Krumer jerked awake with a half-choked shout of alarm, then sat bolt upright. Immediately he regretted it, as the room spun lazily around him with a peculiar swaying motion that left him surprisingly motion sick. It was an unwelcome condition for any airship sailor. Slowly, the room stopped spinning, and the jumble of memories that crashed against each other in his mind reassembled into something he could understand. He reached up and rubbed his eyes, groaning softly. When he opened them he found Adonia sitting next to him with a worried look on her face, her hair-tendrils twitching in concern. Her yellow eyes were damp and shot through with bits of red from either fatigue, tears or irritation.
“Easy, you are safe. I am glad you are awake, amigo.” She said softly. “We were worried you would not wake up.”
“We?” Krumer grunted.
“Falo, amigo. Tiberius, his cat and Dr. Von Patterson are here with us.” She explained.
Krumer looked around. They sat in a small room with only three walls. Where the fourth should have been were only the knotted clumps of gray storm clouds slowly rolling along above the corrugated metal roof of a wide building. In the far distance was an upraised section of another roof where a nest of antenna reached towards the dismal sky. In between Krumer and the antenna, the rooftops were dotted with lightning rods, skylights, steam and smoke stacks. Occasional light gusts of wind toyed with the steam and light smoke. They mixed and cooled into a thin fog that clung to the rooftop like a gauze shroud.
The orc looked past Adonia until he spotted Tiberius. The young man was seated cross-legged next to Dr. Von Patterson, who stirred fitfully where he rested on a bundle of cloth. The mountain lion sat nearby, fascinated by something out on the rooftop among the light fog. Krumer puzzled over what Dr. Von Patterson lay on. It finally occurred to him neither Adonia or Tiberius wore their coats.
Adonia followed his gaze. “Tiberius is taking his turn to watch James. James is … the same.”
Krumer nodded carefully. His head swam at the motion, which drew out a frustrated sigh. While he was not a trained doctor like Thorias, he knew the signs of a concussion, since he was no stranger to them. He blinked and looked around again. Headache, dizziness but nothing more serious he could find than that. Krumer hoped it was only a small one that he could sleep away. Once they had a safe place to rest, that is. Krumer slowly got to his feet with some help from Adonia.
“Any sign of the others? Or zombies? Anyone?” Krumer asked.
Adonia shook her head. “Not a sign. When the floor fell away, a hole opened up to deeper down in the station. They were swept into there along with the zombies. We don’t know how far down that went. When the shaking stopped, everyone was gone. Tiberius and I carefully picked our way across what was left of the room and pulled you and James out here to the roof. This little shed was the best cover we could locate. Since we’ve been here, there has been some motion below. Two zombies near the the walkway along the propellers near the door to the steam engines.”
Krumer walked to the opening of the shed and looked out. “Spirits are watching over us then.”
The orc let his eyes run slowly over the fog outside for any sign, any clue to his missing friends. The fog was immutable to his silent concerns. Just then he heard a soft sound, like a muffled intake of breath. Had it not been so quiet, he would have missed it. He gazed over his shoulder in time to catch Adonia rubbing something from her eye. When she noticed he was watching her she stared at him for a moment before she smiled, albeit sadly.
“They probably survived the fall.” Krumer said gently. “Spirits willing, we’ll find them.”
Adonia opened her mouth to speak with a pained look of grief in her eyes. At the last moment she said nothing, but instead smiled and forced the pain away from her expression. “Spirits willing,” was her only reply.
Krumer sighed a little when she refused to say more, and gazed out at the fog again. “This shed will do just fine as a shelter. This fog … we did not see this from below.”
“I know,” Adonia replied and wiped at her damp eyes. “I think the temperature is dropping, like before a storm arrives.”
Krumer gazed at the metal roof, then at the scattered collection of lightning rods that dotted its surface. He frowned while he pictured the effects of a thunderstorm on the rooftop, then mentally revised his thought that the shed was truly safe.
“What possesses an engineer to design a death trap such as this?” He groused.
Adonia smiled, fatigue evident on her face. “I doubt they considered anyone would wish to take shelter up here from zombies during a thunderstorm.”
Krumer thought that over a moment. “True. However, we need new shelter, and to make contact with the Griffin. I had hoped being among the steam engines would have helped us.”
“I had also, at first,” Adonia said. “There were so many zombies at the catwalks … just so many more than we had seen at one place. Almost like they are drawn to the steam engines. I never knew there were that many about.”
