The volley of gunfire ricocheted off the edge of the battered oak table, sending a hailstorm of splinters in all directions! Bullets rebounded into the room, screaming through the air. Stabbing, white-hot pain lanced Tonks’ left arm. He yelped in surprise, then ducked instinctively as he quickly ran to the far side of one of the laboratory tables. Glass on the table exploded as the bullets ripped through the fragile equipment; noxious chemicals sprayed into the air then spilled over onto the floor.
Next to the table, Dr. Hardy waved the smelling salts beneath Angela’s snout. At first nothing happened, then the girl whimpered before she sneezed violently. Her eyes abruptly opened, then closed as she moaned.
Ian looked at his arm while the volley subsided: near his shoulder, the shirt had been ripped open and trickles of blood trailed down his arm. Grimacing, Ian involuntarily licked his lips; his hands shook from the raw craving that threatened to overwhelm his rational mind. The pilot made to drink the vials of Hellgate elixir, but a firm, gentle hand from Dr. Hardy held him still.
“Don’t,” Dr. Hardy said quickly. “There’s another way.”
Gunfire roared again, this time followed by Peter Bauer’s muffled order to advance on the barricade. Ian glanced nervously towards the door while Dr. Hardy quickly snatched up several containers – some showed labels such as “vinegar”, others had no label but were filled with various ground powders and caustic oils. The powders he quickly dumped into a large empty bottle that, to Tonks, looked very much like it had once contained a fine single malt scotch whiskey.
“Trust an old tinkerer,” the elderly doctor said with a grin. Carefully, he poured the vinegar into the scotch bottle. When it was a little over half full, he stood up and glanced out the door.
“Your Dr. Von Patterson has the door unlocked,” he explained, setting the empty container out of the way as he swirled the mixture gently.
Ian gratefully replaced the stoppers in his elixir vials, shoving them into a vest pocket. He jumped in surprise when Dr. Hardy pushed the larger corked bottle, its contents furiously bubbling, into his hands.
“Quickly! Throw it at the gunmen before they fire, then run!” the wizened scientist instructed. “I can help the young lady!”
A bullet ricocheted nearby, causing Tonks to duck slightly out of habit. “What does it do?”
“No time to explain!” Dr. Hardy replied, snatching up a worn leather notebook from a nearby table, then helping a very groggy, unsteady Angela to her feet. “Throw it, man! Before the cork pops!”
The pilot abruptly bolted, wide-eyed, for the door. He careened into the doorframe and peeked out into the hall, ducking back just before another round of bullets tore past his head. Taking a quick breath, Ian rushed into the hallway, hurling the bottle down the hall towards Bauer and his men. With almost no time left, the pilot raced across, Dr. Hardy and Angela close behind.
Bauer froze the moment he saw the bottle and its clear, frothing contents. Without a second thought, he threw himself to the floor to avoid any shrapnel.
“Take cover!” he shouted out in warning, though the riflemen with him had already followed his example. All along the hallway, the advancing Fomorians dropped to the floor or crouched against the wall, away from the perceived threat.
The bottle arced through the air, sailing in between the knot of men; at last it crashed to the stone floor, broken glass scattering in all directions. The mixture, free from its container, rapidly expanded, flooding the air around the Fomorians with a white-gray smoke.
Ian reached the open door across the hall first; inside, Maria was fiddling with a loose stone in the far wall. Huddled on the floor was a white-faced and panic-stricken Dr. O’Flynn. The pilot turned around just as Dr. Hardy drew up next to him with Angela. Down the hall, sixty yards away, Bauer and his men looked at growing white fog, confused.
“Open fire!” Bauer shouted angrily, getting to his feet. He coughed as his eyes started to water furiously. Around him, the Fomorians scrambled to recover their rifles, taking aim at Ian, Dr. Hardy, and Angela, but none pulled the trigger. The caustic fog had already invaded their noses and eyes, leaving them doubled over on the floor, wheezing for air.
Ian, coughed briefly, then frowned at the older man. “Ya said it would explode!”
Dr. Hardy gave Ian a grin, then patted the man on the shoulder. “I said ‘before the cork pops’, my boy, not explode. However, I do think we’ve worn out our welcome!”
Inside the small square cell, Maria Von Patterson smiled when the brick with which she had been struggling gave a small click. She pushed it, and a six-foot-tall section of stone swung open to darkness.
“Gentlemen!” Maria said, pulling Dr. O’Flynn clumsily to her feet. “This way!”
Quickly picking up Angela, Ian raced into the room and through the hidden door; Dr. Hardy followed close behind. Once the others were inside the hidden passageway, Maria pushed Dr. O’Flynn through, then stepped in afterwards, pushing the concealed door shut behind her.
“Often these old castles have a ‘rabbit hole’ or two for emergencies,” Dr. Maria Von Patterson explained, deftly relocking the ancient mechanism. “Fortunately, I came across this particular route during the first attempt we made to free ourselves from Bauer’s people.”
Once the device obediently gave a satisfying click to indicate the latch was secured, the doctor explored the walls with her outstretched hands. After a moment, her fingers discovered the familiar cylindrical metal and glass shape of an arc lantern.
Ian carefully set Angela on her feet. The young werewolf braced herself against the wall while she steadied herself on her rear paws.
“Ya got yer head clear?” Tonks asked in concern.
Angela found his hand in the darkness and gave it a small squeeze. “Jus’ feelin’ a bit muddled,” she replied sleepily. The girl yawned. “I’ll be better in a moment.”
The pilot nodded, then tried to peer about the dank, close hallway while Maria wound the key on the arc lantern’s mechanism. The woman was rewarded with a soft electric blue glow that filled the small space around the little group.
