The acrid, pale green smoke writhed about the underground laboratory’s ceiling. It coiled and twisted like an Amazonian python encircling its hapless prey. Methodically the bile-tinted mist slid downward, wrapping itself among the four occupants of the room.
Tonks blinked against the bitter stench that stung his eyes while he tugged on the rope around Dr. O’Flynn’s wrists, making sure the knot keeping her hands bound was secure. The lady scientist glared at the pilot as he turned his head to cover a short, wet cough into a dirty shirt sleeve. He coughed a second time, his chest wracked by the effort. Noticing his pain, the doctor watched the sandy-haired disheveled man with narrowed eyes. A malicious smile crawled across her face.
“Ugly cough, that,” the doctor said with a smirk. “The damp’s only going to aggravate yer health – until ya get somethin’ ta drink, that is. If ya feelin’ that urge to nip a swig from a flask, I’ve a stout drink that’ll perk ya right up.” Dr. O’Flynn smiled sweetly, batting her eyes a little. “It might make a new man of ya.”
“I’m quite fond of how I already am,” Ian replied tersely with an unpleasant glare. “So shut it, if ya don’t mind, or I’ll use a bit of cloth to put a proper gag in yer mouth.”
“Mr. Wilkerson, before you gag that woman – which I will gleefully provide the cloth for – I do have one question,” Dr. Maria Von Patterson interrupted sharply, cradling the unconscious form of her werewolf daughter in her arms. “What did you do to my daughter, you trollop?” she demanded, irritably. “What was that alchemical fog you tossed in her face?”
Dr. O’Flynn sniffed haughtily. “It’s a sleeping powder. Not like ya’d understand how it’s made.”
“If your work is as slipshod as your laboratory, I dare say that I would not only understand it, but actually improve upon it,” Maria snapped back. Carefully, with some effort, she slowly lifted Angela off the ground, cradling the young werewolf against her.
Maria ignored the venomous look from Dr. O’Flynn, instead addressing Tonks. “Angela’s breathing is steady, Mr. Wilkerson. There’s no sign of sudden congestion. Steady, strong heart beat, though I can’t speak to blood pressure. It’s likely some ethyl ether derivative,” Maria said with a brittle tone. “Taking into account the compound’s manufacture, we must get my daughter to someone with proper medical training, and soon.”
Ian quickly stepped over to Dr. Von Patterson as the woman struggled to adjust the grip on her daughter.
“Here, let me carry her.” the pilot offered gently. “The girl’s still in her were form. She’s bound to be a rock of muscle, and heavy as lead. We’ll be quicker if I tote her about.”
Dr. Von Patterson looked uncomfortable with the idea, but finally relented. “Very well,” she replied.
Maria transferred her sleeping burden of werewolf to Ian with a worried look at her daughter. Ian smiled reassuringly.
“Chin up,” he said. “Angela’s a tough one, she is.”
Behind them, Dr. O’Flynn – taking advantage of the unexpected lack of attention – suddenly raced for the open door! The woman made it no farther than the edge of the room as a knife slammed into the doorframe. The steel blade shivered angrily, mere inches from Dr. O’Flynn’s nose.
“That is the last warning I will extend you … Doctor,” Maria said coldly. “Do not try my patience; I have very little left.”
Stunned to her core, Dr. O’Flynn’s highly developed sense of survival kept her very still. Her eyes locked on the quivering blade in front of her face.
Across the room, the white haired figure of Dr. Edmund Hardy, a quiet witness to the preceding events, stood up slowly. His eyes nervously glanced over the dead, bloodstained body of the guard. The older man adjusted his glasses, straightened his soiled tweed jacket as best he could, then cleared his throat.
“If … if I might venture a question? What are your intentions for me?” he asked bravely. His voice was thin and frail, barely concealing a heavy blanket of nervous fatigue that was obvious from the way he carried himself. “I would appreciate an explanation.”
Maria briskly walked over to the doorway. She yanked the knife from the doorframe with one hand, her other clamping a tight grip on Dr. O’Flynn’s left arm.
“Gentlemen, this is neither the time or place for explanations,” Dr. Von Patterson replied curtly. “Bauer and his hooligans could return at any moment, and my daughter needs medical attention. We must depart now. The Fomorians have eyes and ears all about.”
During the exchange, the pilot glanced around the room. He was certain he heard a faint tapping sound – like the thinnest end of metal carefully tapping against metal. He listened carefully, but the sound quickly ceased. He returned his attention to the others. “To where?” Ian asked curiously.
“I’ll explain along the way,” Maria replied. With a hand in the middle of Dr. O’Flynn’s back, she firmly guided the red-headed irate scientist through the doorway and into the hall beyond.
Abruptly, gunfire roared in the hallway! Bullets smashed into the doorframe behind Maria, showering her with splinters.
“We’ve been discovered!” Dr. Von Patterson shouted over her shoulder. She shoved Dr. O’Flynn across the hallway to the far side amid another lethal flurry of bullets from the right of the doorway. Selina O’Flynn struck the wall hard, letting out a rush of air as the wind was partially knocked from her body.
Tonks quickly stepped to one side, turning his back to put himself between the wooden shards and Angela. A few feet away, Dr. Hardy jumped visibly, then ducked for cover behind one of the undisturbed laboratory tables.
“How’d they know?” Ian demanded.
“As I said, the Fomorians are, somehow, all too aware of what transpires in much of this complex!” Maria replied sharply, following Dr. O’Flynn across the hallway.
