Water dripped methodically from the dank stones overhead. The droplets fell singularly, finally splashing in the brackish pools of water scattered along the floor of the hallway. The unearthly blue glow of gas-voltaic lanterns flickered in the dark tunnel, like trapped will-o’-the-wisps railing against their tarnished steel and glass cages. The lanterns were hung from black iron sconces high off the stone floor, near the ten foot ceilings where they would not be accidentally dislodged.
Tonks crouched at the bottom of a set of stone stairs, revolver in hand. The stairs, as ancient and cracked as the rest of the surrounding structure, extended from the pilot’s poorly lit view in the tunnel to a similar hallway above. Tonks listened for any telltale sign that would herald a guard – or anyone else for that matter – who was about to stumble into his view. Since none appeared, he turned his attention to the stairs themselves.
In the mildew among the smudged footsteps, the pilot recognized the marks left from a woman’s sturdy leather boots. They would have been unremarkable save for two items; one, there was an unusual worn spot on the right sole, as if the wearer had stepped in a small puddle of caustic chemicals. Two, he knew the boots belonged to Dr. Selina Hereford O’Flynn, the woman he was trying to follow.
At first, trailing her had been simply a matter of staying just far enough back that she would not hear the echo of a second set of footsteps on the stonework. Unfortunately, Tonks had managed to lose her at a junction where two hallways crossed one another, forming a plus-shaped intersection.
He dislodged his attention from idle memories, focusing on the footprints in front of him. Based on the marks in the grime, the pilot deduced that the doctor was not far ahead of them. He craned his neck a moment, glancing up the stairs once more to make sure they were empty before looking over his shoulder at his furry companion.
“Stairs look clear of anyone out ‘ by, and I think those are her bootprints. So, she ought to be not far ahead, I think,” Ian whispered in an effort to keep his voice from echoing in the near-oppressive quiet. “Yer sense of smell’s likely better than mine. Think it’s her?”
Angela nodded her furry head with the typical enthusiasm of any ten year old girl, trying with all her fiber to be helpful. Padding forward on her canine feet, she instinctively adjusted the rags of her dress from a long-ingrained sense of modesty. With a resigned sigh as her ruined dress failed to fully cooperate, she crouched low at the bottom of the stairs. Closing her eyes, she took an experimental sniff of the air.
“It’s smelly. Like chemicals,” the young werewolf replied softly. She glanced over at Ian and shrugged, “I guess it’s her.”
The pilot nodded, then quickly advanced up the stairs, every muscle tense for any unexpected – and unwelcome – appearance of a guard who might stumble across them. Angela hurried along a few steps behind Tonks.
“Why do we need her at all?” the girl groused irritably. “It’s not as if she’ll help us.”
“I don’t expect her to help us,” Ian explained while he peered cautiously down the silent hallway. “As a matter of fact, I’m expectin’ her to be no end of trouble. What I also expect, though, is Peter Bauer, RiBeld, or whatever he’s callin’ himself, to keep his distance cause he’s needin’ her to make something for him. That might be enough to keep him at bay.”
“I understand,” Angela, sighing, replied after a moment. Under her breath she muttered, “Still don’t want to have her with us.”
Ian shook his head, stepping away from the top of the stairs and into the hallway. The granite stone corridor itself was long, much longer than the previous one, with doors on either side that reminded the pilot of the lower galleries of a castle. The floor showed signs of heavy use, making tracks difficult to separate. Still, Tonks could hear no telltale sound of footsteps. His instincts screamed that their quarry was nearby. He pointed to the doors on the left.
“Listen at those, I’ll see to these on this side,” he whispered.
Angela nodded, then hurried across the hall. Coming to a quick stop at the first door, she cocked her ears, listening for any sounds of life. There were none. She moved to the next door and listened carefully.
