Cold gray clouds gathered, rolling into tight knots overhead. The frigid air had taken on a sharper touch, catching a person’s breath with an icy edge. Below the clouds, the wind stirred, racing along the warehouses and avenues in Port Signal. It buffeted the inhabitants, brushed the buildings, and whispered of the coming snow.
Ian Tonks Wilkerson awoke with a start. He blinked, yawned, rubbed a hand through his short sandy-colored hair, then wiped sleep from his eyes. Instinctively, he looked up, searching for a sky hidden beyond the dull, dirty gray of a steel warehouse roof. He sighed, remembering where he was, and glanced sleepily around the small tool room in which he, Dr. Thorias Llwellyn, and Angela Von Patterson had taken up temporary residence.
Only a few hours before, Tonks had removed a bullet from Dr. Llwellyn’s side. Now the elven doctor, having survived the field surgery, reclined peacefully against old canvas sacks of flour.
His clothes were rumpled and bloodstained around the hole in his right side. Fortunately, the bullet had been near the surface and had hit nothing vital. Thorias was normally thin, but now looked drawn even for him.
Tonks frowned in concern for his crew mate. The plan had been to quietly locate Angela, then search for any sign of passengers. They had, in fact, found Miss Von Patterson, but at the cost of an unexpected fight with a dockside gang, upsetting a local merchant with an unusual interest in Angela, and getting Thorias shot.
“He’s sleeping,” Angela said quietly from where she sat next to the doctor on her own bundle of canvas bags. She had positioned herself so that her leg, cut by one of the men in the alley, was stretched out comfortably in front of her. Next to her the monkey-shaped servitor looked around quietly, its mechanical amber eyes glowing with interest, first watching her, then Tonks.
“How’s ya leg?” Tonks asked. “Healed any?”
Angela half-shrugged, brushing aside a loose strand of her shoulder length brown hair. “Some. Not as quick as I’m used to though. The doctor’s ointment helps. Just stings a little now.”
Ian yawned, “Sorry for falling asleep on ya, not my usual policy to slack on watch like that.”
Angela smiled shyly, “It’s all right. You didn’t sleep for all that long. I looked around the warehouse while you were resting. Do you remember earlier? When you thought someone was in the warehouse with us? It was some of those men chasing us.”
Tonks frowned, glancing around, “Are they still about? We’re here, so they’ve not found us.”
The young girl shook her head, “They rattled the doors, but they never came inside. They’re very angry, you know. I think they’re still out there searching.”
The pilot listened carefully for a moment, but heard nothing. “Can ya hear ‘em now?”
The young girl tilted her head slightly, listening. “Yes, but they are hard to hear. I think they’re a good distance off now.”
“Good,” Tonks said smiling thinly. The pilot got up and crossed over to Thorias who was still quietly sleeping. “Nice to see that werewolf hearing of yers is still workin’. Hear anything else nearby?”
Angela toyed with the folds of her navy blue dress. “Someone was firing a gun not long ago. There was a loud crash, too. Not near here, though. Closer to the ships, I think.”
“Probably some cargo bein’ mishandled,” Tonks said dismissively. “Though I can’t speak for the gun shot. That concerns me some.” Carefully, he checked his patient’s makeshift bandages, feeling the stitches underneath. Satisfied over what he felt, he checked the doctor’s temperature, then his pulse. Angela watched with interest. The pilot noticed her worried look.
“He’s fine, just still recovering from the shock of the wound. Field surgery takes a lot out of a body.” Tonks explained. “However, the bullet came free with little trouble, so there’s hope he’ll be back on his feet quick enough, with plenty of grimace to go around for us all.”
“You know a lot about medicine?” Angela asked curiously.
Ian glanced over at the young girl, then returned to sit back against his own stack of canvas bags. “Oh, nothing like what Thorias knows.” He grinned, “I know just enough to get by in an emergency. Mostly had to. But it’s worked out.” The pilot smiled faintly, glancing at the brass and leather servitor next to the girl.
The clockwork device was built in the likeness of a squirrel monkey no more than a foot in height, with a fourteen inch long tail. It was primarily brass with a soft, dark, pliable leather at the joints, and was exquisitely made, down to the jointed clockwork fingers, glowing amber eyes and etched detail to the face and hinged jaws. It watched Tonks quietly, keeping its tail curled around its front almost protectively.
“Angela, I’ve been meaning to ask,” the pilot said carefully, “I was told you would have a monkey with you from the Fair Winds. Is that it?”
She nodded, “Yes. Those men who attacked the ship want it very badly. Mother said it had something important on it, but … they took her before she could tell me.” Angela voice trailed off sadly.
“I’m sorry for that,” Ian reassured her. “We’ll find her and all the rest safe.”
“I hope so,” the girl said with a small voice. After a moment, she gave the pilot a shadow of a smile. “I can get it to talk to me sometimes. The servitor, I mean. Not always though. Mostly it talks about the ‘Sealed Aquila’ and ‘mustard’.” She half-shrugged, “So, I think it might be broken.”
“Once we’re away, Moira can have a go at it,” Tonks said with another reassuring smile.