Once on the far side of the corridor, Dr. Von Patterson withdrew a small seamstress spider from a worn leather pouch at her belt. The device was heavily tarnished and decrepit, having been hastily repaired multiple times in its mechanical life. Maria placed the spider against the lock Angela had been tugging at earlier and turned a small brass key in the spider’s back. Quickly the device clanked to life. It shuddered; extending two of its eight spindly brass limbs into the large padlock, quickly working to unlock the tumblers.
Ian swore under his breath, looking around for something to use as a shield over Angela’s sleeping form. The tables were too large for him to carry one of them and Angela; neither was the pilot going to leave her behind. While he frantically looked around him, an idea sprung to life in his mind – he might not have to carry a table to have it be effective!
Quickly and gently, Ian set Angela down away from the doorframe. He kicked over one of the long wooden tables. Glass vials flew to the floor, shattering into dozens of razor sharp pieces while strange chemicals bled freely across the ancient stones. The pilot swung the oak table around on its side, then with a battle cry rushed for the open doorway. Muscles burned like fire as he shoved the table out into the maelstrom.
In the hallway, the table provided a formidable barrier, granting a modest amount of protection for Dr. Von Patterson and the cowering figure of Dr. O’Flynn. It was formidable, but by no means impenetrable. Ian glanced once over the edge of the table, yanking the revolver free from its holster.
Over one hundred yards down the hallway, four gunmen walked steadily forward, firing their revolvers in sporadic bursts. Tonks marveled at their skill – or lack thereof – since before he had moved the table into place, Maria and Dr. O’Flynn had no cover to speak of, yet were still unharmed.
Ian took careful aim, then fired twice. Both bullets struck home as one of the gunmen was flung a step backwards, then collapsed to the floor. The others threw themselves against the wall or flat on the floor in an effort to be as small a target as possible. The pilot smiled grimly, fired once more over the gunmen’s heads, then bolted back into the laboratory to collect Angela and Dr. Hardy.
When Ian arrived, he found Dr. Hardy kneeling beside the young werewolf girl. “What’re ya doin’?” he demanded.
Dr. Hardy jumped at Ian’s sudden outburst. He looked at the pilot over the rims of his glasses. “Young man, I’ve been forced to do many things for those blackguards. No matter how bloody my hands are, or how they got that way, I am still a scientist and a doctor. If you help see our way free, I will lend what aid I can. I will also explain much of what you might only suspect is going on.” Dr. Hardy returned his attention to examining Angela’s pulse.
Ian hesitated. Dr. Hardy’s manner had changed somewhat from a moment ago; he seemed more self-assured in his surroundings. However, if he was – as Ian suspected – a captive here, the hope of escape might have galvanized the elderly doctor. Before the pilot could reply, Dr. Hardy riveted him with the stern look of a medical man in his element.
“Young man, you’re wasting precious time. This is my job. I need you to do yours,” the elderly doctor said in a firm, grandfatherly tone. Dr. Hardy quickly hurried over to a far table, then returned with a bottle marked ‘smelling salts’. He popped the cork, waving it under Angela’s nose.
In the midst of a ragged sigh, Ian abruptly turned his head and coughed again, feeling as if an invisible hand clutched at his chest. The coughs quickly subsided, replaced by a gnawing hunger inside him, slowly rising like a demented beast.
“Not now,” Ian muttered to himself under his breath, ignoring through sheer force of will the intense cravings for the Hellgate elixir. While he pushed the urges from his mind, he ran back to the doorway to see if the remaining gunman had moved.
A step before he would have raced out into the open, several shots rapidly peppered the table where his hand would have eventually reached. Bullets hammered the makeshift shield, steadily tearing chunks of wood away far more accurately than they had seconds before. Ian jumped back in alarm, instinctively looking across the hall to the two women.
Dr. O’Flynn remained where she was, cowering behind the oak table for whatever protection it still provided. Dr. Von Patterson was rewinding the clockwork spider; apparently it had not yet managed to unfasten the padlock. Ian crouched low, peeking once around the bottom edge of the doorframe. His breath caught at the sight: Peter Bauer was now with the three surviving gunmen, and had brought four riflemen bearing Winchester ’76 lever-action rifles!
Ian rubbed his eyes, mind racing for a solution. He cleared his thoughts as best he could, focusing on the situation; the rifle fire was sporadic, yet dangerously accurate. They were also now outnumbered two to one, and he was the only one with a firearm of any kind. Peter Bauer would most likely try to keep the scientists alive, but Ian had little hope for anyone else’s survival. The pilot needed something with which to buy more time for Dr. Von Patterson to get the door unlocked.
The room was still packed with chemicals, though Ian knew he lacked the skill to make any use of them. At best he could toss some of the boiling liquids at anyone who happened to venture close. However, he doubted any of the gunmen would come near enough for that tactic to work. The rifles barked again in the hallway; more of the wooden table cracked, split, then tore away, leaving holes bored right through the crude barrier.
Ian searched his pockets until he found the small vial still half-full with the yellow Fomorian elixir. Immediately after, he rushed over to the dead guard, searching his body until he located a similar, full vial. The pilot sighed heavily, hearing his heart pound in his ears. He knew what the poison would do if he drank it all. He also knew he would be able to survive the gunfire – if only he could retain his sanity. At the least, it would provide a formidable distraction to allow Dr. Hardy to move Angela across to her mother.
After a brief, silent prayer, Ian pulled the corks off both vials while the rifle fire began again outside.