At first, there was nothing, not even the steady drip of water. Then, she heard it: the muffled sound of sobbing. Frantically Angela reached for the door latch, but the door was shut tight and a metal hasp above the door latch was secured with a padlock. However, the bolts holding the metal hasp to the door were rusted; the wood around the metal wet and rotten. Determined to open the door, the young werewolf dug her claws into the wood, cutting it away from the metal.
Across the hallway, Ian pressed his ear to the first door he encountered. Beyond the wood, he heard voices talking quickly in conversation. Ian frowned, struggling to hear more. Suddenly, the faint but frantic sound of claws scratching at wood grated across his concentration. He flinched, then glanced over at Angela.
“Angela!” the pilot hissed in warning.
The girl abruptly stopped digging at the wood, giving him a sour look. She waved her clawed hands frantically in the air. “I hear someone! It could be people from the ship! From the Fair Winds!”
Ian rubbed his eyes a moment and sighed. “All right then, just … just mind the sound yer makin’.”
With a quick nod, Angela turned back to the door, grabbed the hasp and tugged back and forth, slowly working the metal free of the rotten wood. From all outward appearances, she looked as if she was wrestling the door from its hinges, and the door was winning.
The pilot shook his head, then resumed inspection of his own door. Before he could lean close to listen, the door latch clicked. Wide-eyed, he stepped to the right of the doorway, pressing his back to the damp stone wall.
“Angela!” Ian whispered in alarm.
She nodded, focused on tugging the hasp free of the wood, not turning around. “I know,” she whispered in reply, “it’s nearly loose!”
“What’s this?” a tall man with a bent nose demanded as he pulled open the door. The stench of chemicals wafted into the hallway. Ian held his breath for fear of gagging on the smell.
Angela immediately spun around, eyes wide and startled. Then the smell of the chemicals reached her, as did the sight of the makeshift laboratory beyond. Shaking, she stumbled backwards against the door behind her as memory of her nightmarish experience with Dr. O’Flynn flooded her mind’s eye.
The man with the bent nose wiped his hands on his dirty tan shirt while he eyed Angela warily. Stepping out into the hallway, he dropped his hands onto the butt ends of his twin Colt revolvers. Blue electric light glowed from behind him like an eerie halo.
“Oh, I know ya,” he said with a disgruntled glare. “What’re ya doin’ loose?”
“She’s with me,” Tonks growled, snapping his revolver up to aim at the guard.
The guard spun on his heel, then slowly pulled his hands away from his belt, glaring at the pilot. Ian smiled pleasantly.
“Good dog,” he said sarcastically before disarming the man. With the guard’s pistols tucked away in Ian’s belt, he gestured to the doorway with his revolver. “Now back in the room. Let’s go.”
“Yer as good as dead,” the man snarled.
Ian ignored the comment. “Angela?” the pilot said over his shoulder, “step lively, girl. Come along.”
Panting as she recovered her wits, she gestured to the door she had nearly opened. “Wait … the door,” she said again.
“We’ll be back,” Ian replied, his eyes never leaving the guard. “We just need to nip over here and collect something.”
The guard backed into the room, followed by Ian, then Angela. Inside, the room was the stuff of alchemical nightmares. Tables stained by acid burns and knife marks lined the walls of the room. Heated glass decanters filled with bubbling chemicals spewed pungent odors and pale colored fumes into the air. At the far end of the room, a worm-eaten, ink-stained writing desk sat, propped up by an impossibly ancient sea chest. Papers were scattered the length of the desk and decorated the floor around it like an ancient mystic circle. Soot had smudged the walls black with a tar-like residue, and the foggy haze of airborne chemicals drifted idly about the large box-shaped stone room.
Once through the doorway, Ian sidestepped to the left, while the guard stepped back to the middle of the room, bumping gently against a blood-stained wooden chair with leather straps. On the arm of the chair, a modified Autonoma Arachnae Extractor sat idling on its tarnished spidery limbs, an ugly array of modified medical scalpels and needles extended, ready for use.
