Punch burst into the tiny cabin which Charles and Gerard were set to share on the ship. There, he found Robert as he expected, but he was shocked to see Marie Laveau with the three men.
“Here,” Mr. Punch snarled. “What’s this?”
“Miss Laveau is no threat to us.” Robert said quickly.
Mr. Punch snorted. “Right.”
“We’ve had a long talk.” Robert said.
“Ain’t that grand?” Punch sighed. “Listen, we gotta get out of here. The ship’s ablaze.”
“The work of Iolanthe, I’d reckon.” Marie mumbled.
“No doubt of that, strange, magic lady.” Punch nodded.
“How bad is the fire?” Charles asked nervously.
“Well, Charles, no fire is very good when it ain’t in a hearth.” Punch shrugged.
“Charles, will you assist Gerry?” Robert asked.
“Of course, Sir.” Charles nodded, reaching for Gerard and helping the man up from his cart.
“It’s no use.” Gerard moaned.
“What ain’t, beardy chum?” Punch asked.
“Listen…” Gerard mumbled.
They all listened. Beneath the screams which arose from the corridors and decks of the ship, they could hear the body of the vessel groaning under the fire.
“Where is the blaze located?” Robert asked, trying to plan an escape route.
“Dunno ‘xactly.” Punch shook his head. “When I left Barbara, I could see smoke comin’ from everywhere. The passages are filled with it.”
“Where is your sister?” Marie asked.
“Left her above.” Punch shrugged slightly. “She weren’t happy ‘bout it. But, she weren’t willin’ to come with me.”
“This wasn’t part of her plan.” Marie grumbled.
“What were?” Punch said. “Poor, mad thing. She’s got herself set on revenge. It’ll only get her killed, it will.”
“If it doesn’t kill all of us first.” Charles sighed. “Do you think she’ll seek safety?”
“Dunno.” Punch frowned. “You still love her, eh, you poor, foolish, handsome tree?”
“I don’t wish to see her harmed.” Charles responded. “Sir.” He added.
“I ‘spose you don’t.” Punch responded—coughin’. “Only, we gotta be more concerned with gettin’ ourselves off this boat.”
“Perhaps I should go find her.” Charles suggested.
“Charles, we need you to help with Gerard. He’s in no condition to walk out of here on his own.” Robert warned.
“Me fine mate’s right, he is. Listen to ‘im. We need ya with us. Barbara’s capable of takin’ care of herself, she is.” Punch snapped. “Now, are we gonna just talk ‘bout gettin’ out of here or are we gonna do something?” With that, Punch reached for the handle of the door which he had shut behind him when he came in. He yelped, pulling his hand away quickly. “Here, it’s hot!” He pulled his sleeve over his hand and tried again—opening the door. As he did, the cabin filled with smoke.
“Don’t go out there, Sir.” Gerard gasped.
Suddenly, the clattering of splintering, burning wood and the sharp crash of metal filled the passage as the ceiling gave way, falling in a glowing orange heap across the door.
“Bullocks!” Punch shouted. “We’re done for!” He screamed in terror. “What of the baby? What of Colin? Will Marjani get him out? Who’ll raise him if I die?”
“You won’t die, Sir.” Marie said softly.
“You know this?” Punch snarled.
“I do.” Marie said gently.
“I just know.” Marie answered.
Punch coughed, staring into Marie’s eyes.
“You gotta trust me, Sir.” Marie said. “I know I only done hurt ya before, but your companion done made me see I was wrong. So, you just gotta trust me.”
“I do, odd Voodoo lady.” Punch nodded slowly.
“Take my hand.” Marie said, reaching out for Mr. Punch.
Punch extended his hand and Marie clasped it in her own dry, calloused palm.
“Are you ready to face Hell, Your Grace?” Marie asked.
“Do it every day, I do.” Punch nodded. “Never thought I’d face it with you.”
“I owe it to you.” Marie answered.
“That you do.” Punch sniffed. “But, coo! You’re stuck in the same Hell we are. You got children what rely on you, just like me. You don’t wanna die no more than we do. So, if lookin’ right into hell is what we gotta do, then we’ll do it.”
“Then, prepare yourself.” Marie smiled. “We’re all about to walk clear into it.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-467? If so, you can read them here.