Above the Market Square, the snow had begun to collect in drifts all along the rooftops and shadowy corners of Port Signal. The silent white storm blew like cold needles across the Boardwalk as ice formed on ship rigging and station, alike. The pedestrians from before had long since found warm refuge from the chilling weather. Now, the metal and wood landscape of the station took on a haunted, wind-swept look.
Captain Anthony Hunter looked out a viewport across the cold, desolate pier where the HMS Intrepid was moored. His walk from Market Square – by armed escort – had been thankfully uneventful, though the captain suspected the lull had more to do with the frigid weather, than the presence of the British Royal Navy. He sighed while he watched a quartet of crab-shaped clockwork servitors, each the size of a small dog, trundle along the Boardwalk in a clanking skirmish line.
Every few feet, each of the servitors would pause, settling down and extending a small tube. From the tube would spray a cloud of powdery salt in their path. Once satisfied the small immediate area in front of them was saturated, they would raise back up on their brass crab legs and trundle forward in unison to repeat the process. For the particularly troublesome spots with thick ice, there was a second tube attached to a simple flamethrower. Behind the quartet, a lone man walked, bundled up in a thick wool coat and scarf, shepherding the servitors with the occasional nudge from a brass pipe when they walked off course.
Captain Hunter took a deep breath, letting it drain out of him slowly. He rubbed his shoulder, the one he had fallen on when the Fair Winds had exploded, and turned to face the room. He was in a small cabin, nearly a closet of sorts, with plain, gray, featureless walls and a single hatch for entry. There was a table and three chairs, lit by two electric arc lanterns, but the room held no cot or bars, so the captain could not entirely consider it a cell. Nonetheless, it maintained the trappings and atmosphere of one, complete with the guards posted outside.
When he and his companions had arrived aboard the HMS Intrepid, the wounded among them had been quickly spirited away. Those not wounded were escorted below decks while Hunter was isolated from his crew. John’s satchel had likewise been snatched up, much to the man’s dismay, presumably for delivery to his son, Captain Thomas Clark of the Intrepid.
By the time the hatch to the room opened, Hunter was pacing like an irritated, caged tiger. He turned and faced the newcomers, his mouth set in a firm line as if etched from stone. The two armed guards peered through the opening, their faces looking none too pleased with the current situation. Hunter remained motionless, hands behind his back, feet planted firmly shoulder-width apart on the deck. Apparently satisfied with what they saw, the guards moved away from the door to allow a trio of men to enter.
The first was an older gentlemen with gray just beginning to show in his hair, a senior lieutenant by the man’s rank. Behind the senior lieutenant, an armed seaman entered, silently stepping to one side of the hatch, his eyes riveted on Anthony. Without a word, the senior lieutenant crossed over to the small table, standing just a few steps back from one of the chairs there, while the last man entered the room.
The newcomer wore the rank of captain, but the face of a young man just shy of his thirtieth year. Despite his outward appearance, the captain’s eyes were alert, stern, and indicated an intelligence and experience far beyond his physical years. The young man bore a resemblance to John Clark, but only in passing. He was thinner, lacking John’s thicker frame, and sporting a more angular face.
Captain Clark stopped just inside the hatch, eyes quickly sweeping the room. His uniform was tidy, and in his hands he carried both Black Jack’s satchel and another set of papers Anthony did not recognize.
“Captain Clark,” the senior lieutenant said briskly, with a smart salute to the captain.
Captain Clark returned the salute, “thank you Senior Lef’tenant.” The young captain set his burden on the table, and took a seat. He looked to Captain Hunter and gestured to the seat across from him, “if you please, Captain. I am Captain Thomas Clark, this is my Senior Lef’tenant Samuel Johnson. If you would, join us.”
Hunter’s eyes were hard. Youngest captain in the Royal Navy or not, Anthony had his priorities firmly screwed in place. He would have them seen to first.
“Good to meet you Captain, Senior Lef’tenant,” Hunter replied stiffly, “but I’d have a word with you both over my companions first.”
Clark, who had just begun to open the bundle of papers on the table, paused, raising an eyebrow at Anthony. His young face held the edge of a steely expression that bordered on irritation. “You will indeed, eh?”
Hunter’s matched young Clark’s gaze with his own. For a moment, the air grew still. “Quite,” Hunter said sternly. “My crew and companions, what became of them? When I know that on your honor they are being cared for, then I’ll sit.”
