Archive for May, 2011
The roar of gunfire faded away, as fast as steam dissolving on the wind. Here and there, life returned to Market Square, as patrons slowly emerged into view. The overly curious slowly walked along their way, stealing occasional glances towards the antiquities booth that had been the center of the gunfight. Others, wishing to avoid any sort of trouble, hurried along, purposefully looking elsewhere.
Moira carefully emerged from behind the crate several yards away from the antiquities booth, keeping a wary eye on the emerging crowd as well as on the Fomorians between herself and the two Captains, Hunter and Clark.
Peter Bauer cautiously moved his hands away from his body as a gesture of surrender, all the while glaring at Hunter. “Don’t mistake winning a battle for winning the war, Herr Kapitän. In your ignorance, you and yours have rushed forward without even knowing what is at stake.”
“I know precisely what is at stake,” Hunter replied tersely. “The lives that you and your rabble have disrupted are exactly what is at stake. Though, let me make one thing clear: it was your lot that involved my ship and my crew. Now that you have our undivided attention, you will reap what you sow.”
Bauer snorted derisively. “Ignorant dummkopf! You will be buried like all the others.”
“Is that the best you’ve got? Pity. I’ve been threatened by far better, and more eloquent.” Hunter dropped his revolver into its holster and gave Moira a thankful smile when he saw her emerge. “Once again, I’m very grateful for your uncanny sense of timing, Miss Wycliffe.”
“No trouble, Cap’n,” Moira replied, “I saw them buggers open fire on ya and Cap’n Clark there, I just couldn’t get over fast enough to be of any help. Lucky, though, that Krumer and Conrad came runnin’ up at that time, so we three gave them a right smart smack on the bottom in yer behalf. Then we came lookin’ for ya.”
Hunter smiled again, “of which I’m most grateful.” The captain stepped aside as Clark ushered the two Fomorians from the shop at the point of his newly acquired Bowie knife. Once they had walked past, Hunter frowned thoughtfully.
“Two things, however, come to my mind. Where is Mr. Pryce, and how did all of you think of checking here?”
Krumer, who had pulled out another length of rope, approached Peter Bauer. The Fomorian tensed, but remained where he stood.
“We consulted the spirits,” Krumer said in a matter of fact tone, as if the activity was a common occurrence.
“Indeed?” Hunter replied curiously, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, after a fashion we did,” Moira interjected while she walked over to the others. “Before he passed out on us at the doc’s place, that Brian said Fomorians sometimes sold crates down here of anything they got their hands on. So, I figured ya might wind up here.”
“Och, ya can be causin’ more damage here,” O’Fallon replied with a smirk as his four captives got to their feet, “way Ah be seein’ it, Cap’n, ye’d be drawn here like a moth to a flame.”
Black Jack bellowed out a laugh while Hunter looked on with a sour expression. Behind them, the Charybdian shopkeeper peered out from behind a whiskey cask. Sensing it was safe to emerge, he stepped out and cleared his throat, attempting to regain some of his fragile composure.
“That may be all fine and good ‘Gentlemen’ … and ‘Lady’ … but what of my shop?” the shopkeeper asked with an impertinent tone. “If anything is damaged I demand compensation!” Suddenly, he noticed the knife John brandished. “See here, you need to pay for that!”
Captain Clark glanced down at the knife then ignored the Charybdian. Instead, he used the large blade as a pointer, indicating where he wanted his captives to walk.
Unwilling to be brushed aside, the shopkeeper straightened his coat, set his jaw and marched forward. He made it only two steps before Captain Hunter intercepted him.
“Now, hold a moment, Sirrah. I’ll compensate you for the knife,” Hunter said quickly, stepping in the shopkeeper’s path and holding his hands up in front of him. When the Charybdian hesitated, apparently willing to listen, the captain quickly continued, “as for your shop, it’s completely unharmed, so please, let’s remain calm about this. In fact, I’ve a spot of business to discuss with you.”
Immediately, the shopkeeper’s mood brightened perceptively. “Certainly! Captain, is it? I am Jean Emmanuel Pondufo, how might I be of service?” the Charybdian finished his introduction with a slight bow at the waist.
The captain gestured to the table decorated with a Highland wool tablecloth. “Those items there, the ones with the Roman military insignia. How much? And if I might inquire, where did you get items like that? Do you expect any more?”
Before Pondufo could reply, Peter Bauer lunged toward Krumer! Instantly, Moira went to fire, then stopped as Krumer accidentally blocked her aim. The Brass Griffin’s first mate sidestepped Bauer’s grasp, then swung a hard right fist. The German slapped the orc’s blow aside, stepped in, and stopped as he came face to face with the end of Mr. Whitehorse’s revolver.
“That will be enough from you,” Krumer snarled, “your days of thievery are quite over.”
“I will break you,” Bauer said in a dangerous tone, methodically clenching and unclenching his fists as if choking Krumer to death in his mind’s eye. “I will break all of you.”
