Archive for August, 2012
Captain Hunter dropped off the ladder leading down from the main deck. Without a word, he turned on his heel and walked briskly down the dark-shrouded hallway towards the armory. The night air and the scent of the hunt returned some measure of spirit to his step, and a flash of intrigue to his eyes. Specifically, it was the burning curiosity around the knives of Mulciber that drove him. They were a puzzle to be solved, a task left undone; he intensely disliked leaving a task unfinished.
Dr. Thomas Hunter, the captain’s younger brother by only a year, followed not far behind. He stepped away from the ladder and looked around at the gloom. He brushed dust from his frock coat in some effort to remove a bit of gray soot from its otherwise blue wool.
The doctor was not sure where aboard the Brass Griffin he was, nor where they were headed. He trusted his brother knew what they were about. Dr. Hunter looked down the corridor beyond his brother’s brown-coated figure towards what he supposed must be the door to the ship’s armory.
An impressive piece of work, the door was iron bound, with sturdy steel rivets in a metal hinge. A steel hasp covered the door latch, through which a padlock kept the entire arrangement secure against the curious. Beside the door sat a guard, a little less than five feet in height, sharpening a knife. The bald man eyed the brothers while they approached.
The doctor scrutinized the imposing door. Then he looked over its capable-looking guard. Thomas felt dubious about the whole situation. He gave his brother a raised eyebrow, while they walked down the hallway. “There?”
Captain Hunter nodded. “There. It’s the most secure location aboard ship. Full view of the crew as most pass by here. Keeping a guard standing watch is just additional precaution.”
The guard was comfortably perched on a stack of rough wooden barrels secured to the wall by a length of treated brown rope. He smiled briefly at the captain. “Buenas noches, Capitán. It is a quiet night, no?” His Spanish accent embraced his words warmly.
Captain Hunter returned the smile in greeting. “Good evening, Mr. Sandoval. Glad to have one. We’ll be in the armory a bit. Until we emerge, no one’s allowed in for any reason short of General Quarters being called.”
The crewman inclined his head a moment. “Sí, Capitán. It will be done.”
“Good man,” the captain replied. He reached for the fist-sized, steel padlock on the armory door to unlock it.
While Thomas waited for his brother to unlock the door, he looked off to his left where the hallway turned to continue on to the crew hammocks. He watched in thoughtful silence as several people moved around, going about their business. The doctor glanced at the guard.
Mr. Sandoval looked back almost expressionlessly, save for a brief smirk that turned into a twinkle of amusement in his dark eyes. “Buenas noches, Señor. Be careful, there are many sharp things to cut your fingers on inside there. The Capitán would be most vexed if we lose a guest.”
Dr. Hunter smiled politely. “Good evening. I’ll bear that in mind.”
The padlock snapped open. Captain Hunter flipped the latch and opened the door wide. He handed the padlock to the stocky guard.
“Sandoval, shut and lock the door behind us.” the Captain ordered.
Not surprised at his captain’s order, Sandoval hooked the unlocked padlock through his belt. “Aye, Capitán.”
Anthony looked to his brother. “Shall we?”
“Quite.” Thomas replied.
Beyond the armory door, wooden racks held modest collections of revolvers and sabers. Shelves bolted to the wall near the racks contained boxes of ammunition, gun oil and repair tools. Anthony walked past these without a second glance. Thomas, however, was more intrigued. He stopped at the first one he encountered to study its contents. The door to the armory closed with a heavy certainty to the sound. Dimly, the lock clicked into place.
Thomas tore his eyes away from the weapons rack-and considered the heavy armory door. “No fear of being locked in?”
Anthony crossed over to the safe in the wall on the far side of the room. He slipped a delicate brass key into the ornate lock, then turned it in the required combination; it obediently opened a moment later. The captain glanced briefly over his shoulder before he pulled open the safe door. “None. In case anyone is locked in, there’s a hidden catch that will open the door. Don’t concern yourself about it. We’ll get out as surely as we got in.”
The doctor gave his brother a quizzical look. “Gabriel, how does a hidden catch open a door locked by a padlock that is not actually a part of the door?”
Anthony spared a brief smile for his brother’s concern. “By pulling the trigger that ignites the fuse which explodes the bolts that hold the hinges in place. While smelly and dangerous, it does work.”
Thomas took an additional step away from the door. “Rather violent.”
“As is Moira when she’s feeling perturbed over having been hoodwinked by one too many thieves. An emotion I completely sympathize with.” The captain returned his attention to the wooden box inside the safe. “In any case, Flick is on guard. He’ll open it if we bang on the door.”
“Flick?” Thomas asked with a curious look. “Quite an odd family name.”
“A nickname,” the captain replied. He reached in and withdrew the cherry wood box, embellished with brass plates at its corners. “Gomez Sandoval Iglesias is his proper name. Hails from Madrid, and not the more respectable side. He is one of my gunners. However, his true talent lies within those knives.”
Thomas glanced back at the closed door, the direction towards the guard in the hallway. He then walked join Anthony. “How so?”
Anthony set the box on a nearby crate, then carefully worked the latch. He opened the lid to reveal the ancient Roman daggers in their blue velvet-lined resting place. The captain gently lifted one from inside the box, then turned it over in his hands as he considered it a moment. “Sandoval is quite adept at knife fighting. This includes hurling them with amazing accuracy. For a time he worked in a circus as a knife thrower, until he had an unpleasant moment concerning a patron who felt his skills were fraudulent due to his height.”