Across the room, an elderly man looked up from his work amidst the stack of papers piled on the writing desk. Slowly, he swiveled around in the ancient wooden accountant chair to face the newcomers. A grandfatherly figure, with his white beard, wire-rim glasses and unkempt waistcoat, he turned a shade paler than his natural skin tone on seeing Tonks and the drawn gun.
“My word!” the elderly man said, alarmed.
Angela slowly entered the room, terrified, her eyes darting around. Suddenly, from behind the door, Dr. O’Flynn’s hand grabbed the young werewolf’s long hair, yanking it back. Angela immediately snarled, turning to claw at whomever had grabbed her. Before she could take a step, a thick cloud of white fog enveloped her head. Recognizing the fog as the kind Tonks said had been used on them both aboard the Revenge, she shrieked in alarm, but the grip on her head held her firmly in the path of the chemicals. As the cloud rushed over her face, Angela’s eyes rolled back. She fell forward, limp, against the door.
Dr. O’Flynn raised her pistol towards Ian, keeping part of the door between them. “This? A miserable try at kidnappin’, Edmond. Now, turn around and get yerself back to scribin’, I want that new formula o’ yers within’ the next few minutes.”
The elderly man’s eyes darted between Ian and Dr. O’Flynn. With a last, almost pleading look towards Ian, the man nodded. “Of course, Selina,” he replied weakly, then turned back to the desk.
Dr. O’Flynn sneered at Ian. “Well, yer a right proper specimen! Drop the weapons. It’d be a shame to waste a strappin’ good test subject.”
Ian’s aim never wavered from the guard. “Doubtful. Ya have Angela, I’ve yer man here. I seem to remember that assistants are hard for ya to come by?”
With only a small turn, Dr. O’Flynn shifted her aim and squeezed the trigger. The bullet hammered into the helpless guard’s chest, slamming him backwards against a nearby table stocked with empty glass decanters. Already weak from age, the table collapsed, dooming the fragile glass bottles towards the stone floor.
The guard was dead before he slid to the floor, a crimson stain spreading across his tan shirt. Immediately, Dr. O’Flynn turned the revolver back toward Ian while the pilot, in turn, aimed towards her.
“Not that hard,” she replied coldly, “Peter’s got plenty more. ” She sighed, then tried a smile, which instead gave her the appearance of having eaten something disagreeable. Slowly, the red-haired doctor released Angela and carefully stepped out from behind the door. Angela slid uncomfortably downward and collapsed in a heap onto the floor, deep asleep.
“Look at it this way,” Dr. O’Flynn said in a coy, almost sweet tone, “ya come along and behave, I’ll go gentle on ya. We might could work somethin’ out to both our likin’, eh?” She sauntered forward another step and smiled, raising her eyebrows. “So, what is yer likin’?”
From out of the darkness of the open doorway a figure moved, as quick and silent as a shadow across a rock. Metal flashed with the whisper of a blade leaving a leather sheath. A knife slapped against Dr. O’Flynn’s throat, its razor edge not quite cutting the skin, the point of the blade resting just under the woman’s chin.
At the other end of the deadly weapon stood a woman with a dirt-smeared face and sandy-brown hair, tied up in a proper – if slightly disheveled – bun. Ringlets of curled hair spilled down to her shoulders and the soot-stained white blouse she wore. Her free hand withdrew a second knife from a pocket in her tan skirt. Her hard, unforgiving eyes never wavered from the lady doctor.
“Your neck quite properly fitted for a noose, my dear,” she said with an icy tone. “Step … away … from … my … daughter. Otherwise, I will surely end your misbegotten life here and now with a flick of my wrist.”
“Bloody well good to see ya, Dr. Von Patterson,” Ian said with a smirk.
Dr. Maria Von Patterson politely nodded, keeping her eyes on the enraged Dr. O’Flynn. “You as well, Mr. Wilkerson; you as well.”