Beyond the ante-chamber and through the inner steel door, a short tunnel led from the outer doors to the main collection of steam engines and suspended catwalks over the main fans that helped to keep the station aloft. Between the door and the catwalks, the massive pipes for the steam engines curved down from the two-story tall scaffolding that held the large boilers. These pipes continued along beyond where the tunnel walls stopped. The space between the pipes narrowed over the next five feet before they spread out again to deliver the high-pressure steam on to the giant piston-driven engines themselves.
Krumer followed Adonia down the tight hallway. He paused when she stopped at a small, barely noticeable break between the walls and the tangle of grime-covered steel pipes. He raised an eyebrow at her.
“Through there?” The orc asked suspiciously.
The young woman grinned. “Given all that’s happening, sitting out in the open having tea just wouldn’t be prudent.” With that, Adonia turned sideways, then side-stepped around a particularly large high-pressure steam pipe to emerge into a small make-shift room that had once been used as a maintenance shed.
Thorias and Moira exchanged a glance. Krumer sighed, shook his head slightly at Adonia’s comment then moved around the pipes after her. The rest followed thereafter.
Beyond the narrow entrance, the room formed by the steam pipes was roughly ten foot square, just large enough for a good-sized tool locker or parts storeroom. Pipes ran overhead and to either side. These fashioned three of the four ‘walls’ of the small room. The fourth wall was the solid steel of the building itself. A table and some crates that had lined one wall now served as a makeshift cot for a figure huddled under a threadbare woolen blanket. A pair of mud-stained boots and a tangle of chestnut-colored hair showed from under the blanket. Next to the cot stood a rough-looking man with a scraggly brown beard, worn coveralls and an elaborate knot work tattoo running the length of his exposed right arm.
Once past the pipes, Krumer eased away from the opening to allow room for the others. The bearded man watched them all enter warily.
“It’s alright Carlos, I know them.” Adonia said evenly. The bearded man cast another glance over the group that entered, then nodded in a solemn reply. Adonia knelt next to the figure in the cot.
“How is he? Has he improved any?” She asked while she adjusted the blanket.
Carlos shook his head slightly. “No, senõra, the senõr still raves out of his mind. He still speaks of things only he can see.” He replied in a rich Castillian accent.
Adonia glanced over at Carlos. “Where is Andrew?”
“Out on watch, senõra.” The Spaniard answered with a weary sigh. “He left only a moment ago.”
She nodded with a momentary frown then looked over at Krumer, Thorias, Moira and O’Fallon while they eased in and around the outer edges of the makeshift room. Arcady, who had never laid eyes on even parts of a steam engine this large, tore himself away from his exploration to circle the group once and land on his customary perch, Thorias’ shoulder. She patted the figure on the cot and stood.
“I mentioned something of an explanation,” she began hesitantly. “You all know Dr. James Von Patterson, I believe.” Adonia said with a small, but gracious gesture towards the cot. “He is, as best as I understand it, the ‘why’ behind it all. The ‘who’ would be the people chasing him since I found him stumbling around in the forests near his campsite. Last few sensible things he said were then, and they were not much. Just that he found something and there are some very unpleasant people who desire it. Unfortunately, he’s been ranting and mumbling since then and not been able to explain a thing. I doubt he knows where he is.”
“He taken with a fever?” Moira asked in concern. “An where’d his family get off ta? When last we were there, they seemed right as rain.”
“He sent them off on a supply ship to get some specific supplies from Paris. Lucky stroke, given that from what I could see, his entire camp was overrun. He’s the only survivor. So, fortunately his wife and children were safe from harm, even if his own assistants, weren’t. It is a good thing I believe. Miles and Angela shouldn’t see more unpleasantries than they’ve had to live through.” Adonia explained.
“Ya sure know a bit about his family.” Moira commented suspiciously.
Adonia’s yellow eyes widened in mild surprise at the tone, and her tendril-hair shifted slowly. “Well, of course. I’ve known James for many a year through the British Museum. You, however, seem to know quite a bit about him as well. Strange, he’s never mentioned you before. You are … ?”
Moira own eyes narrowed with a stern, fiery look. She started to reply but Thorias put a hand on her shoulder and interrupted. “Whatever has taken hold of Dr. Von Patterson, I might could still deduce a way to help him. Moira, would you assist please? If he tosses about, I’ll need your help in holding him still.”
The young woman paused. She started to finish her thought, but decided against it. Whatever help she could provide to Thorias, would in turn help Dr. Von Patterson. That was more important than her intense curiosity and the near-interrogation of the Charybdian woman. “All right Doc, tell me what ta do.”
Thorias smiled, with just a very faint air of relief. “Ah, just smashing. Come, lets see just what ails him, first.”
While Thorias and Moira walked across the small room to where Dr. Von Patterson lay, the ever-present Carlos watched them both, most specifically Moira, warily. Adonia stepped closer to Krumer and O’Fallon.
Adonia glanced back at Moira and Thorias, then lowered her voice so only Krumer and O’Fallon could hear. “She’s a touchy one. Where did you boys find her?”
O’Fallon chuckled. “Moira? Ah, that’d be the wee pub brawl with that Spaniard crew in San Sebastian. She’d na more’n three tied up. Two under a chair, an one she be havin’ by the ear with a set a’ iron tongs.”
Adonia smiled and shook her head slightly in amazement. “No small wonder you kept her around.”