Thomas Hunter peered at the knife, his mind taking in the details. “Quite rude. He felt he couldn’t stand the establishment, so left?”
Anthony shrugged. “After a fashion. Once he pinned the patron to the wall of a nearby wagon with a few choice knives, it was felt all around that he should seek employment elsewhere.”
The doctor nodded appreciably. “Very understandable. Other employment being here?”
“Quite, though not directly.” Anthony held out one of the knives to Thomas. “This, if Sirrah Marino is to be believed, is one of the knives of Mulciber that are in such great demand.”
The doctor turned the knife over in his hands. “Elaborate carvings, I can see how they would be mistaken for runic engravings.” He touched a thumb to the edge of the blade. “Sharp, just as you indicated. They’re all like this one?”
Anthony set the knives out on the wooden crate one by one, arranging them side by side. “Material and edge? Yes. The similarities stop there.”
Thomas placed the knife next to its siblings. He leaned on the crate and studied them carefully. After a moment, he shook his head. “If this is a map, I just don’t see it, Gabriel.”
The captain shook his head in dismay. “Neither do I.” He stared at the engravings for another moment before pressing a fist over his mouth while he struggled in vain to suppress a yawn. Anthony blinked, then picked up the closest dagger to stare at it. Nothing stirred in his fatigue-frayed mind. Irritably, he set the dagger back on the crate next to another dagger. Immediately, it was drawn towards its sibling. They tapped together with a metallic sound.
“I did mention they were magnetic,” Anthony commented while he rubbed his eyes.
Thomas nodded, however most of his attention had been drawn towards the two weapons now attached to each other. The doctor set down the knife in his hands, then picked up the two knives in front of his brother. He gently pulled the weapons apart, then scrutinized each one carefully. Slowly he brought them close together again.
The magnetic field in each blade promptly attached them together. Thomas pulled them apart once more, as if working through a theory in his mind. He studied the raised carvings and engraved symbols before he once more repeated the process of allowing the two weapons to magnetically adhere to each other. The click of metal on metal echoed loud in the silent armory.
Anthony raised a curious eyebrow. “You’ve a thought,” he said. It was more of a declaration of an observation than an inquiry.
The doctor faintly smiled at the wisp of inspiration that had suddenly formed into the ghost of an idea. “Quite. However, it may be rather far-fetched.”
“Far-fetched? Thomas, I’ve been chased across a relay station by chemically enhanced, yet addled, men who believed they were incarnate beings from prehistory.” Anthony gave his brother a smirk. “I dare say, ‘far-fetched’ has become rather ordinary these days. Truly, if you’ve an idea, crack on with it.”
Thomas chuckled at his brother’s joke, then pulled the two weapons apart again. He turned the one in his right hand until it was at a slight angle from its mate. Almost as if they were two segments of a ladies’ fan. That is, if said fan had sharpened points and was made entirely of a dull, gray-black metal. Thomas shrugged slightly at his brother, searching for the right words to express his idea.
Finally, the words came to him. “You see, I had a thought about those engravings. True, they may be some sort of script. However, they may be that way as a means to mislead the casual researcher. Then I thought of rumors I’d heard not long back from an academic acquaintance concerning of a ‘hidden script’ written by the Knight’s Templar to convey messages among one another.”
Anthony considered that thought a moment for any shred of illumination. It eluded him. He blamed the fatigue that gnawed at the edge of his consciousness. “A secret code?” he offered.
The doctor nodded after a moment’s consideration. “Of a sort, yes. Only, I wonder if this is no script at all. These knives are associated with a hidden society that builds things, correct?”
Anthony nodded. He felt he knew where this might be headed. If so, it was ingenious. “Yes, that would be correct.”
“Then why would they waste time with runes, or cryptic inscriptions of passages to describe the puzzle?” Thomas asked. While he spoke he touched the two knives together. The ‘runes’ clicked together like puzzle pieces. He smiled at this brother. “I say these runes are nothing of the sort. They are means which the puzzle pieces connect together. The fact they appear to be some ancient language is just an illusion to deter the stray treasure hunter or thief.”
The doctor carefully picked up another knife, then another. With only a few false starts, the two new daggers clicked into place with the previous ones. Thomas smiled, then set the half-finished puzzle down on the crate. He wave a hand at his discovery.
“I think, Gabriel, this is what your new friend was making references to,” Thomas explained. “Now to me, it looks partially like a Roman eagle banner standard. What do you see?”
The captain was entranced. He leaned forward on the crate with both hands. His eyes drank in the sight. “A map. A miniature diorama rising out the fan of daggers that looks precisely like a relief map.”
“To where?” Thomas asked.
Anthony shook his head. “I don’t know. That is why we’ll return the knives back to the safe and get some rest. In the morning we assemble this, and show this productive far-fetched idea to the others. First, it may loosen Marino’s tongue a bit. Second, my own charts may help narrow down the location this carved map is describing. Adonia may also be able to identify any markings on the blades we miss.”
“Then what?” the doctor asked.
“Only thing we can do to catch the real killers behind all this.” Anthony let out a small sigh, his eyes hard and steady. “We use this as bait. If this is what they want, we make sure they know we have deciphered it and that we’re going to find whatever this ancient map points to. If they want it first, they’ll have to accelerate their plan in quite the hurry.”
Thomas grinned. “Which means mistakes.”
Anthony returned the grin. “Yes. This way we can track them, trap them, and bring an end to this whole sordid affair!”