Clark dropped the papers on the table with a small pop. He began to snap off a sharp reply, but stopped. With a great effort, he took a deep breath and pulled in his anger. “Very well, on my honor, you companions are being seen to as we speak. At least two required immediate attention, my father and your pilot, Mr. Wilkerson, being among them. In fact, your own doctor is treating them now as best as he’s able. As I understand it, they are resting comfortably under his watchful eye. Now sit down, Sir, as there are matters to discuss. Namely ones that have you in it up to your stiff neck.”
With a nod, Hunter accepted the seat, concealing his surprise. Thorias? Here? He pushed the thought aside for the moment, and glanced at the papers on the table. “I will want to see them for myself later,” Hunter replied. “Of course, Captain,” Clark said, “I expected no less.”
The satchel was familiar to Hunter, however the papers next to it were new and piqued his interest. Most particularly the top-most, indicating a record sheet with ship’s names, departure and arrival destinations for the past several weeks. Two ship names stood out among the rest: the Fair Winds, and the Revenge.
Clark sorted the papers, then pushed a stack in front of Hunter. “Captain, I won’t lie to you. I originally came here to arrest you and your crew under suspicion of piracy and murder.”
“So, I’m to be tried then?” Hunter replied in a brittle tone. “My crew,” he began.
The senior lieutenant quickly interrupted, “that was ‘originally’, Captain, not ‘presently’.”
The young captain cleared his throat and continued, “Presently, I’ve had a change of direction on the matter. At this time, we’re here to enlist your assistance.”
Hunter kept his expression masked, though his suspicion still managed so echo in his tone, “How do you mean?” He asked, looking from one man to the other.
Clark looked as if he had tasted something bitter, Lieutenant Johnson’s face went expressionless. “We’re here to provide you, your crew and your companions … an offer. After ascertaining your involvement, it’s been felt that in exchange for the information you and your crew possess, we are compelled to offer an amnesty for your involvement in this affair. Your Dr. Llwellyn has been rather helpful of late with his budding research into the nature of these ‘pirates’. The items you arrived with, Captain, are also of immense help. However, we still do not hold the remaining keys to unlocking this puzzle. Specifically you, and my father – if my father is to be believed – apparently do.”
Hunter leaned back slightly, watching the captain and his senior lieutenant carefully. “I see. Well Captain, our ‘involvement’ centers itself about the recovery of the kidnap victims, if possible.”
Clark nodded, folding his hands on the table. “Yes, the lady archeologist, Dr. Maria Von Patterson. I know her by reputation, and as one of the missing.”
“I will see she and the others returned to safety, Captain,” Hunter said sternly. “My ship and my crew were conscripted into this from a certain point of view. We’ll see this to the bitter end if need be to set those people free.”
“So you accept then?” Clark said, almost as a forgone conclusion rather than a question.
Anthony sat forward. “If, by your word and in writing, Sirrah … my apologies … Sir, my crew is absolved of any wrong doing in this matter.”
Captain Clark’s sour expression deepened. “Despite my misgivings of dealing with a man dishonored from Her Majesty’s Service, I find you have me at a disadvantage. Very well, I accept.” The young captain extended a hand. “You’ve my word as captain, I’ll have a man draw up the necessary writ for signing while we review the problem at hand.”
Hunter hesitated a moment, then clasped the young man’s hand firmly. “Done, then. Show me what you have so far, and let us be at it before we lose any more time. Have you looked into any shipping in the direction of Inverness? Captain, your father should join us for this, also.”
Captain Clark hesitated a moment, before he made any reply. “My father’s indisposed,” he said flatly.
Suspicious, Hunter leaned forward, “he has the most deepest involvement into what’s collected here.”
Clark did not meet Hunter’s gaze, “he’s also under arrest for assaulting one of my officers. Father or no, I can’t have that aboard my ship. He’s under lock and key in the infirmary until cooler heads prevail.”
“We need him here,” Hunter pressed.
Clark leveled a tense look at Hunter, “and I’ll involve him, when I can trust he’s more stable than he’s proven in the past or immediate present.”
Anthony discreetly let the subject drop while Lieutenant Johnson stood to speak to the sailor next to the hatch, “Find the Officer of the Deck. Tell him the Captain requires a writ for an agreement. Step to!”
