Bookworm Hienrichs was snatching a few hours at home, attending to Arnold’s needs while Mariah and Mrs. Pritchard rested, when she heard a knock at the door. Peering through the window, she saw Tepic standing there, smiled, and hurried to let him in. “Hello, Tepic.
“‘Ello, Miss Book! How’s the patient?” he asked.
“No real change physically,” she replied, beckoning him into the library.
“Oh. Err… he ain’t gone nuts, has he?”
Bookworm smiled briefly. “No, not that.” She and Tepic looked down at Arnold’s prone form, and saw his eyes were open again, the orange eye looking straight at Tepic. Bookworm looked at Tepic keenly, remembering now that he’d mentioned once that he’d done something… special to help bring Arnold back during the Dark Aether mess. “Tepic, do you know anything about… Id?”
“Err… reckon I hear the name…”
“Dr. Sonnerstein told me a bit. His mind is… fragmented to an extent. Id is a part of that fragmentation.”
Tepic nodded. “Yep. Arguing with himself, sort of.”
“We can actually communicate with Id right now, to an extent. One blink for yes, two for no.” She leaned over the back of the couch. “Id, can Tepic help Arnold?”
The orange eye blinked once.
“Blimey,” breathed Tepic. “Are yer both in there?” The orange eye blinked once, and Tepic continued, “Well, that’s good.”
At that moment, Bookworm caught, out of the corner of her eye, a dark fluttering movement at the window. She hurried over, and saw a familiar avian form, which cawed mockingly at her. She stared for a moment, then, on impulse, hurried toward the front door, telling Tepic to stay with Arnold as she passed him.
She darted outside without even a cloak, and quickly shut the door behind her. Shivering, she peered around, and heard a caw from above. She craned her neck, and saw the raven perching on the edge of the roof. “Metier!” she called. “Come here.”
The raven cawed again, peering down at her, but making no move. “I’m unarmed, Metier,” she called out again. “Come here.” With that reassurance, the raven glided down from the roof, landing in the street outside her door. It stood there quietly, looking at her.
Bookworm squatted down and reached out with the senses Zac Somerset had, years ago, taught her to use. She could feel Metier’s mocking laughter, and tried to follow it, in a way, going deeper into the raven.
And suddenly, he was there. Not in the flesh, of course, nor as a ghost, nor even as a picture in her mind. But somehow, his presence was so strong, it transcended any need for a physical or visual manifestation. “Hello, Miss Hienrichs,” said the familiar voice with malicious glee. “We seem destined to meet many times.”
Bookworm shivered again, more at hearing the voice than at the cold. Unsure of how long she could keep contact, she went straight to the point. “What do you want with Arnold?”
“Me?” Metier laughed again. “Nothing!”
“Then why do you try to keep getting to him?”
“Aessesser wants him.” Henri explained. “Do you not recognize my pet raven? It sat upon my shoulder even when you shot at me.”
Bookworm frowned, and was about to say that she had no desire, then or now, to keep track of his little pets, when another voice said sternly, “Quiet!” Metier laughed.
Bookworm could now feel a second presence–something she couldn’t describe, as it felt utterly inhuman. But who–what–was it? She stared at the raven. It stared back at her. Finally, she chanced a throw, odd though it seemed. “Why do you want Arnold, Aessesser? And what did you take from the others?”
“Their souls,” replied the voice–gravelly, yet uninflected, matter-of-fact. “The souls of the damned are my meal. I follow them and I feast.” Bookworm blanched, but the voice continued, “I wished for Metier when he was a child.”
“I surprised him when I became the master,” Henri put in. He laughed maniacally.
“But Arnold isn’t dead yet,” Bookworm said around the cold fear in her stomach.
“I don’t have to wait for death. I can bring death.” With that, the raven flew up and disappeared into the sky behind her home.
She stared after it for a moment, eyes wide and watering in the cold wind. Finally, she muttered, “Not if we can help it,” stood up, and reentered her home.
Tepic looked up as she came across the library to him. “So what’s the birdy after, Miss Book? And what do three blinks mean? He did that when I asked if I have ter go find Mr. Arnold.”
Bookworm opened and closed her mouth several times, as if she wasn’t sure what to tell Tepic. Finally, she said, “Metier is in the raven, Tepic.”
“The nutter?” he asked, startled. “He up ter no good again?”
“He says he’s not the one after Arnold. The raven is. The raven said so, too.”
“Eh? But ain’t they one an’ the same, like Mr. Arnold and Id?”
Bookworm shook her head. “That was the pet raven Metier carted around while he was alive. Except, apparently, it wasn’t exactly a pet.”
Tepic leaned forward, lowering his voice. “So did the bird take something from Hoyt?”
“I’m afraid so.” Bookworm hesitated, loath to repeat what Aessesser had said. But finally, she continued, “It told me, ‘The souls of the damned are my meal. I follow them and I feast.'”
Tepic looked grim. “Then it had no right ter Hoyt, that’s fer certain. I seen some bad ‘uns, Miss, an’ I ain’t sayin’ what happens to ‘em, but Hoyt were one of us, an’ a good ‘un, too, ‘cept a bit confused sometimes.”
“It has no right to anyone, as far as I’m concerned,” Bookworm growled. “It also wants Arnold–and will even kill him to get him.”
“Ha!” Tepic exclaimed. “Then it’s definitely got its knickers in a twist. Mr. Arnold’s a hero–when he pops his clogs, he’s off ter Valhalla or some such place!”
Bookworm smiled at that, then looked down at Arnold and saw that his eyes were still open. She thought she might as well check with Id about what Aessesser had said–she wouldn’t put it past… it to have lied to her. “Id, is it Aessesser who wants Arnold?”
The orange eye blinked once.
“It wants Arnold’s soul?”
The orange eye blinked once again, though it did hesitate a moment.
“So, do I have ter knock off the birdy?” Tepic asked.
The orange eye blinked once.
“Well, that’s clear enough.”
“Easier said than done, though,” Bookworm said wryly. The orange eye blinked once, apparently agreeing with her statement.
“Ha! We ain’t even started yet,” Tepic said stoutly. “Urchins can spy where it sets… then bird lime on its perches… nets with weights on the edge…” He went off for a moment into a reverie of plans for traps for the raven, pleased to have a clear objective now.
((To be continued…))