When Angela’s only reply was a quiet nod, Ian leaned back against the rough canvas behind him, staring at the roof above, ears alert for any unusual sounds of unwelcome guests.
Angela nodded again, poking idly at the monkey servitor, who poked back in a rather monkey-like fashion. “Why?” She asked after a moment.
“Why what?” Tonks asked, glancing over at her curiously.
“You said you had to learn about treating people who were hurt,” the girl asked, “why did you? Someone make you?”
Tonks frowned a little, still trying to catch up with Angela’s train of thought, that had obviously already left the station. “Well, no. Can’t say anyone ‘made me’ learn it. I just found myself in a moment where I had to learn how to handle a problem like this.”
“Oh,” the girl replied, lost in her own thoughts again. Next to her the monkey chittered mechanically.
When no more questions came, Ian settled back, watching the Icelandic gulls fly between rafters overhead. Then, he heard Angela shift her position.
“Were you in a war?” She asked more brazenly.
Tonks glanced over at her with a raised eyebrow and a surprised look. He shifted uncomfortably, “not one that could be called a ‘war’, no.”
Angela’s glance never wavered, “So what was it called? Were you a pirate? Did you steal from that person you had to medically treat?” She asked with rising curiosity.
At that the pilot sat up, frowning, “it was called a ‘conflict’, and no I wasn’t a pirate, and no I didn’t steal anything that didn’t rightly belong to my employer.” He leaned forward a little. “Ya didn’t nearly ask these many questions last time ya were about.”
“You were busy steering the boat,” Angela replied with a smile.
“Ship,” Tonks corrected.
“Ship,” Angela echoed quickly, “my apologies. Ship. Steering the ship.”
“It’s good to ask questions, but better to find the proper place and time to be askin’ them,” the pilot said sternly. “Otherwise, it’ll be called ‘prying’.”
“Yes sirrah,” Angela replied, looking slightly embarrassed.
With a nod, as if to end the conversation, he leaned back against the flour bags to resume his vigil.
“Did they die?” Angela asked abruptly.
Tonks quickly sat upright, eyebrow raised, frowning at the girl. “Do all werewolves ask this many questions?”
“If we are trying to stay unnoticed, then why, pray tell, is there all this chatter?” Dr. Llwellyn grumbled, roused from sleep. Carefully, he sat up, his left hand covering his blood-stained right side.
The pilot smirked. That Thorias had awoken with his usual crusty disposition was a good sign, for him. “Because we needed a way ta pass the time, while ya lounged around.”
“Doctor, how are you feeling? Are you better?” Angela asked quickly, eager to change the subject from Mr. Wilkerson to a new target, for the moment. “Does it hurt any? Would that ointment you bid me use on my leg help you?”
“Ah slow down, Angela,” Thorias replied waving a hand at the eager girl’s questions. “I’m fine enough, and it does ache, yes. Though, your ointment won’t help. That is meant to work on werewolves to help ease pain and clean the wound while their own remarkable powers of healing take care of themselves. I packed it specifically in case you needed some. Which I’m glad I did.”
Abruptly, Angela sat bolt upright, clutching the brass monkey to her in alarm. She reached out, quickly tapping Dr. Llwellyn on the arm.
“Doctor,” she said in an excited whisper, “I hear something. Here, in the warehouse.”
“What?” The doctor replied. “Where?”
As if in response, the small flock of gulls that had been inhabiting the rafters far above suddenly all took flight at once. The air filled with feathers and screams of complaint, until as they all fled through a hole near the roof. At last, everything went silent.
Thorias started to push himself upright, but Tonks gently put a hand on the doctor’s shoulder. “Not this time, Doc,” the pilot whispered, “The bullet didn’t cut that deep, but ya still need yer rest for later. You stay put with Angela, I’ll go look about.”
Dr. Llwellyn nodded, settling back where he had been a moment ago. “You’re right. However, don’t be a bloody fool and take anything on alone,” he replied quietly.
The pilot grinned, “I’ll head back straight away if I find anythin’. Don’t worry about that.”
Tonks slipped out of their hiding place and into the warehouse proper. Overhead, the last gull, most likely a lookout for the others , sat far above on a rafter, watching the warehouse below. Nervously, the bird shifted its weight from one foot to the other.
The warehouse around him, at first glance, was like any other in Port Signal: two stories tall, easily over fifty yards wide, with plenty of storage space. In particular, this one had seen the passage of several years and suffered some from the exposure to the weather. Dust lounged faintly in the air like so much fabled faery dust, playing in muted light that streamed through dirt-smudged window panes.
It was not a well insulated building, being exposed to the weather through the occasional cracked window or hole near the rafters. Of the crates and bags that dotted the warehouse floor, some just glistened with the hint of old frost lingering on their surface. It was only a light coating, which indicated to the pilot that the warehouse was used infrequently by its owners.
Tonks stepped between shafts of dust-tinged light that lanced across the gray room. Quietly, he eased his way along, his hand drifting near the revolver at his belt. Slowly, the hairs stood up on the back of his neck. A sound, no more than a whisper, drifted on the cold air. A sound not unlike a large animal, breathing. Cautiously, he reached under his coat and pulled his .455 Webley from its holster.
