A few miles above the mountains, the Griffin slipped through the stray mist of white clouds. Her gas bag was tight and the rear propellers turned slowly. Aboard, Tonks looked over the edge of the ladder to the forward cargo hold of the Griffin. Krumer walked among the short stacks of crates below deck, carrying a clipboard. The first mate would pause a moment, review the list on the clipboard then inspect the particular crate of interest for signs of damage.
Krumer looked up from the crate that held his attention. “Eh?”
“Doc has something.”
“Good!” Krumer crossed over and scaled the ladder, leaving the worn wooden clipboard to sway gently from a small loop of twine.
Tonks stepped back when Krumer appeared above. “Doc didn’t say much but sent word he’d gotten something interesting out of that bug.”
Krumer snorted and rolled his eyes at the comment before he walked towards the rear of the ship. “Spirits willing, Doc and his talent for understatement could rankle even a shaman.”
Tonks fell into step alongside Krumer. “Must be good, though. I heard tell he’s got that ‘look’ about him.”
“Look? What look?”
“Ya know the one. The ‘I’ve got ya’ look.”
“Ah that one.”
The pair descended below deck again into the rear cargo hold. However, instead of holding cargo, a room had been built into the back that served as an on board hospice. Krumer knocked on the partially open door.
“Enter.” Replied a thin, almost nasal voice.
Krumer pushed the door open and slipped inside. Tonks followed after.
“Tonks tells me you have learned something, Thorias. You’ve taken the bug apart, then?”
The man within put down the pen he had been using to write notes in his logbook.Thorias Llewellyn, usually known as ‘Doc’ to most of the crew, was a tall, thin figure with long brown hair an deep blue eyes. Fastidious, even for an elf, his appearance was often neat and trim. His black vest was brushed, white shirts pressed – or as pressed as a shirt may be aboard a privateer airship – and his long chestnut, brown hair pulled back and tied neatly behind him. Even his cutlass of Toledo steel that hung on the wall looked as it had been polished that very day. He leaned back from the small desk and gave the first mate a sour look. The brass dragonfly bug buzzed it’s wings, then let out a brief squeak at the idea of being taken apart.
“Mr. Whitehorse, I did no such thing. Nor will I. Clockworks, like this little bug here, are rare and considered a living being. I’d no more ‘take him apart’ than I would you, Sirrah. Unless it was to remove another bullet from your tough orcish hide.”
“Birds are natural. That’s a machine.” Krumer snorted.
“He says his name’s Arcady. He’s also got feelings that you’re stepping on as sure as if you’d kicked him.” Thorias replied sharply.
“Yes. Automatic Rewinding Clockwork Dragonfly. ARCDY or ‘Arcady’.”
“You don’t wind a bird.”
Tonks tried to suppress a laugh at the argument and managed only to turn it into a cough. Quickly he interjected, “Well all right then, but ya did learn something?”
Doc Thorias raised an eyebrow at the pilot. “Of course I did. Wouldn’t have sent word, otherwise. This little fella’s a fountain of information. When no one’s tryin’ to threaten him, that is. Seems he was given out to a mercenary company. Some bunch called RiBeld. Heard tell of them?”
Krumer frowned in thought while Tonks sighed and nodded. “Aye, that I do. High priced mercenaries started by Archibald RiBeld. RiBeld was supposedly some duke. The fourth duke of Collinsway, some little place North of London. The whole company is ruthless to ever single man-jack of them.”
Thorias nodded in agreement and glanced around. The small hospice served as the doctor’s home as well as its intended purpose to treat the infirm. He often kept personal amenities stashed about the room. He reached back to a small table nearby and scooped up a tall bottle with an amber colored liquid in it. “Then that would agree with the rest of the story, now wouldn’t it? Charybdian Brandy? No? Well, pardon me while I have a quick sip.”
He retrieved a small tumbler from another hidden cabinet and poured a little of the brandy into the glass for himself. “Where was I? Oh, RiBeld. Our little friend here was around when RiBeld got their orders. They were sent out to chase down that merchant ship, the Marie Celeste, and bring it down before it reached Northumbrage. They came upon her right before dusk and caught the crew unaware. Seems they meant to board her then scuttle her, but RiBeld’s men got a bit carried away with the grapeshot. Tore the Celeste from here to Iceland. The Celeste and her crew got wise quick enough though. They fired up some smoke pots to try and cover their tracks into a cloud bank over the mountains. That’s when the mercenaries lost them.”
Krumer folded his arms over his chest. “Though the Celeste didn’t make it to port at Northumbrage, but instead dove into the snow while trying.”
