The blond German slowly struggled to sit up from where he lay on the cot, pushing the blue woolen blanket down from his chest. Despite his injuries, the man still possessed some strength, as he was able to get himself upright. He gently touched a hand to the bruises that had begun to form on his face, then looked over at Tonks as the pilot entered the small room.
“Yes, it has been a long time since Berlin, Ian,” the man on the cot replied in flawless German. “I should not be surprised that they sent you to question me after your doctor failed to get any answers.”
Tonks smiled thinly. “They trust me, and they know I speak your language,” the pilot replied in equally fluid German. “So, elixirs? Kidnappings? Just what is going on here, my friend?”
“Trust you?” The German asked, ignoring Tonks’ questions, instead barking out a short laugh. “Do they even know you? Ha! Doubtful.”
“My past is just that,” Tonks replied sternly, “and not worth reliving. I’ll tell them if they need to know. Right now, they don’t.”
Garin grinned. Bruises dotting his jaw extended the shadows of his face into a garish death mask of a smile. “Afraid of what they would say, my friend? Been playing the ‘good airshipman’? What if they knew of your kills, eh assassin?”
Ian’s smile faded away to a frown. “I’m not nibbling at your bait. The Garin I remember would know that. He would also know that wasn’t an ‘assassination’. I was doing what I had to at that time to stop those anarchists. Besides, they already know about Spain and what happened there.”
Garin made a dismissive sound, waving a hand idly in the air, “no matter. It was what it was. Ian? Do you remember the last assignment we worked on?”
“Protecting King Otto Ludwig II,” Tonks replied. “A joint project between the London Police Special Branch and your Empire’s Secret Service to keep that eccentric man alive. A task that would have been twice more hellish had you not been there to watch my back. We saved each other at least twice over from an anarchist’s blade, and guns more times than I care to count.”
Garin smiled, looking off into space, “Yes, I remember.”
Tonks chuckled slightly, “I was never more overjoyed than when he returned to his Bavaria and I to London. However, you’re avoiding my question. What have you to do with these Formorians? What is that elixir you obviously drank?”
Garin leaned back slowly, wincing when his bruises gave him trouble. “Ah, the elixir … my sweet elixir. It channels them, you know.” He gave Tonks a sly look. “You should try it my friend, it would open your mind.”
Ian’s frown deepened, “Poison my mind, you mean. No thank you, I’ll have none of that. Just what is it made from?”
Garin shook a finger in the pilot’s direction with an unusually smug look. “Oh, that would be telling. Besides, I rather don’t know. That isn’t my job to make the elixir, just make good use of it.” The man then sneezed and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. Looking over at Tonks, a manic light glimmered to life in the German’s eyes, “However, you could give me some of the elixir and I could show you … show you exactly how it works.”
Tonks eyes narrowed as he watched Garin lick his lips like some thirst-driven maniac. Years ago, when he and the young German had been assigned to protect the supposedly addled Bavarian royal from murderous anarchists, the pilot remembered a much different man. It had been a trying assignment, and while they had succeeded in keeping King Ludwig II alive, it had cost them both German and British lives.
The Commander Garin Kaufmann he remembered was an athletic, soft spoken man. A man given to odd moments of dry humor, strong morals, and always a soft smile for his friends. Tonks admired that man, and was proud to call him a friend, even if the politics of their homelands did not always agree. This bruised and lean creature that looked desperately at him now seemed only a shadow of the stalwart soldier Ian Tonks Wilkerson once knew.
“I don’t think that would be wise,” Tonks replied kindly. The pilot leaned forward. “Garin … what happened to you? This … this isn’t you. Is this an assignment? Has Bismark taken some interest in these Formorians? Talk to me, my friend. What is this ‘hellgate’? Why the interest in that servitor and Miss Von Patterson?”
At the mention of Angela’s name, Garin’s face brightened considerably, the manic gleam fading for the moment. “Ah! The girl! The special werewolf girl. Her kind are hard to find, you know. Dr. Hardy says it’s just how the Nahual are.” The German’s face changed to a thoughtful look. “That’s what he calls them, you know. The Nahual. He says it’s a very old name.”
“Dr. Hardy? Who is that? Why are they so important to your doctor?” Ian asked curiously.
Garin laughed, almost nervously. “I wish I knew! But he says they have the fire in their blood. Want to know what I think?” the young man asked with a wink, the wildness creeping back into his expression. “I think he wants their blood. He wants their fire added to the elixir.” Raising a fist in the air, Garin shouted, “Fire for the Fomorians!”
Tonks sat back with a mixture of alarm and heavy sadness for what had happened to his friend. Garin was mad, whether driven so by the situation or from the elixir – the pilot’s guess was the latter. However, it was hard to dismiss his ravings, especially when his instincts said there rang the soft bell of truth behind them.
“Garin, are you sure about this?” Ian asked quietly. “And what is this ‘hellgate’?”