“Aye!” The sailor replied, opening the hatch and racing from the cabin.
The senior lieutenant turned back to the table and resumed his seat while Captain Clark opened the satchel. Clark scrutinized a half-drawn technical design carefully.
“We’ve noted some rumor of smuggling into Inverness, but the Coast Guardsmen haven’t turned the right rock yet,” Lieutenant Johnson explained.
Hunter reviewed the shipping manifest that sat atop the stack, then glanced over at the two officers. “I might can provide you some insight there. You’ll also need to send someone around to the Whirling Strumpet to speak with Captain Klaus Wilhelm. Ask after one of his men, one Brian Tanner. He’ll be marking time in the infirmary.”
“A doctor?” Captain Clark asked curiously.
“A patient,” Hunter explained with a small smile, “and possibly the most important man on this entire station, if we can manage to keep him alive.”
The two captains and the senior lieutenant poured over the documents and other contents of John Clark’s satchel. As the afternoon wore on, Captain Hunter, escorted by Senior Lieutenant Johnson, visited the Intrepid’s infirmary allowing Anthony time to visit his ailing friends – everyone save Thorias, who had barricaded himself in a tiny laboratory. Once he had made time to see after the health of every person he felt was under his charge, Hunter and the lieutenant returned to the cabin, rejoining Captain Clark in their work.
Tea was eventually brought in, and Dr. Llwellyn as well, fully bandaged and aglow with excitement. In his arms he carried a small stack of papers littered with scrawled notes and diagrams.
Anthony looked up from the table as his old friend arrived, “Doctor, it’s good to see you,” the captain blinked in surprise as he saw the bulge of bandages under the doctor’s waistcoat, and the deep bruise that marked the Welsh doctor’s elven face. “Thorias, what happened, man? No one mentioned you had been injured.”
Dr. Llwellyn shook his head slightly, “a minor nuisance now at worst, Anthony. Nothing a good cuppa’, a bath and a proper clean change of clothes didn’t fix square away.” The doctor nodded in greeting to the two ship’s officers in the room seated at the table with Anthony. “Captain Clark, Lef’tenant, good seeing you both. I’m glad to report I’ve startling progress!”
“How’s your young charge? The young werewolf?” Lieutenant Johnson asked, concerned. “I’ve a daughter as well,” he added as an aside, “I’ve been worried as to her health ever since she was brought aboard, given her grayish-pale color.”
Thorias located a lone corner of the table not occupied by notes, charts or cups. He set his stack of notes down, careful to not lose one that threatened to slip to the floor. “Stable for now, though I may have identified the cause of her illness, or rather I should say poisoning. It’s related to what’s set Ian low, as well.”
Hunter frowned, “she mentioned being cut on the leg when I visited her. What precisely is that poison if it affects both her kind and Tonks?”
“This,” the doctor explained, pulling a small vial of yellowish liquid from an inner pocket of his waistcoat. He set the vial on the table.
Captain Clark picked up the vial, turning the liquid around in the electric arc light of the room. “This is more of that liquor recovered from those mutineers from the Revenge.”
“The Fomorians,” Hunter added.
“Quite a good assumption, but no,” Thorias replied. He glanced around for a chair, on failing to find one, he merely stood next to the table instead. “As near as I can determine, what the Fomorians carry is a cheap imitation, and a poor substitute, at best.” The doctor hurriedly searched his notes pulling out a small notebook and turning to a bookmarked page. “That, gentlemen, is this,” he said, tapping a finger on his notebook. “The ‘Hellgate Elixir’, and, I believe, the source – at least in part – of the Fomorian obsession. At the very least, the weaker formula is the source of their miraculous abilities and addiction.”
Lieutenant Johnson leaned forward onto the table, peering at the bottle with narrowed eyes. “So this isn’t addictive? Yet has the same properties?”
Thorias smiled, his voice taking on the tone of an eager university professor about to give a lecture. “Ah, one might think so. However, not true! This formula is based on my own translations from those Roman writings Captain Hunter recovered. I had deciphered much of the ingredients earlier but was missing something crucial: the foundation to the mix that spawned the reaction. Namely Liver of Sulfur and the deadly Helleborus Niger … the ‘Black Hellebore’ plant.”
Hunter frowned, “isn’t that plant poisonous? I remember nearly being poisoned by cup of tea tainted with a ‘Black Hellebore’ once.”
