Two hours later that evening Captain Anthony Gabriel Hunter was back aboard the Brass Griffin. Leaving the night-shrouded main deck, the captain opened a weather beaten door, then descended a short set of stairs. He arrived at a common room that connected the officer’s quarters aboard ship. When his boots touched the smooth wooden floor, he reached off to his right and turned a knob on a nearby arc lantern that hung from a peg on the wall.
A spark crackled energetically from the brass-framed lantern before its blue-white light chased the darkness to the far corners of the room. The night’s chill crept along the floor, while in the distance the rigging creaked methodically. Dimly, the captain heard his crew – the evening watch – going about their duties on deck.
Captain Hunter yawned, blinked, then rubbed his temples. Fatigue haunted him like a persistent specter, determined and relentless. He started to slip his longcoat off, but decided against it. The motion was more than he cared to expend effort on. Instead, the captain crossed the room to its only furnishings, a small square table surrounded by three wooden chairs.
A moment later, Dr. Thomas Hunter followed his older brother through the doorway. The doctor removed his blue frock coat. After a moment’s consideration, and a fruitless search for a coat hook, he draped it over one of the worn wooden chairs. Anthony pulled another chair away from the table, then sat heavily in it.
“So, did this Durante Marino produce anything convincing?” the doctor asked skeptically.
Anthony nodded. “Once we departed the boiler room, we escorted him to his stateroom – he is indeed one of the passengers – where he produced timetables and a set of elaborately complex schematics for the device he claimed was set by one of his Brotherhood in the Britannia’s engine room.”
“Schematics for an explosive?” Thomas asked, sitting down in his own chair across from his brother. The doctor looked pensive for a moment. “That seems rather convenient. Anyone could have produced those, despite how damning they are. Given the destruction his group has caused already, schematics seems almost a token gesture of alliance.”
“Quite,” the captain replied tersely. “Moira’s been fawning over the plans. She says they are a match as best as she can determine to the remains of the bomb used – the initial bomb, that is. However, as you said, anyone could have produced those. Greg Mason pointed out much the same thing, even though Mr. Mason’s intent was to clap the man in irons then lock him back into a cage until Boston.”
“Which was such a smashing success before,” Thomas replied with a smirk.
Anthony laughed quietly. “True enough. Sirrah Marino is out of that officer’ s league.” The captain sighed thoughtfully. “Truth told? He’s quite out of mine, as well.”
“Where is the man now?” Thomas asked curiously.
“Working with Moira in her workshop. Noel and Little Tom are there to lend a hand, and to be ready in case the unexpected might happen.” Anthony frowned slightly. “Mr. Mason was most put out about the whole thing.”
“Because Mr. Marino isn’t in irons?” The doctor offered.
Anthony’s frown bordered on a scowl. “That, and he holds some reservation about Moira. Noel to a lesser degree, but primarily Moira.”
“She’s not of his station?” Thomas suggested carefully.
“She’s a woman.” Anthony replied with a brittle voice.
“Ah,” was the only comment Thomas could respectfully offer. He had run across more than one ‘enlightened’ member of High Society that took a dim view of women entertaining interesting endeavors such as clockwork engineering. This prejudice often extended to people felt to be of a ‘lower social standing’ as well. It was difficult not to run face first into it, given one part of his medical practice was devoted to those particular ‘pillars’ of society. He, too, had even fallen to that sweet, misguided lure more than once, however the medical services he provided to orphanages and factory workers tended to wash the self-delusion of superiority from his mind. Sadly, that type of curative for such prejudice was not something he could administer to his more closed-minded and influential patients.
Dr. Hunter watched his brother a moment. The captain’s body radiated fatigue, far more than he seemed willing to admit. It painted a stark picture of frustration.
“Returning to a previous topic, Gabriel, I doubt very much Mr. Marino is beyond your depth.” Thomas replied, bemused. “It’s been trying on you, me, all of us. Even since the initial detonation, the blackguards behind this have been hard at work keeping events moving at a pace just short of exhaustive. How better to make us dance to their tune, yes? You’ll be fine, just a spot of fatigue that a good rest will cure.”
