A gray, cold specter of weather encroached upon the station over the next few hours. Wraith-like clouds paused in their churning approach to slowly, silently regroup into a single, large cloud bank. Once reformed, it resumed its relentless advance; a juggernaut heralded only by an unforgiving cold blast of wind.
Blissfully unaware, the small butcher’s shop sat quietly as it always did on the western side of Port Signal between its tall, metal-shod siblings. The little shop was a small, narrow building dressed in black paint that was cracking and flaking away from the embossed window frames and weathered wood. Two prominent store front windows, braced by a pair of stout wrought iron banded shutters, reflected the cold blue sky and ghostly clouds overhead.
Dr. Llwellyn stopped outside a wide window to the left of the front door. Frost-coated meats of various cuts, shapes and sizes hung on display suspended by rough twine cords. Inside the shop itself, the electric lights glowed, warm and inviting compared to the brisk cold that permeated everything outside. It was the second butcher’s shop – out of the seven shops they had visited – that sat along the western side of Port Signal.
“Fitzcarin,” Thorias said, looking up at the faded name written with brass paint onto the wooden crossbeam over the door. He glanced through the window again, “seems to be well stocked.”
“I’m sure the meat keeps well up here in the cold,” Tonks replied. “Though for the life of me, I can’t see why a young lady would come here instead of a general grocer.”
Thorias scanned the shop’s inventory on display in the window. “I dare say I might. It would be hunger. She’s a lycanthrope, therefore primarily a carnivore. So this would be quite the oasis for her.” He smiled, then gestured to a small sign in the lower right corner of the window. “Ah capital! Jerked beef is on for a special price today. We should get some.”
Opening the door, the two crewmen stepped out of the cold weather. Past the entrance, a gust of warm air greeted them just beyond the doorway. Dr. Llwellyn sighed slightly at the welcoming rush of warmth.
Shutting the door behind them, Tonks glanced around the shop. Worn wooden beams crossed the ceiling, and were secured tight with the intent to support the weight of a second floor above. Around the walls, wrapped and dried sausages and salamis hung in silent display. The most curious to him, however, was the inside of the front windows.
“It’s not a storefront window,” Tonks said after a moment, “it’s a glass box.” He lightly rapped a knuckle against the glass in question and was rewarded with a dull, hollow drumbeat. “Wood with steel rivets holding it all together. Sealed glass, too. Most shops don’t go to all that much trouble.”
“Toughened glass, ta be exact,” replied a Canadian accent from across the room. From behind the long worn, dark wooden counter, a tall and quite bald – save for a memory of hair that encircled the crown of his head – orc looked over at the pair curiously. Carefully he set a butcher’s knife down on the cutting board where he had been dissecting a side of beef. In his bloodstained leather apron, worn white shirt, and dark trousers, he was an imposing figure.
The orc stepped out from behind the counter towards them. Picking up a rough cloth from a nearby brass bar, he wiped his hands clean, then replaced the cloth back where it came from.
He untied, adjusted, and retied his leather apron while watching the two newcomers from beneath his bushy black eyebrows. “Y’see, that glass is sealed, even around a little door off to the side that I use to get in and change things about some. I also have a steam driven refrigeration unit set to help the outside air chill the meat, but blow spent steam into the shop.” The shopkeeper shrugged. “It’s how I keep ’em all cold yet me warm. Ah, but I doubt either of ya want ta hear about that. What brings ya here, eh?”
“You must be the ‘Fitzcarin’ mentioned on the sign, yes?” Thorias asked.
The shopkeeper gave the doctor a smirk, “Aye, I’m ‘Fitzcarin’. One Peter Blackeagle Fitzcarin. Owner and proprietor of this fair place.”
“Ah, well, good day to you, Sirrah.” Thorias replied with a small nod and a smile. The doctor gestured to the case, “we are interested in some jerked beef, if you’ve some to spare?”
“Ya both are in luck. I just got a fresh cut o’ Highland beef in yesterday. Oven-jerked it as soon as it arrived.” Peter walked over to the storefront window, fishing out a key from his pocket.
“Oh? Quite our luck then. A half-pound of jerked beef, if you please, Sirrah?” Thorias asked, while Tonks folded his arms over his chest, watching the entire spectacle with a raised eyebrow.