Thorias nodded, “Ah yes, your time with the Duchess. Well, yes, on its own it is poisonous. However, in times of antiquity it supposedly was used to cure various forms of ailments, as well as being a means to ‘summon demons’. In particular, it was used as a weapon to poison the water supply of towns being invaded by the Greeks and possibly the Romans. This mixture does, indeed, grant miraculous abilities, along with delusions and madness.”
“A lethal mixture,” Hunter commented.
The doctor sadly shook his head. “Quite. It’s highly addictive, like an opiate, however excessive amounts – as what the Fomorians need to transform – eventually kills. Theoretically it would be only more dangerous if boiled.”
Captain Clark carefully set the vial down on table, slowly pushing it away from him. “Brilliant. What has this to do with their shipments to Inverness? Or the missing passengers from the Fair Winds or missing people from Port Signal?”
The doctor shook his head, “that I cannot say.”
“How does this connect with what plagues Angela or Mr. Wilkerson?” Anthony asked, devouring every word Thorias was saying.
Dr. Llwellyn flipped through his notebook. “Ah, that’s where it becomes very interesting. The poison Angela received is a diluted form of the weaker version. It seems her werewolf nature reacts differently to the toxin than the rest of us do. I’m not terribly surprised, as there’s much about werewolf physiology that modern science just does not know. That notwithstanding, while treating her for this poison, I gained some insight into how the elixir performs its nefarious work.” He gestured to another page in his notebook.
Clark shook his head, “I’ve no head for such, I’m sorry doctor, I’ll need it spelled out for me.”
The senior lieutenant nodded, “I think I understand, you’ve a treatment for the toxin, then?”
“Yes!” Dr. Llwellyn replied with an excited smile. “Indeed I do! You see Mr. Wilkerson was scratched in tussle with a Fomorian, and infected by some ichor the Fomorian was exuding as he was suffering a madness from lack of the elixir. Apparently in that form, it’s concentrated and quite contagious. However, with this treatment, Tonks has shown marked improvement. He should be up in a day or two. I wouldn’t say he’ll be ready for service. He was poisoned after all, but he’ll be free of any toxins.”
“What of the young girl, Angela?” Clark asked, concerned.
“I’ve applied a dosage to her, as well. Fortunately it was able to curb the effects on her,” Thorias replied. “I’m hopeful this will counter most of the effects of mild doses of the elixir.”
Hunter nodded, only half-listening. “Doctor, you said something a moment ago about boiling.”
Captain Clark and Lieutenant Johnson glanced at Anthony curiously. Dr. Llwellyn nodded, “yes, the Hellgate Elixir can be boiled. If my calculations are correct, the introduction of an appropriate amount of ethylene would produce a yellowish-brown gas smoke containing the worst corrosive properties of black hellebore, possibly killing anyone in its path.”
“A weapon,” Hunter said slowly as the cogs in his mind rapidly snapped into place, turning at high speed, “John made a claim of a weapon. Where is that sketch he made?” Immediately, the captain lunged for the stack of papers from John Clark’s satchel.
Captain Clark produced the partial hand-drawn technical design from a set of papers next to him. “Here. I remember seeing it earlier, though I couldn’t deduce if it was the frame for an airship gas bag or some sort of bomb casing. There isn’t enough here to tell.”
“Captain, what are you on about, eh?” Lieutenant Johnson asked.
“John mentioned the Fomorians were making a weapon, and possibly something to carry it,” Captain Hunter explained, handing over the crude drawing to Lieutenant Johnson. “I had forgotten all about him saying that until just now.” Hunter tapped the drawing. “Lef’tenant, could this be not an airship or bomb, but a vessel – a metal canister – means to carry a gas?”
Lieutenant Johnson scrutinized the drawing. After a moment, he nodded slowly, “Quite indeed it could.”
“How much could it effect?” Hunter asked, leaning forward. “How large an area?”
“I couldn’t accurately say,” Dr. Llwellyn replied, startled at the implication of the question. “Hundreds … easily.”
“Heaven above,” Captain Clark said, sitting back on his chair in shock.
Anthony rubbed his eyes irritably, “I can’t believe I let this fall out of my mind. John mentioned a possible weapon being made. Given the number of people taken from the Fair Winds, the Fomorians would have on their hands a sizeable number for forced labor … and test subjects for the gas.”