Bookworm frowned as the… thing… shed the debris that had fallen on it. It hesitated a moment, then darted out into the street, scattering people before it, before it crashed through another construction site. She heard Commodore Dagger yell, “Get back!” Sparing a quick glance back, she saw Beryl and Ruddy Bones trying to dig Stormy out of the debris. She took up a position in front of them, hopefully hiding them from the thing’s sight, and raised her rifle up, ready to shoot.
Shouts and sounds of gunfire–and other weapon-fire–rolled over from the other side of the thing. Both Father Moonwall and Brother Lapis shouted things in a strange language; Bookworm guessed it was Greek. She couldn’t see what effect these attacks were having, but the creature did turn around, lumbering toward her. It knocked Zaros Xue sideways. Bookworm stared up into its hideous face and began firing, pressing herself as far back into the scaffolding debris as she could, in an attempt to keep out of reach of its tentacles.
Thankfully, it turned aside again, lumbering back toward the Builder clerics. All was shouting and confusion, weapons’ fire and cries of panic and pain, as the thing went first one way, than another, as if unsure which group of annoying little humans it wanted to crush first. But suddenly, a familiar form weaved past Bookworm’s sight, heading toward the monster.
“Emperor!” she shouted. “Look out!” She reached out to grab him and pull him back, but his stumbling steps carried him out of reach.
“Shoot it!” Loki yelled at the top of his lungs. “Someone save the Emperor!”
Emperor Crumb, though, didn’t seem to think he was in any sort of danger. “What is the–hic–meaning of this?” he shouted, and waved a glass-filled hand at the thing. “Get outta here, ya big bag of snot, and I don’t care about none o’ yer falootin’ ‘nukerm kerkern neekem’ neither!”
To Bookworm’s utter surprise, the monster pulled up short, and turned to face the Emperor. If a monster could be surprised, this one definitely was. In fact, it seemed to be… whining.
“And frrfflmore as well!” Emperor Crumb continued. “A shocking display–and on Martha’s birthday! How dare you!”
Bookworm, only now managing to extricate herself from the narrow space she’d squeezed into, stopped short. Light seemed to be gathering around the monster, drawing itself inward on it. It streamed in faster and faster, as the thing’s whining climbed to an unbearable pitch. Abruptly, there was an explosion of light outward that rivaled the first one that had heralded the monster’s appearance. Bookworm ducked and turned away, throwing up her arms to protect her head. When she raised her head again, blinking away tears the intense light had brought to her eyes, the monster was gone. Gone without a trace.
“What–hic–what *was* that?” Emperor Crumb asked.
Bookworm stood open-mouthed, looking back and forth between the Emperor, and where the monster had been. “What… but… how…” Finally, she let out a bark of laughter. “Who knew you could nag something to death?” She stepped forward and bowed to the Emperor. “Well done, sir.”
He looked around. “It interrupted my glass of sherry,” he said petulantly.
“Excuse me, miss.” Bookworm turned around to see a diminutive woman standing on the debris. Beryl was beside her, covered in dust–and blood. “Some of the urchins over her at hurt,” the woman continued. “Can anyone help?”
Bookworm eyed Beryl. “Are you all right?”
“Two buildings fell on top of me,” he replied. “I’m fine. Stormy and Ruddy–not so much.”
Bookworm frowned, and clambered over and through the debris as quickly as she safely could. She finally slid down a pile of bricks, landing in front of Ruddy and Stormy, who were sitting on the ground. “How are you?” she asked.
“I’m all right,” Ruddy said. “Just a few scratches–nothing I can’t handle. Stormy got a knock on his noggin, though.” Bookworm saw a patch of cloth tied onto Stormy’s head, one that matched the dress the small woman was wearing. “I tried to stop the flow, Miss,” she said, giving her name as Elli. “Tore up a perfectly good skirt, too.”
Stormy was holding a hand over his right eye. “I’m perdy sure I got somethin’ in there.”
Bookworm knelt down and reached out to his hand. “Hold still, Stormy. Let me take a look.”
“Okay.” He slowly lowered his hand. She saw that his eye was red, thoroughly bloodshot. “Hmm. Looks like some burst blood vessels behind the eye,” she said as she began to carefully take off the fabric from his head.
“Am I gonna die?!” Stormy cried.
“No, you won’t die,” Bookworm hastened to reassure him. “They’re very small blood vessels.” She saw that the cut on his head wasn’t too deep, and then held up a finger, and moved it back and forth. “Can you track my finger?”
She watched as his good eye vaguely moved with her finger, but it definitely wasn’t entirely focused. Turning around, she asked Beryl, “Do you have any bandages?’
“Oh, right… bandages,” he said, sounding a little vague. “I should have done that.” He fumbled at his belt, finally pulling out a tin and handing it to her. She gave him an intent stare, noticing that his stitches had split, and the wound there was sluggishly bleeding. ‘First things first,’ she thought, opening the tin. She shook out a bandage and used it on Stormy’s head wound; another bandage was cut round to fit over his eye.
“You need some bed rest and care, Stormy. The hospital’s the best place for you right now.”
“Phah, soft children they raise these days,” came a wavering voice behind them. She glanced back and saw Emperor Crumb standing at the staircase to the Bucket of Blood. “A drink will do the boy well!” With that, he went down the stairs, evidently ready to get back to his sherry.
In the meantime, Jimmy had arrived, and was lamenting the fact that he’d missed it all. Loki loudly proclaimed that he wasn’t going to clean the mess up, and the two of them fell to speculating on what might have happened to Effingham.
Bookworm finished her ministrations and stood up. “Right. Off to the hospital with you.” She looked back at Beryl. “You, too.”
Beryl shook his head vaguely. “I don’t need to.”
“Yes, you do,” she insisted.
“What about Dr. Sonnerstein?” Ruddy asked. “He’s closer.”
A distant shout caught Bookworm’s attention; she saw Commodore Dagger waving for her to join her. She waved her hand in acknowledgement, then divided her gaze between Stormy and Beryl. “You can go to the hospital, or look for Dr. Sonnerstein. I don’t care which. But you *both* need to see a doctor now. Promise me you will.”
Their replies weren’t exactly convincing, but she had to content herself with that as she scrambled back up the pile of debris.
Later that evening, Bookworm heard that the Builder clerics were saying that the events they’d all experienced were nothing more than a sewer explosion, coupled with a mass hallucination. She recalled that close-up sight of the monster she’d had, and shuddered. “Good luck convincing us of that,” she muttered.
((Again, links lead to Ms. Garnet’s photographs!))