Garin licked his lips again, “Old friend, please, I’m rather parched. Just a taste, would you?” Reaching out, he grabbed the sleeve of the pilot’s coat. “Please?”
“Water?” Tonks asked, looking over at a pitcher of water which stood next to an old washbowl.
“No!” the wounded man growled, his hands shaking horribly as if cold. “The elixir!”
“I don’t think so,” the pilot said sternly. “Now about this ‘hellgate’ …”
Garin’s face turned crimson. Grabbing handfuls of his greasy blond hair he shuddered from rage. “The Hellgate … the hellgate … that is all anyone talks about! He thinks we need it, but we don’t! We don’t! No gate, no hellgate! Stinking weed! The elixir is fine! It’s perfect!” His eyes burned bright with insanity as he clawed at Tonks’ sleeve again. “Give it to me!”
“It’s a plant?” Tonks said in surprise, pulling his arm out of the man’s reach.
Abruptly, the wounded man leaped from the cot and flung himself at Tonks. The pilot quickly jumped out of the chair, shoving the furniture into Garin’s way. Being wounded, the German’s attack was clumsy at best, and at the moment he reached the chair, he thrust out his arms to stop himself but missed. Instead, his hands grabbed onto air. Falling face first, his chin struck the wooden chair with a sharp crack. Immediately, Garin collapsed to the floor in a jumble of limbs, a small trickle of blood running along the floor.
Tonks rushed forward, worried for his friend. As soon as he came within arm’s reach, Garin, blood oozing from a broken lip, rolled over and lunged for the pilot!
Tonks quickly sidestepped, shoving the raving madman to his right. Garin stumbled, caught off guard by the unexpected push. The madman’s weak knees buckled, sending him crashing to the floor once again. Ian lunged for the wounded man, grabbing him by the shoulders to steady him.
“Give me the elixir!” Garin snarled, spittle and blood drooling from his lips. His eyes burned like a blaze. With an insane strength, the young German shook himself free and reached out to claw Ian’s face.
The pilot jerked back as the man’s fingernails scored his cheek. The cut stung and burned for just a moment. Ian shoved the man’s hands aside. “No! Tell me about the people from the Fair Winds! Where are they? Are they in Inverness? Is that where they are?”
“How do you know that?” Garin shook like a leaf, eyes wide with panic, “You can’t know! It’s a secret! Their labor … their labor … they must grind at the stone! They serve the greater good!” The madman’s face twisted in to snarling mask, “You’ll interfere! You always interfere. You’ll stop the work … you must not! You’ll stop the burning!”
“What burning?” Ian asked quickly, practically shaking the man, “What? What have you done, Garin?”
“The fires! They’ll take them! They’ll take this station! Then the sweet, sweet blossom! It’s scent will refresh it all!” Garin gargled out in a strained voice. The madman’s eyes refocused, narrowing as if he saw Ian for the first time, “You! I … I know you! Inspector of the Special Branch! Who told you? That Captain! Captain Clark! I warned them that he lied! I knew he worked for the Special Branch. No one heard! They should’ve burned him, made his misbegotten son smell the sweet blossom, but no! No!”
“Garin, calm down!” Tonks said quickly, trying to restrain the raving man as he tossed around on the floor.
“No! You’ll stop them, you will! I can’t let you!” Garin spat. With a gargled cry, the deranged man lurched for Tonks’ throat.
The pilot shoved the madman back, then hammered a strong right fist across Garin’s mouth. The German grunted in pain, blood showering the front of his shirt. He lunged again at Tonks, who released another hard punch across the madman’s already wounded jaw. With a soft crack, the German twitched, then sagged in the pilot’s hands.
Gently, Ian lay the man out on the floor, then pressed two fingers to Garin’s neck, feeling for a carotid pulse. He found it quickly. Garin was alive, if mad as a hatter. From outside the cell, there was the sound of footsteps running down the hallway.
“Ya got a problem, ‘guv?” A young man, arm in a sling, said from the doorway. Tonks recognized him as one of Fitzcarin’s volunteer Coast Guardsmen, who had stood guard at the door to the boarding house.
Tonks took a deep breath, then let it out slowly, shaking his head. “No, not a bit. Just puttin’ him back ta bed. He started feelin’ a bit lively. Fell out on the chair while I was questionin’ him.”
“Fell …” the young sailor said, giving the unconscious German a nasty look. “Could’a fallen twice more an I’d not notice. Give a shout if he’s causin’ ya more trouble, eh ‘guv?”
The pilot nodded. “Will do.”
When the sailor walked away, repeating his version of the story to the other patients, Ian looked back to the unconscious form of Garin. Solemnly, Ian gently lifted his old friend, placing him back in the cot. He draped the thin woolen blanket with care over the man’s wiry body.