At the glass wall, Peter Fitzcarin stopped at a small metal framed door – just a few inches shorter than Peter’s six foot tall physique – situated where the tempered glass of the showcase met the wooden shop wall. The door was lined with a trim of black rubber to seal.
Peter slipped the key into an iron lock that bound the door closed. Quickly, he recovered a large mason jar that held a thick knot of dark, oven-dried meat, then shut the case behind him, blocking out the cold air. He motioned for Tonks and Dr. Llwellyn to join him at the counter.
“The half-pound will do us some good while we search,” Thorias told Tonks. “We need to keep our strength up if we’re ever to find her.”
“Right,” Tonks said, quickly understanding the doctor’s intent. “Once we find her, she’ll probably be starving. That’s plenty for us and her.”
Peter, who could not help but overhear the conversation, hesitated a moment before he set the jar down. “Should be about a half-pound there, Sirrah. Anything else?”
Dr. Llwellyn shook his head sadly, “no, thank you, Sirrah. We’ve a cold day ahead. How much?”
The shopkeeper considered the two men a moment, “a threpney bit will do it.” When Thorias handed over the coin, Peter looked at both Tonks and Thorias skeptically. “Beggin’ yer pardon, eh? Ya seem in some kind of distress. Is there a problem?”
Dr. Llwellyn glanced over at Tonks, then toyed with the mason jar in his hands nervously. He gave the shopkeeper a worried look, “Yes, after a fashion.” The doctor cleared his throat, looking for all the world as a nervous, overwrought man uncertain of where to begin. “Perhaps … well, perhaps you could help? I truly hate to even ask, but would you happen to have seen a young lady of late? No more than ten years of age?”
Peter narrowed his eyes suspiciously, “I might’ve. Hard ta say, lots of people come through. Some are young ladies fresh off the ships. Why? Ya know her?”
“Yes!” Thorias said, tension straining his voice. Behind him, Tonks barely repressed a surprised look at the doctor’s display of passionate, though mildly panicked, enthusiasm.
Dr. Llwellyn quickly continued, “That is, if one of the young women you’ve met is indeed her … my ward that is … then yes, I would know her. She’s all of ten. Quite precocious, you see. We are traveling on holiday. One moment she was nearby, looking at a shop window. The next, she’s gone! My colleague here has been ever so kind as to help me look, but there’s been no sign. As I said, she’s all of ten, no more than four feet, six inches tall with long brown hair. She would’ve been dressed for the chill of course, and had an automata servitor with her that she adores. It’s built like a monkey.”
Peter frowned a moment in thought, “A young girl with a monkey?” Then he nodded, as if making up his mind, “I remember a young lady like that just ten minutes ago. It was the servitor that struck me as odd. Ya don’t see a young girl like her running around alone in a place like this, much less with a servitor like that. Conspicuous, you see, especially with the unsavory element that’s here about, eh?”
“Understandable,” Tonks agreed.
Peter continued, “I was a bit worried, so when she bought something to eat, I gave her a little extra. I asked if she needed help, but she said no, and rushed out. She looked quite worried. I’ve been hopin’ she’d stop by again, as I was going to offer her a safe place above the shop I’m not usin’.”
The doctor and the pilot exchanged a hasty glance. Tonks unfolded his arms, leaning on the counter. “Ten minutes? Which way did she run off to?” The pilot asked anxiously.
Peter gestured to his right, “Out the door and then north. She was gone before I could get her attention. North side’s a rough place, what with the warehouses, gangs and all. She seemed to have some sense about her, which is why I’d hoped she’d come back here, and away from there.”
Tonks turned to Thorias, “Ten minutes isn’t that long. If we hurry, we might catch sight of her.”
Dr. Llwellyn reached out and shook the shopkeeper’s hand vigorously, “My friend, you’ve no idea how grateful we are! Thank you, Sirrah!”
The pilot and the doctor raced out of the shop in a mad dash, leaving a confused and concerned Peter Fitzcarin behind them. As the door to the shop closed, Peter untied his apron, hung it on a nearby wooden peg, then with a frown walked over to lock the front door. Quickly, he rotated the wooden sign on the door from ‘open’ to ‘closed’ before vanishing into the back of the shop.
