Below the station, putrid fumes trailed upwards in a column from where RiBeld’s frigate lay, smashed and bloodied among the landscape of the High Fens. The column of black, oily smoke rose like an ugly smear across a sky, still thick with the last remnants of the storm. Thunderclouds that had previously hurled rain and lightning now barely rumbled as they slowly separated, growing thinner with each passing moment. While the storm slowly broke, the setting sun emerged. Its warm, amber light caressed the dark clouds, tossing forests and battered station with a soothing blanket that caressed all it touched. At the station’s dock, smoke trailed from smoldering piles of rubble, charred craters and the two schooners docked near the wreck of the La Paloma. Despite the gentle silence that accompanied the storm’s passing, the station’s new guests were hard at work along the dock.
Captain Anthony Hunter pulled his coat around him while a burst of wind, still fresh with the afterthought the departing storm, swirled around him playfully. He stood on the dock with a thoughtful, yet worried look; for his ship and for his haggard people that had followed him here. His eyes watched while a group of his crew worked steadily to measure, cut and nail shut the holes blasted into the Griffin’s hull. Others hurried by him with supplies and materials scavenged from either the station or the wrecked La Paloma, who would not need the parts anymore.
“Your pilot, Mr. Wilkerson, said I might find you here.” Dr. James Von Patterson’s voice said from a few paces behind the captain along the dock. Fresh from a washbasin, the archeologist had cleaned himself up, with only a few cuts along his right cheek and a dark bruise that sought to form near his left eye. He wore a clean shirt, dark trousers and long coat, though the mud-splattered boots were his own.
“Indeed, they were correct.” Hunter turned with a small smile and extended a hand to the doctor. “I see you’re looking well despite your time of it.”
“Yes, the fresh clothes are much appreciated.” Dr. Von Patterson said, clasping the Captain’s hand in a firm greeting. When he let go, he started to ask something, hesitated, then pushed on with the question. “However, I don’t know who to thank for the loan?”
“Moira, O’Fallon and several others thought you might feel better with a fresh change of clothes. They scavenged about the ship and station. We came across some clothes in a foot locker that belonged to one of the station’s crew. They were your size and we thought, perhaps given all that’s happened, the person wouldn’t mind at this point.”
For a brief moment, Dr. Von Patterson looked a bit taken back at wearing a dead man’s clothes. “Well, still, they are appreciated. We all have had quite a rough time of it.”
“So I’ve learned. Especially there at the end.” Hunter explained. “I’ve spoken with most everyone that’s been able to talk. Honestly, Doctor, given all that transpired, I’m relieved worse didn’t happen in there.” The captain gestured to the station warehouses that loomed, dark and foreboding, past the two men.
“You have the statue, though.” Hunter continued, pushing his hands into his coat pockets when the wind blew past again. “Given what it is, what it can do, what will you do with it?”
“Something like that needs to be guarded and secured.” The archeologist said with a grin. “I thought the British Museum would service that need quite well.”
Hunter looked surprised. “Out on display? What about its more … exotic … properties?” He asked. “It would be a target for any number of thieves or lunatics or anyone following after RiBeld’s lead. We don’t fully know who knew how to repeat the process.”
Dr. Von Patterson nodded. “True on all counts. While normally I would bristle at the very thought of keeping a portion of information about a relic such as this jade drake statue quiet, this time I think it would be more prudent for all concerned. In the Museum, it’ll be under guard and under close scrutiny most every part of the day. Stealing something locked in a vault or a university laboratory is one thing, but in plain sight of the general populace? While under guard? I think not. I’ve spoken some with young Tiberius about this. He’s nervous about the idea, what with the statue’s connection to his home country. However, he is willing to try. He and I are carefully preparing what can be told to the public and what cannot.”
Captain Hunter considered the idea, then gently shook his head. “I understand his worry. You know, this may come back to haunt you?”
“Indeed, I do.” The archeologist said after a moment’s hesitation. “It’s a large risk. However, I have to return with something. My previous correspondence exposed the statue’s existence. To return with nothing or even something small would arouse suspicions. Then the hunt would be on in earnest for what I might have missed.” Dr. Von Patterson sighed slightly with fatigue. “I just know this will work. It has to. For the sake of Tiberius and his people.”
A loud crash of wood drew Captain Hunter’s attention back to the Griffin. On deck Conrad O’Fallon, still adorned in a few obvious bandages and even more obvious bruises, dropped a stack of wood next to a hole in need of mending. He waved down to Captain Hunter and Dr. Von Patterson, then walked toward a toolkit just barely within sight of the dock.
“Astounding.” The captain said in amazement. “I will never understand how that man takes such a beating, yet still soldiers on. Almost as if he doesn’t have a care in the world.” Hunter watched the rebuilding efforts for another few moments. “Doctor, what of the jars? Thorias examined the one he brought back with him. An interesting mixture of gallium and indium metals in a salt bath solution. Alone he said it makes for a rather effective antenna, if crude by being within the jar. It increases the range of the jade properties tenfold.”