Anthony Hunter listened to the soft, melodic creak of rigging while it danced in the night breeze. He glanced out the open doorway. Beyond the bottom curve of the rigid-frame gas bag, a scattering of stars twinkled brightly against the velveteen night sky.
“The skulduggery and double dealing drains me, Thomas.” The captain let go of a slow sigh. He looked deflated when it was done.
Thomas Hunter scrutinized his older brother carefully. It was an occupational hazard of being a doctor, and a sibling.
“Then lets back up and take a new stab at it, shall we?” Thomas replied. “This Durante Marino produced plans for the bomb which was then supposedly altered to deliver a killing stroke to two of the Britannia’s crew. Yet anyone could have produced said designs. You know Moira will deduce any sort of duplicity from the man’s supposed mechanical talents. Did you confront Mr. Marino about the thin layer of proof he offered?”
Anthony yawned in his struggle against fatigue. “Not in the same words, but yes, I did. I mentioned that given the number of times he had attacked, schematics were interesting but hardly an olive branch. I wanted the olive branch.”
The doctor considered that a moment, then drummed his fingers on the table. “What of the alterations? Did he have anything to share?”
“That the alterations were ‘blunt’ and ‘crude’. Moira agreed.” Anthony shrugged slightly. “I’ve not their skill, but once I looked closely at the device, even I could tell two different set of hands had been at work there. He did make some suggestions as to what pieces were altered through comparison of the wreckage to the schematics. Crude explosive, but something that could be quietly sniffed out aboard the Britannia. Moira is scribing a list of ingredients now.” He sighed. “It’s very useful. I don’t deny that. However, it was brittle material to use as a foundation for trust.”
Thomas nodded sagely. He took in the information like a sponge. “So what did he offer in addition? Surely there was something more?”
Anthony frowned. He did not like all of the answer he had to offer. “Timetables of Brotherhood activity, along with names of other members aboard. It seems they keep amazing account of their activity. For instance, one of their number was murdered in the initial explosion aboard the Britannia alongside the Britannia’s engineer.”
“So Marino’s confederates are a part of both passenger and crew. That’s rather unsettling.” Thomas said after a brief moment of silence.
Anthony nodded in agreement. “Quite. As is a list of timetables indicating theft attempts and a timetable of Duke RiBeld’s activities. In many cases, Duke RiBeld has not been far away when a thief made a try for the daggers. It’s all very compelling, but given the source, I have to take that last part with a grain of salt. In any case, Mr. Mason either has or will be sending an inquiry back to England to confirm with the Metropolitan Police about the robbery attempts, since it was all kept hush.”
The doctor gave his brother a surprised look. “Now that is a compelling olive branch. Also, a rather amazing change of heart for someone who, in the very same day, had been trying to cause as much chaos as possible.”
“The man begrudgingly admitted they are losing their struggle against the thievery. They were convinced I was a part of this and thought of blackmailing me as a last desperate attempt to put an end to all this.” The captain took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. He combed a hand through his dark hair. “Somehow, in some way, Marino senses that they were mislead, as well. He won’t explain how he knows, just that he does.”
Thomas grinned at his older brother. “Well, Gabriel, you do have that trustworthy look about you. It goes remarkably well with your bulldog temperament.”
Anthony ignored his brother’s comment.
Thomas chuckled, then continued. “Did Mr. Marino have anything else to say?”
The captain nodded again. “Sirrah Marino suggested I look closely at the knives. Their story was not a manuscript for scholars, and added I should stop thinking like one.”
Thomas chuckled. “Quite cryptic of him. Did he offer any deeper insight?”
Anthony nodded thoughtfully. “Yes. He explained the knives were not a story, but a map, with the seventh knife being the cornerstone of the entire piece. That is why they cannot be ‘read’. However, he would not explain how to view this map in the least. It must be discovered, not explained. He also said that I needed to be sure of my reasons for looking closer at the knives, because the Leaves of Mulciber is a map to knowledge and truth. There is no place for greed.”
“Mulciber?” Thomas frowned and inclined his head in thought. “I recognize that term. Interesting he would use it.”
Anthony folded his arms over his chest, then sighed slightly. “It’s part of how his ‘social circle’ or ‘society’ dub themselves.” The captain shrugged at his brother. “The Brotherhood of Mulciber.”