Outside the shop, the doctor and the pilot raced along the cold boardwalk, their boots pounding against the wood. They ran north just as Peter Fitzcarin indicated, towards several looming, dark warehouses set in stark relief against the approaching silver-gray clouds.
At first, the pedestrian traffic was concentrated, thick with knots of people hurrying along the boardwalk in the cold mid-day air. However, the farther north Tonks and Thorias ran, the fewer the shops became, which meant fewer pedestrians congesting the boardwalk.
As they ran past the first of many warehouses, the doctor and pilot’s headlong pace slowed to a trot, then became a walk. Both drank in the sharp cold air with deep gulps, their breath condensing into clouds which blossomed in front of the their faces.
“Damnable thin air,” Thorias complained. “I never have gotten used to it.”
Tonks looked around for anything unusual. Just something that would tell them where Angela had gotten to. Unfortunately, everything around them seemed quite normal. To their right loomed a set of unremarkable large warehouses. Metal and brass plates, streaked with dark soot stains, were haphazardly bolted to the outer walls. While some organization and thought had obviously gone into the attempt, over time, the end result was haphazard, and at times even visually manic.
The pilot looked off to his left where the docks stretched out into the cold air, away from the boardwalk. Unlike where the Griffin was moored, there were fewer airships here. Three were moored quietly nearby, with a handful of crew bundled against the cold, quickly going about their business.
Tonks glanced over the ships carefully one by one. All three were a good size, at least 2,600 tons apiece by his rough visual estimation, with two of the airships sporting the metal hull plating that was becoming more commonplace with airship construction these days. However it was the last one – the Revenge – that truly captured his attention.
“Odd name for a ship,” he remarked. His eyes trailed over her worn hull and newly replaced wooden planks set low along the traditional ‘waterline’. While he watched, four crew members were hard at work bolting and welding metal plates over the wooden planks to provide protection and stability. “She’s been busy lately, too, having that much damage along her sides,” he said with a suspicious tone.
“Hm?” The doctor replied, looking back down the way they had come along the boardwalk. “Indeed, but do you see Angela anywhere about? Or any sign her of her brass companion?”
The pilot tore his eyes away from the ship, then looked up and down along the boardwalk again. Here and there groups of sailors, no more than two or three at a time, worked among water-stained wooden crates and canvas-covered objects. Once, the brass skeletal nightmare of a mechanized CASS lumbered into view, carrying a crate from a warehouse twenty yards ahead of them out to a waiting cargo ship. Nowhere, though, did he see any sign of a ten-year-old girl or a brass monkey.
“Nothing,” he said with a sour tone.
Dr. Llwellyn, meanwhile, peered down an alley between two of the warehouses. On seeing nothing, he walked over to the next alleyway. “Perhaps down one of these avenues?” He suggested.
No sooner had he said the words than the dainty figure of a young girl stepped out of the shadows in the distance. No more than four and half feet tall, Angela was wrapped up in a wine-colored woolen coat over her dark navy blue dress. Her brown hair was askew, but still mostly kept in check by a wine colored ribbon. On her shoulder clung a small brass and leather servitor – a brass monkey.
“There she is!” Thorias exclaimed. Before he could call out to her, Tonks stopped him.
“She’s not alone,” the pilot said, pointing to a pair of men. Possibly sailors at one time, they were dressed in ragged woolen coats, stained trousers and shoes.
The pair had just stepped into the alley, no more than ten feet away from Angela Von Patterson who seemed unaware of their presence. The taller of the two, sporting unkempt, greasy hair tucked haphazardly under a wool cap, nudged his companion and pointed at Angela. With an ugly smile, the other man – squat, swarthy and wearing a soiled gray coat just a size too tight for his barrel chest – advanced towards the unsuspecting girl with outstretched, oil-stained hands.
“Angela!” Dr. Llwellyn shouted, slipping the loop off the hammer of his LeMat revolver and racing off down the alley as fast as he could run. Tonks charged after, only two steps behind.