Moira walked closer to the group, pistol trained on Bauer. “I got him marked, Krumer, if ya want ta lash him down?”
Krumer slid his revolver into its holster, “with extreme pleasure.”
The shopkeeper watched the spectacle with an obvious, growing unease. While Krumer bound Peter Bauer’s hands, Jean Pondufo cleared his throat, and put on his best smile which did not quite conceal his nerves. In the background, Moira holstered her weapon and walked over to help the first mate.
“Those items? Well, I couldn’t part with them for less than ten pounds,” he explained, “and I doubt I’ll have more anytime soon, you see.” the shopkeeper added with a small nervous glance towards Peter Bauer. Bauer returned the look with a murderous gaze of his own.
Hunter noticed the glance, and gave a small smile. “Your supplier is occupied elsewhere?”
Jean’s smile took on a nervous air, “ah, yes, indeed! A dapper man named Hardy. A doctor, I believe. Quite busy with his red-headed paramour named Selina O’Flynn. He had a surly fellow with him as well,” the shopkeeper’s eyes flicked towards Bauer nervously, “but I don’t recall his name. In any case, I am quite in need of clearing my shelf space, as it were. You understand, of course.”
Such as to not be in possession of now obviously stolen items, Hunter thought to himself. The captain nodded with a polite smile. “Of course. You drive a stiff price, but fair. Now if you will pardon us, we need to see this rubbish to the dock master.”
Pondufo looked uneasy at the mention of the dock master, but politely smiled with a small bow. “Of course, Captain. We hold to a quiet existence here. We certainly wish no undo excitement,” he replied, hesitating to add, “or trouble?”
Hunter nodded slightly, “naturally. I fully understand.”
The captain handed over the money to the shopkeeper, then walked over to take possession of his newly purchased ill-gotten goods. The shopkeeper, grateful to be rid of the stolen property and ten pounds richer, left Captain Hunter alone with his purchase.
Hunter picked up the two leather tubes carefully, as if testing their durability. Each cylinder was only a foot long, and two inches across, easily large enough to accommodate written correspondence or even a small map. He turned the one in his right hand over and nearly jumped when he heard a scouring, rattling sound, as if it held sand and loose pebbles.
The captain turned the tube back upright, then tucked the two of them under his arm, making a mental note to study them in more detail later with Thorias and Moira present. Gingerly, he lifted one of the ancient and cracked leather-bound volumes, then carefully opened it.
“Anything useful?” Krumer asked, turning to walk over to where the captain stood.
“The pages are coated with some compound, as if protected against the weather. Most unusual. Also, my Latin is quite horrid,” Anthony admitted. “This would be easier for Thorias, as he reads Latin like a native.” The captain squinted at the faded writing on one of the pages, “fortunately I understand enough to make out some of the intent.”
With a sudden flash of inspiration, the captain gently set the book down and looked again at the cylinders. Gently he rubbed a thumb near the sealed cap at one end of a tube. “I may be mistaken,” Hunter explained, “and to some degree, I hope I am, but I believe there is a crude form of potash in this tube. The other has the words ‘for Avernus’ carved into one end.”
Captain Clark glanced over at the tube Anthony was studying with a frown. “That word … I’ve heard it before. Just don’t know where.”
“In Roman beliefs, ‘Avernus’ was the entrance – or gateway – to the underworld,” Krumer replied with a shrug.
Immediately, Peter Bauer – who had been standing quietly by, seemingly content to seethe in silence – turned on his heel, shoving his left elbow back and up. Distracted by the conversation, Moira turned face first into Bauer’s attack. Her head snapped around as the man’s elbow slammed into her jaw! She staggered backwards, fumbling for her pistol as Bauer lunged at Krumer with bound fists.
“Moira!” Krumer exclaimed, turning around to instinctively reach for her before Bauer knocked him off his feet.
“Hunter has the formula! He has the Hellgate Formula!” Glancing around, Bauer jammed the ropes around his wrists against a nearby ax on display in the shop. The hemp immediately frayed partway through. “Don’t let him leave with it! Kill them all!”
With a growl, the mutinous first mate jerked the frayed rope apart just before Hunter’s pistol cleared its holster. The German ducked, Hunter fired, and the bullet struck a wooden pole where Peter Bauer had stood. A cloud of splinters exploded into the air.
“Formula? What?” Hunter demanded, irritated at missing the former first mate of the Revenge.
“Blood and sand!” Clark swore. “Underworld … ‘Hellgate’ … Oi, I’m daft! The Fomorians’ mentioned needin’ the original formula for that brew they drink. It must be that!”
A few paces to the left of Moira, who was shaking hear head to clear her vision, Captain Clark swung his revolver around. Before he could pull the trigger, Jessup – the Fomorian that Clark had threatened a moment ago – knocked the pistol aside and smashed his head into the captain’s nose! The Fomorian staggered back, shaking his head, while John yowled in pain falling to one knee.