“All this? A castle?” Ian asked in amazement. “If there is a castle with Fomorians runnin’ about, why hasn’t anyone noticed?”
“Also … if I may?” Dr. Hardy added, “I expected someone to be in that room we just left. I could always hear the moaning.”
With a last look at the concealed door, Maria gestured past the group into the darkness. “This way, I’ll explain while we walk. If we stay here, we still might be discovered, and we do not need Bauer and his ilk finding this passage.”
Maria grabbed Dr. O’Flynn by the arm, guiding the distraught and rather ill-tempered woman to walk in front.
“I want you where I can see you, my dear,” Dr. Von Patterson said icily.
“They’ll find yer little door,” Dr. O’Flynn snapped. “When they do, they’ll kill ya all.”
Maria gave the lady scientist a nasty smile. “Well, that just may be. However, I suspect – given all the trouble that’s taken place – Bauer may be in such an ill temper that you might share our fate, whether you wish to or not. Now, march!”
The group quickly left the concealed door behind. With Maria’s directions, they swiftly made their way along the hidden corridor. Soon another blue glow, similar to their own arc lantern, appeared in the distance.
“With regards to my remarks about a castle, Mr. Wilkerson, yes it is, indeed,” Maria explained. “However, you’ll find it more complete below ground than above.”
“How do ya mean?” Tonks asked curiously, suppressing another small coughing fit.
“I’m not entirely certain where in the Scottish Highlands we are, but this castle – or at least what’s left of it – is quite ancient due to its age and the era when it was originally built, it apparently was on a location that over time was flooded by a nearby river. This submerged a good bit of it, leaving the rest to fall into ruin,” Dr. Von Patterson replied. “From what I’ve seen of the damage to the walls, the river later changed. By that point the upper portions had long since collapsed leaving very little trace behind. I suspect Bauer and his associates have taken some pains to clear out the submerged corridors. All in an effort to make this into their own private warren for their vile little project.”
“Brilliant,” Ian replied, carefully running his fingers over the damp stone walls in amazement.
Dr. Hardy pushed his smudged glasses up from the end of his nose. “As for the room?”
Maria laughed softly. “The ‘haunted’ room? Something the engineer from the Fair Winds dreamt up. Some of Bauer’s less educated jackals are rather superstitious. Seeing as we couldn’t locate a proper apparition to assist us, we invented one or two and placed them strategically about the castle.”
The elderly doctor chuckled. “I often wondered why they seemed rather nervous. You’ve been busy since your arrival, Madam.”
“They’ve been ruinin’ our work, you old fool!” Dr. O’Flynn shot hatefully at Dr. Hardy. “They’re the ones who’ve been knockin’ holes in the vats and stealin’ parts! They haven’t forgotten your part in this, ya know! It’s not like they’ll just suddenly forgive and forget!”
Dr. Hardy gave the woman a stern glare. “No, I’m sure they haven’t. Even though what I did was against my own will, I’m prepared to take whatever judgment comes for my sins, Doctor. I’m quite at peace with my fate. Are you?”
Selina O’Flynn stared hot knives at the old man; however, as much as she wanted to snap back an ugly reply, she remained silent.
Maria raised the arc lantern as high as the narrow corridor allowed, then passed a hand over the light once, blocking the light, then twice in rapid succession. From down the hall, she was rewarded with a similar crude blotting of the other lantern. “Desperate times oft spur invention, Doctor. Especially when it’s only a small handful of us who’ve hidden ourselves away in the walls.” She sighed, as if she carried a heavy weight on her shoulders.
From the hallway, a young man dressed in the tattered, soot-stained remains of a sailor’s uniform appeared out of the gloom carrying a poorly maintained revolver. The midshipman glanced uneasily around at the eclectic group.
“Dr. Von Patterson … ya’ve brought company.” the young man said after a moment. “Likely not the best time for it.”
Maria frowned. “How do you mean, Mr. Thomson?”
“Mum, whatever it was ya did, it made that Cap’n Bauer right upset,” the midshipman explained. “One of our listeners just run in with a message. Bauer’s ordered all the prisoners gassed to death within the next few hours. Then he’s makin’ for Edinburgh with his gas bombs to hide in St. Giles, upwind of Holyrood Palace and other key locations.”
Dr. Hardy closed his eyes in a silent, despairing prayer. Selina O’Flynn smirked mercilessly, despite the ropes tied around her wrists.
“Not one word,” Maria warned Dr. O’Flynn angrily. Selina’s smirk faded from her face. Angela, who had regained most of her wits from the throes of the sleep fog, gripped her mother’s hand.
“What can we do?” the girl asked.
Dr. Von Patterson shook her head. “What we can, dear heart.”
Tonks, who had been deep in thought, glanced over at the sailor. “Mr. Thomson, is it?”
“Aye,” the young man replied.
“Do ya have an opti?” the pilot asked.
“Barely workin’, but we do,” the midshipman replied.
“It’ll do.” Tonks said, suppressing another coughing fit. “I’ll need it hooked to an arc lantern, then we’ll need to put it where the signal can broadcast. If our luck’s holdin’, it’ll give Bauer plenty to think over. Hopefully, the Griffin will hear us and come runnin’. Meanwhile, ya can focus on getting’ the rest of the captives loose and someplace safe.”
“To where?” Mr. Thomson asked with a shrug. “We can barely house the fifteen we have here.”
“To another part of the castle,” Tonks replied with a grin. “Specifically, the part we’re goin’ to steal out from under Peter Bauer.”