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“Arnold!” Bookworm knelt down by Arnold’s prone form. He was still breathing, but his head was bleeding profusely. It looked, to her cursory examination, as if the bullet had gone through the left side of his head. She quickly tore strips off her jacket, pressing them against the wounds. She looked around, biting her lip. She didn’t dare leave Arnold, but she needed bandages for him, and she didn’t trust Beatrixe to handle this, who, as Bookworm looked at her, examined the blood on herself curiously before heading to the washroom.
Suddenly, she remembered the girl in the maid’s dress, who was still downstairs. “Girl!” she yelled. “Get some hot water and bandages up here, quickly!”
She heard the girl call back, “Is… is Cortman–”
“He’s dead, and Arnold is hurt. Quick, now!”
She heard the sound of feet downstairs running, but then her attention was caught by the cats. They circled around Cortman’s body, then around Arnold, sniffing at him. They then left the cell block, heading for the stairs. Bookworm stared after them, then looked down at Arnold, and shrugged.
Lisa ran from the foot of the stairs to the kitchen, stoking the fire and putting a bucket of water on the stove to warm up. Hurrying back out to look for more bandages, she saw the cats waiting by the door. “Thank you,” she said to them. “But what of Beryl?”
Fourclaws’s whiskers drooped. “He’s bad–very bad.” Tears filled Lisa’s eyes at that.
They were all startled by someone hammering at the door. Lisa opened it, partly to see who it was, and partly to let her friends out. As the cats streamed outside, she saw Tepic standing there.
“Lisa!” he cried, seeing the distress on her face and stepping inside. “What ‘appened? Is Tenderpaws all right?”
“Oh, it was terrible!” She was about to blurt the whole thing out, but suddenly shrank back as she saw a stranger follow Tepic inside. Tepic turned and saw the man. “‘ere! Mr. Penrose, what yer doing in here? It’s fer loopy blokes… errrrr…”
“I heard a shot, I thought,” the man replied. He looked at Lisa. “Don’t mind me, miss. I am a member of the press.” Lisa looked at Tepic helplessly, wanting to ask what “press” meant, but not daring. “Name is Penrose,” the man continued, “and it is my duty to relay the truth to the people.”
“Wat he means is, he writes down what he thinks people tell ‘im, an’ prints it so other people can read it an’ be shocked,” Tepic quickly told Lisa.
“What happened, please?” the man inquired. “Tell it slowly.”
Lisa looked from the man, to Tepic, and back to the man. “I–I can’t stay. I’m needed upstairs.”
“All right. It can wait.”
Lisa dashed back into the kitchen and grabbed the bucket of water, lugging it back out. She wasn’t sure it had had enough time to heat, but she preferred to keep busy, and keep the nosy M’an away from her. As she passed the entrance again, Tepic asked, “Can I help?”
“Come with me, Tepic,” Lisa replied, and he helped her to haul the water up the stairs. Lisa was glad the barred door was still open, as it did make it easier for them to get around. Unfortunately, it also allowed Mr. Penrose to follow them. He stopped short at the entrance to the cell block, gazing past Lisa and Tepic to the carnage within.
“‘Ello, Miss Bo–Mr. Arnold!” Tepic exclaimed, rushing inside with the water and standing by Arnold’s prone body.
“Oh, dear,” Mr. Penrose said, scribbling madly as he looked around apprehensively.
“What on earth?!” Bookworm blurted at the sound of the unknown voice. She looked up, and frowned at the stranger. “Who are you, sir?”
“Oscar Bellamy Penrose, miss, of the, er, New Babbage Free Press,” he replied.
Bookworm cursed inwardly. “You must leave, sir. I have no time for this right now.” She grabbed a piece of cloth from Lisa’s proffered hands, dipped it in water, and began cleaning Arnold’s head, trying to assess the damage.
“Of course,” he replied, still scribbling in his notebook. “Er, I shall run to get some sort of assistance, but… perhaps an interview after, miss?”
“Later!” Bookworm said sternly.
“Yes, yes, of course.” He finally retreated out of sight, and Bookworm sighed with relief as she heard his footsteps on the stairs. “Doctors I need, and I get a bloody reporter,” she muttered.
“I ran all the way to the Militia buildin’,” Tepic told Bookworm. “There were no one there, so I left a note…” He trailed off, staring down. “Is Mr. Arnold goin’ ter be all right?”
“I don’t know,” Bookworm replied softly.
Lisa glanced over at Tenderpaws’s cell, saw the door was open, and went to look inside. She gasped at the blood, drawing Tepic’s attention. “He’s been hurt,” he gasped. Grabbing another bandage, Lisa held it to Tenderpaws’s head. Tepic ran over; seeing the carnage that had been done to his friends, the fox began to growl angrily.
They were all startled by a pounding on the front door. Bookworm looked up at the girl. “That man Penrose must have shut the door after him when he left. Can you find out who it is? They might be able to help.”
Lisa nodded, and gestured to Tepic to take her place at Tenderpaws’s head. She was about to hurry past Miss Hienrichs, but paused when Bookworm held up a hand. “Be careful,” she said soberly. Lisa nodded, and hurried downstairs to the almost continuous tattoo on the door.
“Who’s there?” she yelled over the noise. The pounding stopped, and she heard a familiar voice say, “It’s Avariel Falcon.”
“Oh, thank goodness.” Lisa closed her eyes in relief, then fumbled at the door, finally unlocking it again and opening it. She saw, standing by Avariel, Cyan Rayna and Dr. Kristos Sonnerstein. “Please, come in–quickly!”
“What happened?” Cyan asked as the trio stepped inside.
“Cortman went mad, and shot nearly everyone inside,” Lisa said, her voice wavering, tears welling up in her eyes. “Arnold’s hurt, and Dr. Solsen, and Tenderpaws, and…” She trailed off, too upset to go on, and not really sure yet who else was hurt, and who was dead.
“It sounds like they need you in there, doctor!” Avariel said excitedly as she moved inside, Cyan right behind her. Doctor Sonnerstein’s ears tipped back as he gritted his teeth. He looked into the facility reluctantly and then shut his eyes tightly and stepped within. “Lead me to them…”
“Dr. Solsen is in here,” Lisa said, leading him into the office. Dr. Sonnerstein let himself be lead, his teeth clenched, while Cyan and Avariel moved up the stairs and found the grisly scene above. Cyan, looking at Arnold bleeding through the entranceway, wasn’t sure he wanted to enter.
((To be continued…))