From a coat pocket he retrieved a handkerchief, and using some water from a nearby washbowl, wiped the blood from the man’s face. After a few seconds the bloody wounds started to clot.
“I don’t know what happened to ya, Garin,” Ian said softly with a touch of sadness. “I don’t know why yer neck-deep in all this, and not back in yer homeland with that duchess of yers. I do know I’ll find out, and find ya a way back. If I can.”
The pilot stood with a sigh and stretched. Muscles protested, and joints complained at the abuse. Ian ignored it, letting out a long sigh. He had learned quite a bit from Garin, none of it pleasant. He hurried out of the cell, shutting the steel bars behind him. The lock clicked into place with a solid, final slam of metal. Without a backwards glance, Tonks rushed down the hallway to the others in the front room.
Quickly, he pushed open the door. Angela looked up from the table where she had been stirring an unknown liquid in a glass vial with a spoon. Gossamer fumes rose from the orange fluid in a white mist, encircling her head. The young girl jumped, nearly spilling the liquid. At the other end of the table, Fitzcarin looked up from where he had been reading a small notebook.
“You’re hurt!” Angela exclaimed.
“It’s only a scratch,” Ian replied earnestly. “Where’s Dr. Llwellyn?”
“Here,” Thorias replied, walking out of his makeshift lab. He pushed the goggles atop his head, wiping his hands on a leather smock that covered the doctor from his neck to his knees. “What is it, Tonks? You look as if you’ve wrestled a hellhound.”
The pilot glanced at the doctor, “where did ya find a leather … nevermind. The elixir, have ya learned any more about it?”
“Not as much as I like,” Thorias replied. “According to Dr. Von Patterson, the elixir is the source of the transformation. However, the reaction we witnessed may be abnormal. I suspect this ‘hellgate’, or perhaps lack thereof, is at the root cause of the abnormality. If I knew what the ‘hellgate’ was, it might make it easier to discern.”
“It’s a plant,” Tonks replied, “and them Fomorians want it badly. They’re also after the young miss specifically as well, not just her wind-up monkey. They’re plannin’ on feedin’ that poison to her to see what results.”
“What?” Fitzcarin erupted, while across the table, Angela turned as white as a sheet, fighting back an instinctive urge to panic.
“No worries, Angela,” the pilot said, “I’ll not let ’em lay a finger on ya.”
“Thank you,” she replied, looking nervously at the windows.
“Slow down, man, you’re not making sense.” Dr. Llwellyn said sternly.
“Neither did he, but ya had to listen between the words,” Tonks said. “Besides, I’m thinkin’ we’ve little time. I got our caged Fomorian to talk, but only for a bit. He’s cravin’ that vial of toxin yer playin’ with. Cravin’ it badly. He’s raving nearly out of his mind the longer he’s goin’ without it.”
“Then more’s the pity for him,” Peter growled, “he’ll learn to do without.”
Ignoring the orc, Ian continued, “I also know what’s happened to the people taken off the Fair Winds. They’re at Inverness or on their way there.” Tonks rubbed his eyes from fatigue. “They’re … them … the Fomorians are plannin’ on burnin’ the station down, and working on something at Inverness. I just don’t know what.”
Thorias stepped over to the pilot, putting a hand on his arm, “Ian, sit down, you’re exhausted.”
Ian shook his head and pulled his arm free, “Damn it man, listen! Plan be damned. We’ve got to find the Cap’n! We’ve got to get Angela to the ship and make for Inverness.” The pilot looked around at the others. “We’ve got to warn Captain Clark, Thomas Clark, aboard the Intrepid! We’ve …”
Tonks slumped suddenly like a marionette whose strings had been cut. Dr. Llwellyn lunged forward, grabbing at the man’s coat but missing by inches. The pilot slammed to the floor with a thud. Peter tossed the notebook aside and rushed over as the servitor jumped up onto the table, screeching in alarm.
“Sirrah Wilkerson!” Angela exclaimed. Setting the vial down, she raced around the table to the pilot while Dr. Llwellyn quickly dropped to one knee and pressed two fingers to Ian’s throat.
“He’s alive, but sweating fiercely,” Thorias said, “and there’s an odd discoloration around that scratch on his cheek, perhaps a poison though I’m not certain.” The doctor sighed in angry frustration. “Hunter’s ruse be damned. Sirrah Fitzcarin, how many of your Coast Guardsmen are still fit for duty?”
“Five to six at best,” Peter replied.
“It’ll have to do. If you please, send them out looking for Captain Anthony Hunter. We need to find him and tell him what we’ve learned. Here, help me get Ian to a cot.” The doctor ordered. “After that, we’ll need to send a message to the HMS Intrepid. We need to get their attention.”
“Certainly,” the shopkeeper replied. “Do you have any idea what yer wantin’ to say?”
“Logically,” Dr. Llwellyn said with a faint smile, locking eyes with the orc. “You tell them we surrender.”