Thomas looked momentarily surprised. “Indeed? That is an interesting choice of words. However it does make a certain kind of sense.”
“You, however, are now the one being irritatingly cryptic.” Anthony said sourly. “Please share for those who are less enlightened, if you would?”
“You never did keep up with your studies of ancient history.” Thomas shook his head at his brother. He cleared his throat. For a moment he seemed more the professor about to give a lecture to an errant pupil. “Had you read, you would know Mulciber was another name for the ancient mythological figure of Vulcan, patron of fire – especially the destructive kind – and craftsmanship. Given the Brotherhood’s fascination with clever and disturbingly complex gadgetry, I don’t find it surprising in the least they revere the myth enough to use his name.”
“I note the knives bear the same moniker.” Anthony pressed a closed fist against his mouth while he frowned thoughtfully. “On one hand, it could be sheer hubris. However, it might have some meaning to it. They did make an explosive device using an orrery as an integral part of it, after all. This Brotherhood seems to enjoy a rich symbolism with their creations.”
Thomas nodded. “Quite. An orrery which was likely an elaborate, if possibly inefficient, timer – but that’s pure speculation on my part. I’ll leave the mechanical deductions to your capable lady engineer and inventor.”
“The knives are also magnetic, which surprisingly still maintain an edge for artifacts so old.” Anthony explained, staring off past his brother into the half-light of the small room. “No working parts that I saw, and the carvings range from sheer gibberish to something that is lacking enough letters to give it rational sense.”
“Magnetic?” The doctor then joined his brother with a frown while his mind puzzled over the new information. “Unusual property for a weapon to have.”
“As I said, they also have maintained a proper edge. Most unusual.” Anthony’s fist uncurled carefully. He then slowly drummed his fingers on the table. “You’re quite correct, it’s a poor choice of material. The knives are Roman. Adonia never mentioned if anyone performed any experimentation on shavings off the blade itself.”
Thomas shook his head. “It would be interesting to know if anyone had, and what they uncovered from the attempt.”
“Indeed.” Anthony’s eyes still looked beyond his brother. He was not looking around the room, but across the spinning catalog of thoughts in his mind’s eye. He disliked unsolved puzzles.
“A question for the Senhorita tomorrow, perhaps?” Thomas considered his brother a moment. A ghost of a smile crossed his face. “So, Gabriel, why haven’t you?”
Anthony frowned at his brother. “What do you mean?”
“Taken a closer look at the knives.” Thomas repeated. “More to the point, why aren’t you right now?” His eyes watched his brother carefully.
The captain raised an eyebrow at his brother’s remark. “You know very well why. With those artifacts under lock, key, and guard, it makes them far safer than sitting out and about being manhandled by anyone, let alone myself.”
“Nonsense.” The doctor leaned forward in his chair. He rested his elbows on the table, and steepled his fingers. “Double your guard, and leave the weaponry in the room that they’re secured in. Consider it a blind test.”
Anthony mulled over the suggestion a moment. He nodded thoughtfully. “A test of the agreement with Sirrah Marino and his Brotherhood. It’s a gamble.”
“A calculated risk.” Thomas replied. “One who’s edge is dulled by your guards lingering out of sight, but not out of hearing.”
The captain’s eyes narrowed while he saw the layout of the Griffin’s armory in his mind. “At best, a minor ploy.”
Thomas shrugged, then leaned back. “Also an obvious one at that, but many times people tend to overlook or over-think the obvious.”
“Meanwhile, we take a closer look at those artifacts.” Hunter stood from his chair. “A risk, but an acceptable one that may gain us greater insight into why Duke RiBeld – if he truly is involved – wants those artifacts so badly. If we’re able to discern anything at all.”
The doctor smiled, then stood and recovered his coat. “Good to see you on the move, Gabriel. I was worried for a moment.”
Anthony spared a smile for his younger brother. “Ill temperament aggravated by fatigue. I simply needed a well-administered prescription of motivation.”
“Happy to oblige,” Thomas replied cheerfully.
“So, Doctor, care to make a consulting house call on a set of ancient cutlery?” Anthony asked with a weary smirk.
The doctor slipped his coat on. “Certainly, Captain. Boilers at the ready, all ahead full! “