Krumer folded his arms over his chest. “Adonia, you wouldn’t hole up in such a place if you didn’t have an idea of what chased you. Nor would you post a hidden watch, given we never laid eyes upon him coming here. You may not know what Dr. Von Patterson found, but you know more than you’re admitting to.”
Adonia grinned at the orc. “Ah, Krumer dear, direct as always. My, how I’ve missed working with all of you. You are quite correct. I have some idea. I don’t know who they are exactly, but once we had made it back to the La Paloma, we thought we had left his assassins behind. We made preparations but our captain was not careful enough. They made it aboard. Shortly before we arrived here, they emerged and attacked. Caught the officers and crew unaware. We made it to port, but the captain abandoned ship. He told me he’d send someone back, but we’ve not heard from them.”
“La Paloma?” Krumer asked curiously.
“The ship I was on.” Adonia explained. “What’s left of her is still tied at the dock.”
“Well then, that explains what her name was.” The orc replied.
O’Fallon frowned while he compared her story with the tracks he had been following for most of the day. “That be fittin’ the tracks here and yon. Save fer the cat.”
“Cat?” Adonia asked, confused.
Krumer nodded. “A large cat. Cougar or mountain lion. Odd thing is that it has an owner, or at least a keeper.”
It was the Charybdian’s turn to frown. “Once on station, I remember thinking I heard a muffled scream from what would’ve been a mountain lion. But here? I dismissed it as nerves. So you say it’s real?”
O’Fallon nodded. “Be as real as either of us standin’ here.”
Krumer looked over to where Thorias sat on a wooden box, examining Dr. Von Patterson. “Adonia … my dear … what did James find?”
Adonia gave Krumer an innocent look. “I really don’t know. I was only sent by the Royal Museum to check on him in response to a letter they received.”
“Yes, of that I’ve no doubt.” The orc replied with his own knowing smile. “And that is what the museum’s official communications will read as well. However, I know you quite well. You are not one to travel in the company of some possibly valuable or dangerous object and remain ignorant of it. So … what did he find?”
She grinned and her yellow eyes lit up slightly with a mix of amusement and excitement. “A jade statue. Ah, but not just any, a rare one from the Roman times. According to legend, these statues could control the minds of whatever creature that the statue was a likeness of.”
“What was this one of?” Krumer asked curiously.
“A lightning drake.”
Krumer and O’Fallon exchanged a glance. It had only been the better part of a season since they had their all-to-close encounter with a lightning drake. One that nearly took Captain Hunter’s life, all originally due to the machinations of a vampiric thief.
It was O’Fallon that spoke first. “Adonia, where be the thing now?”
She gave the two of them a dejected look. “On the station … somewhere. When the assassins attacked, I grabbed the good Dr. Von Patterson and some crew and raced off. The statue? Back on the ship, last I can recall. We forgot in the rush and James was in no state of mind to remember.”
Krumer frowned again. “We searched the wreck. There was no sign of a statue.”
Behind them, Thorias stood up and stretched his back. He turned around towards the trio on the far side of the small room. “Most perplexing.”
The orc looked over at the doctor. “But is it curable?”
“If I were a mystic, then perhaps.” Thorias said wryly. “Aside from some cuts and scrapes, the man isn’t gravely injured, at least physically. But what little I know from working with the shamans in Southern Africa, I suspect he’s been cursed, or at the least, possessed.”
Just then, almost as proof, Dr. Von Patterson writhed on the cot, his face contorted in pain. He opened his eyes and looked out at nothing, speaking rapidly in another language.
Thorias watched Dr. Von Patterson carefully until he calmed down into a quiet, fitful rest. “And that was Latin. Though not what we use today with religious or medical text. This is more … conversational if I dared to hazard a guess, although I’m no linguist. More as not, we’d need someone like young William to listen and decipher it to be certain.”
Metal suddenly slammed against metal with a loud crash. The abrupt sound echoed off the pipes and reverberated around the steam pistons that powered the station. In the small side room, not a soul stood still. All around, save for Dr. Von Patterson, hands grabbed for weapons, from pistols to a handy pipe wrench that sat close by.
“Alarm!” A young man yelled from out in the hallway. “They’re comin’! They’re comin’!”
“Andrew!” Adonia shoved past Krumer and O’Fallon, scurrying around the pipes as quickly as she physically could. O’Fallon and Krumer exchanged a glance and rushed after her.
In the hallway, they skidded to a stop behind Adonia. There, at the door to the ante-chamber of the building itself, a young man with tousled brown hair, worn black leather boots and bloodied, torn clothes struggled with a rope he had hastily fastened to the door’s latch. This rope he desperately tried to pull around a nearby pipe to help secure the door. The door itself fought against him, while a shadowy figure tugged at it from the other side with raw and bloodied hands.
“Ya gotta lock it!” Andrew yelled between gasps as he struggled through his tug of war with the shadowy figure. “We can’t let ’em get in!”
As if in response, one of the bloody hands grasped the side of the door where the lock was, and squeezed. Immediately the metal protested at the abuse. The hand twisted mercilessly as the metal screamed in agony and finally succumbed. Slowly the lock and that small part of the door compressed until they were useless.
Krumer scowled. “So much for the lock. We need something else.” He dropped his pistol into its holster and looked around him at the pipes. A foot ahead of Andrew was a narrow pipe on which was written, ‘high pressure steam’. Next to that was a gauge and an emergency valve. The orc smiled. “Ask and the spirits provide. I’ve an idea! Be ready to run!”