The only aspect of the situation which displeased him was that, more often than not, his appointment with the sun coincided with Macbain’s daily journey to moon over the Strife House. Even after all this time. Deep down he pitied her, that she should be intertwined with that evil, most likely for the rest of her life… but it was decidedly difficult to feel compassion for her recently, what with her renewed campaign against him. He had never been angered by her campaigns before, perhaps because she was entirely correct… and she was right again this time, but… something had certainly changed. More and more often he found himself writing long notes to the clockwinder about some wasteful aspect of city spending, or about increased security at the city walls, when he had been planning to search through city records for information which might be useful at a later date. Only later realizing he was doing genuine city work. Most distressful.
But he tried not to think of Macbain. She was an adult woman, and she lived in a free city. If she chose to repeatedly enforce the connection with that house, what business was it of his?
He stood in front of the window, the cat winding back and forth between his legs, and thought about Miss Namori, and his evening with her, after the bonfire the night before in Sweetwater Square. He smiled, replaying the night in his mind, as he brought the cup to his lips.
And then Macbain appeared. Underby sighed. She moved slowly and hesitantly, as always. A few steps forward, then turning, as if deciding against the walk, only to turn back and take a few more steps. And so on and so on. Underby shook his head.
As he took another sip of tea, a sharp crack rang through the room, sending the cat racing for the back of the bar. A window pain exploded into shards in front of him. Underby looked up at Macbain, thinking “The bitch shot at me!” when he saw a puff of dust fly up a moment later near her feet. She looked toward the Strife House still, as if she had not noticed, and he realized… someone was shooting, but AT her. He craned his neck and saw a figure on top of the Berithos building.
Actual shock and surprise washed over Underby, he had honestly believed the banter between Berithos and Macbain was largely jest. In fact, secretly he had believed it to be flirting, and was pleased to imagine Phaedra being rejected for Macbain… or had he only wished that?
He shook his head, and then without thinking shouted “BIB!” then dashed out the door, and up out into the street. “Macbain!” he called out as he ran. “Get down!”
She turned toward him, seemingly mildly surprised to be interrupted on her pilgrimage. “Mm?” she said, as a bullet whizzed nearby and struck the wall. He grabbed her by the head, between the cat ears, and shoved her head down, another report echoed through the Gut, and he took her by the arm, dragging her up into Thunderclap Hall. “Unhand me!” she cried as he dragged her inside.
“Underby, what in God’s name are-” she began as Bib came running up the stairs from the Bucket. “What’s goin on, boss?” he asked, his eyes wide, seeing her.
“Someone is shooting at her.” Underby said. “Quick, take her out through the back room and spirit her through Wheatstone to the Painted Lady, until we can get her back to Clockhaven. That quack is a madman.”
Macbain recoiled. “Unhand me! If you think this orchestrated charade has convinced me even in the sl-“
“Boss, yer shot!” Bib said, suddenly. Underby looked down, his shirt at the shoulder was torn and swiftly growing a disturbing shade of deep crimson. His mouth was suddenly dry.
“I’ve been shot before.” he said shortly and thrust Macbain at Bib. “Get her the hell out of here.”
Star said “Underby, I… I…” as Bib rushed her downstairs, into the bar.
Underby sat down on a stair as Mags padded barefoot behind him. He looked back at her. “Please fetch a doctor, Mags… I believe I am bleeding to death.” His head swam, and dark spots were floating before his eyes.
She nodded and ran. Before passing out, he vaguely hoped Mags didn’t bring back Dr Berithos.