amber up out of a pile of penguins and the now ruined basket, while I clambered out to help disengage our unexpected, and no doubt shocked, reluctant passengers from what was left of the rest of the balloon. And what a collection of nobles we’d entangled: A Baron (Bardhaven), A Duke (Greystoke), a Timelord (Sputnik), Sidhe (Lightfoot) and no less than two Duchesses (Carntaigh and Loch Avie) and two Marchionesses (East and West Speirling - or at least one Speirling and one cunning "copy-cat").

As I began hastily disengaging them from the rope, canvas and foliage, eerie music drifted from the cave entrance behind me…

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Destination: Pixie


Fuschia was the one who suggested we should have a few weeks away. The militia and fund raising was winding down and the unusual invaders that had appeared on the shores had been driven off, many bits of clothing had been made, much tea drunk and many cakes eaten. We were both exhausted and in need of a break.

She suggested we go and visit some of her friends in Pixie (apparently a nice little corner of the otherworld near Faerie, where the pixies live). I’d never been there before, but she assured me it would be really nice and we could even take the balloon.

After an extensive few days of packing we pushed off from our little bay in Penan. We’d locked up the workshop and had employed a young urchin to keep and eye on the circus and feed the boilers of the steam elephants in our absence.

Waving goodbye to young Master Grut we drifted onwards from Penan, out by the nearby floating castle and over the sea, where I realised that what I had assumed was a flock of birds from a distance was actually a huge swarm of multicoloured butterflies gathering over the ocean. Fuschia giggled at my look of surprise and wiggled her nose. The butterflies swirled in the air, coming closer and closer until we were entirely surrounded. And then there was a subtle change; we were no longer in a small vortex of butterflies but in a huge twisting tunnel stretching on as far as the eye could see. This was to be our path to Pixie.

I’m not really sure how long we spent travelling. Not long after we entered the tunnel the hands on my pocket watch began to spin crazily around it’s face, randomly pointing at numbers and every so often even pointing at new numbers that weren’t even on the clock face when we’d set off.

We’d worked through a good number of wax cylinders and books when I felt a breeze. The tunnel we were travelling in was eerily quiet (aside from the soft, scratchy music of the wobbly recordings) and since we’d set off there had been no feeling of wind or motion despite the coloured / shifting walls of the tunnel. I looked down to where Fuschia had dozed off in the balloon’s basket and was about to nudge her awake when suddenly the tunnel around us scattered into a multitude of tiny wings.

The balloon lurched as it once again gained purchase on new air and our tiny escorts scattered into the forests that unfolded beneath us. We were floating in a deep purple sky, a blazing orange sun dipping below a great mountain range in the distance, and I suddenly had a strange feeling. It was almost like deja-vu…but not quite. For a moment it appeared as if the mountain ahead of me burned, as if the sun dipping behind it was actually some great gout of fire erupting from its maw. Strange music echoed in the distance and a peculiar feeling of foreboding began to creep across me…

Fuschia yawned and sprang up onto her feet beside me, peering out across the landscape of her home. Something had changed, the spell had been broken, and once again there was just a sun sinking below the horizon.

Putting the odd trick of the light aside, I pulled on the control ropes of the balloon and we began our descent into a clearing…

Friday, 6 July 2007

Air, Sea and Land

Dear Miss Tombola,

Just writing to thank you for the lovely afternoon of transportation related adventure, and for the very kind charitable donation that set us on this path in the first place.

I successfully retrieved the hot air balloon from the foot of Terry’s beanstalk in Tanglewood last night and am happy to report that apart from the odd branch trapped in the rigging it survived our rather bumpy descent down through the tree canopy.

I’ve also managed to straighten out the slight bend that appeared in my steam board after the unfortunate encounter with the sea bed in Lionsgate, and the hangar walls in Steam City.

Thankfully, I caught Admiral Wind at her shipyard this morning and with her assistance was able to lift the Caledonian Queen from the rocky coastline of the Moors, although I think the keel may need a bit of patching before she’s going to be seaworthy again.

Oh, and your stable boy should be on his way over to drop off your improvised monowheel. I gave him a bit of change to pick up our cycles from where we left them at the Victoria City train station, and he seems a trustworthy enough lad, if a little grubby.

Hope we get a chance to do it again sometime - although not too soon, as I think my legs need a bit of time to recover from chasing the train all the way through Carntaigh.


Alfonso Avalanche