The girl spun on her heel, letting out a startled yelp at seeing the brutes trying to corner her. Abruptly, her canine teeth extended, ears painfully stretched, and hair abruptly thickened to fur – werewolf fur – that jutted out from the edges of her clothing. A soft crackling sound accompanied her snarl of pain and anger, as her mouth elongated into a wolf-like snout.
“Werewolf!” The squat man shrieked in fear.
“Damn!” Thorias exclaimed, forcing himself to run faster, despite the thin air. Legs pumping, boots pounding on the wood, he was so focused that when he raced across an intersection between two alleyways he never saw three more of the brutes brandishing fire-hardened wooden clubs.
Fortunately, Ian Tonks Wilkerson did.
Out of the alley, the three robbers rushed forward. The one closest to the doctor swung his weapon, only to feel Tonks’ solid fist crash into his jaw. The brute grunted in pain, staggering drunkenly to one side until he collided with the metal wall of a warehouse. Dazed and in pain, the thug oozed down until he was seated on the ground. His companions sidestepped warily away from Tonks who gave them a dark, unpleasant smile.
Thorias slowed down, glancing over his shoulder, but the pilot waved him on. “Get to Angela! I’ll keep the boys here busy.”
“Right!” Dr. Llwellyn replied, resuming his race down the alley.
Thirty feet away, Angela snarled in rage as the two brutes backed off, eyes wide in shock. Sensing their hesitation, and seeing the familiar and welcome face of Dr. Thorias Llwellyn running towards her, she leapt from the ground at the nearby wall of a warehouse. With a crash, she rebounded off in a brown and wine colored blur of motion, hurtling towards the smaller of the two men.
As Angela landed on him, he screamed in terror, arms flailing about. Together, they collapsed to the pavement, with the thug breaking the young werewolf girl’s fall.
Angela turned with a hopeful smile at the doctor. She bounded forward, then abruptly screamed in pain. Her body coiled sideways in mid-air, collapsing to the dirty alleyway. Behind her, the taller thug drew back a long-bladed knife. The blade glinted with an unusual greenish tinge, now mixed with blood from the young werewolf’s leg.
Thorias skid to a stop next to Angela, who – still in her werewolf form – lay clutching at the wound with one hand, the brass monkey with the other. Tears welled in her eyes as she howled mournfully. Quickly, her howls turned to sobs as her leg quivered in reaction to whatever had been coating the knife blade.
“Mother will … so angry …” Angela sobbed in pain, “I got my new coat dirty.”
“I think she’ll understand,” the doctor said calmly, quickly kneeling beside her.
“Who’re you? Another dog like the girl there?” The thug sneered at Thorias, his voice thick from the cold. “Fine enough! I’ll skin ya both and sell the hides. Always made a good sixpence to a pound before off some werewolf hide!” His laugh was nasal, resembling the hiss of a snake.
The doctor glanced at the wound. It was not deep, but long. He only had time for a quick, cursory look, but nothing vital had been hit. Thorias caught Angela’s attention, pushing his medical bag into her clawed, fur-covered hands. “Apply the ointment in the white bottle, my dear. It’ll ease the pain until I properly take care of that wound.”
Angela nodded frantically, her eyes wide with a mix of fear, pain and confusion. “Yes, Doctor.”
“Ooh! A ‘doctor’!” The thug jeered, circling around Dr. Llwellyn and Angela, yet carefully staying outside their reach. “Here that Benny? Got ourselves a bone-in-fied ‘doctor’. Bet he’s got some good things in that little bag. Maybe some whiskey!”
The squat thug, seeing Angela laying on the cold, dirty alleyway, struggled to his feet. Shooting her an evil look as his bravado returned, he laughed: a chilling, horrid sound. “Yeah, let’s make ‘im share. But I want the wolf-girl. I owe her a beatin’.”
Dr. Thorias Llwellyn glanced over his shoulder at the two men, eyes cold as ice. He reached down at his belt for a pistol, only to find it gone! His head jerked around, looking for his weapon, only to see his LeMat revolver laying on the ground only five feet away. He realized it must have been knocked loose when he had pulled his bag free.
Thorias patted Angela’s hand tenderly, then glared at the two men. “Apply the ointment my dear. I’ll only be a moment. It seems I need to teach these two a lesson in manners … and why you never come between a doctor and his patient.”