Gathering his wits about him, Jessup yanked the Bowie knife free of John’s grip, then jammed the big blade into a nearby wooden chest. He slit his bonds with the razor-sharp edge, then pulled a smaller knife free from inside his sleeve and flung the weapon at Anthony!
Hunter ducked, and the knife hammered into something wooden behind him. Dimly, the captain heard the shopkeeper moan about a ruined keg of bourbon. Hunter ignored that, frowning at Clark. “They were looking for a formula? Oh, now he tells me,” the captain replied sourly, looking around for shelter.
“Cap’n, run!” O’Fallon shouted as he emptied his rifle into the leg of one Fomorian that had just managed to find something to cut his bonds. As he fell yelling in pain, a second Fomorian rushed forward, hands still bound, intent on ramming into the quartermaster.
Immediately, the Scotsman grabbed the rifle by the stock with both hands and swung. The steel barrel slammed into the forehead of the charging Fomorian with a sharp crack! Instantly, the man dropped like a stone to the floor, a welt forming on his forehead.
“I’ll do nothing of the kind!” Hunter replied as he stood up, then kicked an old reading stand into Jessup. The Fomorian grunted as the wood slammed into his solar plexus, robbing him of air for the moment.
As the man rasped noisily, Clark grabbed a tent pole and clawed his way to his feet. He lunged for the Bowie knife, but Jessup, recognizing the danger, lunged first. Still wheezing, the Fomorian lunged at Clark with the blade, narrowly missing the captain!
Moira, shook her head as her vision finally cleared, and three more figures burst into view from the far side of a nearby booth. She immediately recognized them as three of the dock-side gang from the the Boardwalk! Two brandished long, gleaming knives and the third an old revolver. She fired twice quickly, dropping the one with the pistol and another with a knife. The third leaped at her with an ugly snarl.
In mid-leap, the man jerked as a bullet knocked him to one side. He skid to a rough stop at the lady blacksmith’s feet. Moira looked around in surprise and saw Captain Hunter, pistol raised as a tendril of smoke coiled from the end of the barrel. Despite her pounding headache, she smiled gratefully. Hunter returned it with his customarily small smile and a nod.
Moira’s grin was quickly replaced with an alarmed look. “Cap’n, behind ya!”
Hunter spun around, then ducked just as Peter Bauer fired a pistol at Hunter’s head! The captain replied in kind, shooting from a crouch. The bullet smashed through the corner of a wooden sea chest, showering Bauer with an angry swarm of splinters.
“You called this music, Sirrah,” Hunter said angrily at the burly first mate who ducked between two large barrels. “I can dance all day. It ends the same, with you taking the stand for everything you’ve done!”
“Swine!” Bauer yelled as he immediately jumped out of hiding again, mere feet from Captain Hunter with a knife in his hand! Immediately, Hunter fired, grazing Peter Bauer in the thigh with a hastily aimed shot.
The former first mate yelled and pitched to the floor, his leg collapsing out from under him. Enraged and mad with pain, Bauer started to lurch clumsily to his feet, but stopped as he found himself looking down the barrel of Hunter’s Schofield pistol.
“It won’t stop me,” Bauer sneered, as his leg collapsed from under him again, leaving him crouching on the ground. “I’ll still kill you with my bare hands.”
Screams of panic filled the air as a clear, commanding voice cut through the chaos like a hot knife. “Stand down! By order of Her Majesty … Stand down, now!”
In that moment, the fight died as quickly as it had begun. Hunter slowly tore his gaze from Bauer and looked in the direction of the shouting. Forty yards from the booth, a line of men with rifles were arrayed in a tight, proper skirmish line. They were dressed in the finery Anthony recognized all too well; sailors of the Royal Navy, their rifles aimed towards him and everyone with him.
The man in the rich blue of an officer’s uniform stepped away from the others, his eyes hard and unblinking as he glanced around at the carnage. “Captain Anthony Gabriel Hunter? I hereby place you, and those with you, in custody.” The officer then turned and addressed the men with him: “I want these people, all of them, brought along. If they trouble you … shoot them, bandage them, then bring ’em in irons. Our captain would have a word with this lot.”
Captain Hunter remained unmoved, his pistol still trained on Bauer’s chest. Nearby, Moira looked around nervously, unsure of who deserved her attention more, the Royal Navy or the Fomorian thugs closer at hand. Krumer glared at one his attackers who looked ready to jump him, regardless of the consequences, and Captain Clark had just let go of Jessup’s knife-arm. Jessup hesitated, unsure whether it was worth it to continue attacking Clark. O’Fallon, however, was calmly looking around, standing over the unconscious forms of the four Fomorian sailors at his feet.
The captain glared defiantly at the young naval officer. “What ship? Whose authority?” Anthony snapped back through gritted teeth at the young officer.
The officer turned his level gaze on Hunter. “It’s on the Queen’s authority, Sir, that brings us here from the HMS Intrepid. As I said, come along. Captain Thomas Clark wishes a word. Most especially, Hunter, with you.”