The doctor shrugged and sipped his brandy. “I s’ppose. Little fella didn’t see that part. Though RiBeld and his men looked, apparently they lost their victim among the clouds. On reporting back, their employer hired some trackers … merchant marines … with some history of taking risky jobs and pulling through.”
“Us,” Tonks said flatly.
Thorias smiled thinly and raised his glass in a small toast to the answer. “Yes. Us. Now the little fella here was sent along quietly. Hidden among some supplies we took on. Arcady was to keep an eye on us and report back where we were going.”
“And when we found the Celeste.” Finished Krumer.
Tonks scratched a shadow of whiskers on his cheek and spoke in a low aside to Thorias. “Doc, can this little bug understand all we say?”
“Oh, Arcady’s a fair grasp of proper English. Doesn’t use it when he’s scared mind you.” The doctor leaned forward a bit and whispered. “Bit of a stutter when he’s rattled.”
Tonks sighed and looked at the brass clockwork dragonfly. Arcady turned its ruby colored eyes up at the pilot then shifted its weight uneasily. The sound of tiny muffled gears whirred gently in the moment of silence of the room. Tonks cleared his throat, then pushed on with what he wanted to ask. “So, you know who hired RiBeld then?”
With a single nod, the clockwork insect turned to face a blank wall. A glimmer of light shone from within the ruby eyes. The light grew brighter, more intense until a series of moving pictures, colors muted and laced with a touch of static, appeared. At first the scene was of a damp cobblestone road, lined with the characteristic brownstone London buildings, and lit by lamps against an approaching evening. A pair of figures appeared down the lane, then walked to a nearby door and waited. Then the view changed, bobbing gently like a small cork upon water, or as if the person who carried the source of the recording walked forward. Closer, and closer still, the view altered until the pictures angled upwards towards three figures backlit by the gas lamp overhead. Their faces were obscured by the overhead light , however, Arcady had been able to get a long, clear look at what each figure wore and a few obvious personal possessions such as an exquisite pocket watch.
The first mate frowned. “Yet we can’t see their faces. Though at least we’ve idea what they almost look like.”
Arcady fluttered his wings. From a hidden speaker a small voice – tinged with an artificial, stiff accent that emphasized the sound of the letter ‘t’ just a little too much – spoke, “It was all I could see. I was in a pocket. It was not much.”
Tonks had leaned forward, trying not to be distracted by how Arcady could actually display these images, with a look of concentration on his face. “A might more than that’s there, I’d say. That suit and velvet vest, I remember such tailoring from the more finer shops in London. It’s expensive and only the more well ta do bought such. Wait, can ya go back a bit … if ya can do that with what your doin’?”
The images halted then moved backwards for a few seconds while the dragonfly rewound the sequence. With a static burst and flicker, the pictures moved forward again.
The pilot pointed when a bronze pocket watch, etched in gold and silver came into view, then scrambled for a scrap piece of paper and a pencil. “Right there. If you look close you can see it. Hold it right there. I think I can sketch most of that out.”
In moments they had a crude sketch of family coat of arms. There, among a field of ivy, was a modest shield with blood drops on which there was a black lion decorated with gold drops. Above that was a blue bar or ‘chief’ which held three silver scallops.
Thorias leaned forward, “But whose is it?”
Tonks raised his eyebrows in surprise when recognition came to him. “I only know a’ one coat of arms like that. That belongs to the Patterson family.”
Krumer looked up in surprise. “As in Ian Von Patterson? Our employer?”
“The one and same.”
“Why would he even consider such a thing? Especially being a well – respected industrialist and a gentleman. At least according to the papers.”
Thorias cleared his throat. “More of interest to me is how indeed would he know the route the Celeste would take? Those flight paths are kept under lock and key. Strict security you know.”
“Nary a clue. But I can think of those that may know.” Tonks said with a growing smile. “RiBeld and his men.”
“Preposterous!” Thorias exclaimed. “You’d not get them to talk and besides, you’d have to find one alone.”
“Alone I’m still planning about. However the where shouldn’t be that hard. They’re following us, so we just need to scout around for signs of them and see them before they see us.”
The small tin voice emerged from the clockwork dragonfly. “Would this be useful sirs?” With a brief click, another series of pictures displayed on the wall. This time it was navigational charts marked with various routes and timetables. Some of which included today.
Before anyone could speak, the dragonfly shifted his weight and did a close approximation of a rather human-like shrug. “When they were not throwing knives at me, they left me alone in the captain’s cabin. I grew bored.”