Bookworm entered the empty kitchen–Mrs. Sawyer had gone to the market–to grab a roll to bring with her on her Militia rounds. No sooner had she stepped into the room, however, than a glowing, transparent figure entered from the other direction…through the wall.
“Ahh, hello Miss Hienrichs!” it said.
Bookworm started, and then growled in frustration. “You again!”
“Yes, me again!” Henri Metier said. “Having a lovely time, are we? Loaded for a fight, I see!”
“I’m going on my rounds for the Militia. Of *course* I’m armed!”
“Glad you’re so enthusiastic; perhaps I could walk them with you!
Bookworm looked at him dubiously. “And why on earth would I want you along with me?”
“It would certainly be part of my pay back, wouldn’t it?” He chuckled.
“Trust me–your mere continued existence is enough of a ‘pay-back.'”
“Does it truly bother you so much? That I exist still? You’d think you’d be over it by now!”
“That you can continue to annoy people with your mad ramblings? Absolutely.” Bookworm made no attempt to hide her annoyance.
Metier laughed. “But madness is already in fashion around town!”
Bookworm rolled her eyes, but made no reply. Mad some folks might be becoming, but that was from an outside influence. Metier’s madness was definitely inherent in his nature.
“Do you really think that this city will be better off without me?”
Bookworm hesitated–a few seconds, but noticeable–and replies, “Yes.” She quashed the stray thoughts of what Arnold had told her–that Metier claimed to be absorbing dark aether from the machines.
“Oh Miss Hienrichs, you have no idea the trouble this city is in. That it wants me here should be clue enough for you!”
“But what difference can *you* make?” she asked.
“Do you really want to see why it needs me? I can show you.”
Bookworm looked at him warily. She didn’t trust him any further than she could have thrown him when he was alive, but she desperately needed answers…and she was ready to take them from any source that offered. “All right. But none of your tricks, mind!”
Metier disappeared through the wall, and Bookworm slipped out the back door. “Come with me, Miss Hienrichs,” he said with a chuckle. “I hope you don’t mind a little breaking and entering!”
She looked up sharply at that. “The building where the Van Creed were?”
“Oh yes! You haven’t been, but you’ve heard!”
Bookworm nodded. “Yes, I do want to see that.” Perhaps she could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.
“Then follow me!”
It was a strange procession through the streets of the Wheatstone Waterway and New Babbage districts–the ghost, paled somewhat in the light of morning, but still visible, and the woman, dressed in a suit for freedom of movement, and with a rifle perched on her back. They passed Captain Llewellyn’s metal treehouse, then descended to the level of the factories near Iron Bay. Metier kept chuckling, or even laughing, to himself, the unstable sound of which seemed to keep people well away from them. Bookworm followed, feeling nervous but trying to keep a stoic appearance, as a Heroine should.
They crossed the canal and tram tracks, and went north. Finally, Metier walked straight through a wall, leaving her behind. After a moment, he stuck his head back out. “Troubles?”
“It’s a little difficult for me to walk through walls,” she replied, irritated.
He laughed. “OF COURSE! Perhaps you should just shoot them till there are no walls!” He came back out and took another direction, still laughing. Bookworm followed, feeling more and more worried. Granted, the man was mad, but his behavior now seemed even more so than before. Finally, though, they made their way through an alley behind the Freak Show building, stopping at a boarded-up entrance.
“Here it is!” Metier said merrily, and walked through the boards. Bookworm looked around, saw no one in sight, and cautiously prodded at the boards until she found one that was loose. She shoved it aside a little, and slipped inside.
Metier beckoned. “Come take a look…a deeeeep look! But be careful what you touch!” He laughed again.
Bookworm’s attention, though, was caught by a document lying on the bench just inside the entrance. She scanned it through quickly. “Interesting,” she mused. As Metier continued laughing maniacally, she rolled her eyes and stalked past him down the corridor, finally entering the main room. Her attention was immediately caught by the Van Creed symbol on the wall opposite.
“Do you want to see why this city needs me?” Metier asked, standing by her. “Just look into that hole.” He pointed to the middle of the floor, where boards had pushed up and cracked, leaving a gaping opening.
Bookworm frowned, and cautiously approached the hole. Had she seen some gas coming from it? She couldn’t tell in the gloomy light.
“Look deep into the hole and see your enemy!” Metier laughed.
Bookworm peered over the edge…
She seemed to be falling. Falling forever. Falling through a sky swirling with mad, fantistical colors. And yet, she seemed to be standing still. Standing in the gaze of a giant, lidless eye, an eye which seemed to gaze straight into her soul. A voice urged her to set free her worst memories, her darkest emotions and impulses. It told her, with unstressed certainty, that nothing mattered…nothing, and no one, not even herself.
She covered her ears, trying to block out the voice. She tried to say, “No! I *do* matter!” She tried to say it, to scream it, to drown out the voice. But her own voice wouldn’t work, and the other was inside her mind, where nothing would block it. It repeated its certain pronouncement over and over, while the eye stared at her, implacable, inescapable, and the colors swirled around her faster and faster, until everything went white…
And then, everything went black.
((To be continued…))