Krumer looked over at Adonia. “How many more would you say?”
Adonia shrugged. “I cannot say for sure. Double perhaps?”
“How many had you seen before?” The orc asked.
“Two to four at any given time.” Adonia explained. “What made it so dangerous was that they would come at us unexpectedly, say from above or through a window or from beneath where a maintenance trap door might be. But when we crossed the catwalk … for that many to come at us, they would had to have been nearby.”
A disturbance in the distance drew Krumer’s attention. He looked out into the thickening fog. When he did not see anything, he took a step out of the shelter towards the edge of the roof. Below the fog, the network of catwalks spread out like a metal web over the station’s large propellers. His eyes swept over the walkways, the two platforms, and the damaged catwalk where they had last encountered the mob of zombies.
Adonia walked over to join him. “What is it?”
“I’m not certain. Something moved.” Suddenly Krumer pointed. “There, on the catwalk that extends around the edge from the initial platform we had stopped on.”
Adonia looked to where he pointed. Beyond and below the gray mist, three figures walked along. Two in the now recognizable shambling gait of the zombies and one with a light, easy walk. The trio moved slowly along the walkway with the two zombies ahead of the third figure. The young Charybdian woman frowned, her hair-tendrils twitching in deep thought. “The third one in the group seems to move much better than the others.”
Krumer had noticed that as well. The way the third figure moved reminded him of a boxer he had fought once during his days as a pugilist. Light on his feet, that figure seemed quite skilled in the physical arts. That would not be someone to take lightly. While they watched, the two zombies paused in their stroll. The third figure, however, stepped up close to the zombies and seemed to inspect them for … something that Krumer could not discern. Then, while he watched, the figure pointed down the walkway. At that, the two zombies resumed their ambling gait. The third figure returned in the direction he first came from.
“That,” Krumer said sternly, “is no zombie. That may be someone who controls them.”
Just then, from the shed behind them, a muffled noise startled both Adonia and Krumer. They hurried away from the edge of the roof to the shed. By the time they arrived, Tiberius had just begun to ease the Dr. Von Patterson onto his back again.
“Another seizure.” Tiberius offered, answering the silent question on both Adonia and Krumer’s faces.
“Did he say anything?” The orc asked.
Tiberius paused a moment. “He said, ‘mercy’ … roughly translated of course.” Out of Tiberius’ sight, Krumer and Adonia exchanged a glance. Krumer had a guess his thoughts mirrored Adonia’s own. Just where was this strange, albeit helpful, young man from? Also, how much longer could they continue to trust him? Krumer had no answer to either question, and that bothered him as deeply as the presence of the zombies.
Adonia, as if a thought had occurred to her, turned on her heel and strode into the mists to carefully look over the edge of the roof to the walkways below. Satisfied with what she found, she rejoined the others.
“I may be very wrong, but lately with each outburst James has made, the zombies have either arrived in force or reacted in some way.” She commented.
“As if they’re connected?” Krumer asked.
“I don’t see how?” Tiberius added.
Adonia shook her head. “Neither do I, but with each outburst, the zombies have suddenly descended upon us when they hadn’t before. Right now the ones down on the walkway are suddenly in quite a hurry to reach this building. A moment ago, they weren’t. Why now? I don’t know. Also, if they have always been connected to James, why didn’t I have to fight them in the forests when I first rescued James?”
Krumer frowned in thought. More questions and fewer answers plagued him. “I’m not certain how there would be a connection, but you have a point, Adonia. In any case, if the zombies are now heading this way, we’d best not be here when they arrive.”
“We’re on a roof. Where can we go?” Tiberius asked in a tired, worried tone.
“Across the roof.” Krumer answered flatly. The orc pointed at the antenna in the distance. “If we can make it there, I should be able to rewire a way for us to contact the Griffin. They can come to us, and we can deliver Dr. Von Patterson to Captain Hunter. At that point the zombies will be unable to reach Dr. Von Patterson. If you’re reasoning is accurate Adonia, that would make the zombies much simpler a problem to deal with. After that, we can worry over our lost companions and the missing statue.”
Adonia looked out across the fog-shrouded roof to the antenna in the distance, then back at Tiberius and Krumer. “Well then dear Krumer, let us not waste a moment’s time.”
Krumer nodded, kneeling down to help Tiberius lift Dr. Von Patterson, despite the dull throbbing in his own head. “Agreed.”