As the pilot edged closer to a tall stack of crates, a shadow separated itself from the wall ten feet ahead. It was large, being at least seven feet tall and three foot wide. His first thought was of a bear, but what would a bear be doing on a station this high up? More importantly, how could a bear withstand the thin air?
Then, in the blink of an eye, the shadow moved, leaping across Ian’s path, and was gone. The pilot glanced rapidly around. The figure had moved so fast he hardly had time to make out any details. He eased forward again, more wary now as if he was tracking a wild animal to its lair.
Painstakingly, he avoided the feeble sunlight and stayed within the shadows until he came to a collection of shelves arrayed together in a corner. It was a section where smaller boxes and parcels, items too small to be stacked on the larger cargo pallets, could be stored.
The pilot hesitated next to the end of one of the shelves. He saw no sign of what had created the shadow a moment ago. Abruptly, the soft sound of a footfall on the wooden floor behind him sent a cold chill along his spine. The moment he spun around, he was struck full on in the stomach by a large fist!
Air exploded out of his lungs like a bellows, leaving him gasping for air. Instinctively he ducked, narrowly avoiding a second fist aimed at his head. He stood upright, ignoring the pain in his stomach, and aimed his revolver at the shape in front of him.
However, before he could fire, a massive hand three times the size of his own closed around the pistol and the pilot’s hand. With a sharp twist, the large hand turned both aside, as shooting pains raced along Ian’s wrist. Only then Tonks could see his attacker fully: a nightmarish giant of a man, dressed in clothes far too tight for his frame.
The man was barefoot, trousers ragged and torn with bloodstains along one thigh, as if he had been shot. However, Mr. Wilkerson could see no bullet wound, just the bloody hole in the fabric where there might have been one. The woolen coat the beast wore was torn, covered black powder and gray soot. His hair was an unkempt, dark mass on the big man’s enormous head. Scars lined the larger man’s face, and he seemed to suffer from a devilish deformity, although Tonks could not pinpoint what – despite the man’s nearly seven and half feet and wide bulk – the unsettling deformity was.
Slowly the giant leaned closer, his hand latched around Ian’s pistol and hand like a vice. “You have her scent,” the giant rumbled in a voice that sounded like gravel.
“No surprise really,” Tonks wheezed in reply while getting his breath back, “I’ve been leggin’ it about today, ya see.” He managed a grin, “I probably got all sorts of unpleasantness followin’ me around.”
The giant growled like an angry bear, not in the least amused. “The girl? Where is she?”
“Pardon?” The pilot asked with a confused frown, slowly trying to extract his hand from the giant’s grip. “Ya see, it’s been a busy day…”
“The girl,” the giant said, his mouth forming the words slowly, as if he were speaking to a simpleton. “She has something that does not belong to her, ja? It ist mein, and I wish it returned to me. Otherwise, I will become upset. As I have already had an unpleasant day, it will not take much for me to become … upset.”
Ian’s eyes watered just slightly, as the giant man tensed his grip. He was already losing feeling in two of his fingers.
“Oh, now we wouldn’t want that,” the pilot replied flippantly, his mind racing along, looking for options. “I might have something for ya,” he suggested.
The giant laughed. It was an ugly, guttural sound, that grated on the ears. “I thought you would,” the big man said, leaning forward. “Now, little bug, tell me where she is.”
Ian leaned closer. “Try this, then, wanker!” Abruptly, the pilot stamped down onto the giant’s instep with the heel of his boot. The giant howled, releasing his grip just slightly. Tonks jerked his hand and revolver free, and quickly fired twice! His hasty shots went wide and to the right, echoing off into the darkness of the warehouse.
“Oh, bloody hell!” Tonks exclaimed, quickly trying to step backwards.
In a wordless rage, the giant backhanded Ian across the face, jerking him around like a rag doll. The pilot staggered back drunkenly, his vision terribly distorted and blurred. He raised his revolver again, but could not see well enough to aim!
The giant quickly slapped the pistol out of Tonks’ hands, sending it skittering across the floor. Following that, the big man stepped in, hammering a massive fist into the pilot’s stomach, then another across his chin.
Finally, Ian was lifted into the air and flung five feet away into one of the shelves nearby. Wood cracked, giving way under the pilot’s weight as he crashed into the worm-eaten racks. Cardboard boxes overturned, glass bottles cascaded down in a deadly sparkling waterfall. In seconds, Tonks lay still on the floor of the warehouse, dimly aware of the big man walking towards him.
“Dummkopf,” the giant snarled in a low voice. “I can smell her. You’ve nein saved her with your cheap heroics. It will take me longer, but I can follow your scent to her.”
“Piss off,” Tonks spat back with a slurred voice, then started to laugh.
“What are you laughing at?” The giant demanded.
“I’m laughing at ya, wanker,” the pilot snapped with a wheeze, “she’ll have heard the gunshot and be runnin’ for help even now. I knew I couldn’t beat ya. I just had to make enough noise. She’ll hear ya coming a league away!”
Tonks continued to laugh painfully until a well placed kick dropped the pilot into unconsciousness.