Dr. Von Patterson smiled. “I wondered if you would ask. Tiberius is taking the jars. His plan is to dispose of the mixture safely. Failing that, he’ll lock them away where they can’t be found. Your doctor asked to keep the one he has and a spare. Tiberius isn’t certain that is a good idea. I don’t see the harm in it, however.”
Hunter waved a hand dismissively. “Thorias can be discreet, often to an infuriating level. Those two will be safe with him. If I know my old friend, the research has more to do with helping to repair Arcady than any public display of the technology.”
“Ah, the clockwork?”
Hunter nodded. “Indeed. I must admit, he’s become quite a valuable addition to my crew. I’d hate to lose him as well.” The captain half-turned to look at the archeologist. “That does bring one thing to mind. That journal. If anything needs to be disposed of, those designs should be.”
Dr. Von Patterson reached into his coat pocket. “We discussed that. Yes, much of it needs to be destroyed most likely, but there are some medical theories there, that if applied differently, could be of some later use. Improved artificial limbs, better medical techniques. In any case, we felt this journal would be best in your care.” He held out the worn, coal-stained journal.
Captain Hunter carefully accepted the small book, then slowly leafed through its worn pages. “I’m surprised. This is the most dangerous part of the entire macabre collection.”
“With the parts scattered, any attempt to follow those instructions would be hampered.” Dr. Von Patterson explained. “Also, you travel, my good man, and quite a bit. If the journal were locked away, it might be found, and by the wrong hands. Constantly on the move? That means when it comes to light, it will be done so at the right time.”
Hunter frowned at the journal and the manic scrawls within it. “One appropriate use will be some select copies of certain pages. Just enough for the Belgian Navy to be encouraged to arrest RiBeld and his men for their foul work.”
“Just select pages?” The archeologist asked with a hint of concern.
“Yes, the more gruesome ones with the least amount of rational explanation.” The captain explained. “Not enough to create anything, save a conviction of murder which they so truly, and obviously, deserve.” He sighed heavily. “Though, I’ve no illusions. Only a handful will face the consequences for now.”
Dr. Von Patterson frowned at the captain’s last comment. “What of the ship that crashed below? You had sent out a longskiff to look earlier …”
“I had.” Hunter replied in a flat tone. “They found the frigate, or what was left of her. It seems the ship was abandoned well before the crash. Of the bodies that were found, RiBeld’s was not among them. Given that the longskiffs were missing, I can only assume that the rat abandoned his ship at the earliest opportunity presented him. I’ve marked the coordinates to give to the Belgians. I’ve no doubt they’ll find something useful within the wreck.” The captain frowned. “All in all, I’d have felt better if he’d been caught. From what I’ve learned of him so far, it would be foolish to think he doesn’t have at least a working knowledge of what is in this book.” For emphasis, Hunter gestured with the worn journal. “Or how to assemble these particular horrors.”
Dr. Von Patterson turned to look at the heavily damaged Thulian schooner in the next berth over from the Brass Griffin. Already her crew, dressed in loose tunics, trousers and work boots were hard at work repairing the craters and blackened timbers. He sighed as a man with a great weight settled upon his shoulders. “Can we really do this? You, myself, Thorias, your crew?”
Hunter dropped the journal into his coat pocket and gave the archeologist a reassuring smile. “Rest assured, we can. It may seem a large burden at first, but over time it will be easier to bear.”
“That’s what worries me,” the archeologist said with a sound of concern. After a moment, the doctor put out his hand. “However, my deepest thanks, Captain. That is twice you’ve done me a great service.”
Hunter smiled and shook the man’s hand firmly. “Thank my crew, not me. But I understand. You were in trouble and we could help. In the end of it all, I’m simply glad you’ll be returning to your wife and family in one solid piece.”
Dr. Von Patterson laughed then put his hands in his pockets. “True enough! On that note, where are you bound for from here? More importantly, might there be a room for a passenger?”
“There might indeed be room, doctor.” Hunter replied. “So long as the passengers are not zombies. My preference would be anyplace where my crew will not be shot, stabbed or clawed. Although, it will probably be Edinburgh. We’ll need supplies and a brief respite from travel. There’s some work waiting for us there, also.”
“Most excellent!” The archeologist exclaimed. “There will be no zombies, I can assure you of that, just myself and Adonia. Once there, I can send word to my wife and family so I can meet them.”
At the name of the Charybdian woman, Hunter paused, his mouth in a thin line. He stared off at the clouds in silence.
Dr. Von Patterson’s smile evolved into a smirk. “Had to think that one out, eh? The history must run deep there.”
Captain Hunter sighed heavily the moment he made his decision. “Oh, very well.” He said in a brittle voice. “At least she’s presumably among the living.”