Bookworm was deep in an exhausted sleep in her small room at the hospital, and only gradually became aware of someone shaking her awake. She finally opened her eyes to find one of the militia members, the one she’d assigned to guard Beryl, gripping her shoulder with one hand and holding high an oil lamp in the other hand. A few days ago, Bookworm had discovered a rather strange, even unsettling, woman in Beryl’s room – after she’d had to kick open the hallway doors that had been jammed with a broom handle. Since then, she’d had a militia member on constant guard at Beryl’s room… just in case.
“Mmph,” she finally mumbled. “What time is it?”
“You don’t want to know,” the man, Orin, replied with a sour grin. “You’d best come to Beryl – something happened.”
That jolted her awake. She threw off the covers – she always slept in a spare militia uniform now, for just this sort of situation – and followed Orin upstairs to Beryl’s room. The cat was propped up a little on his pillow, looking a little less fevered than when he’d first been brought to the hospital. “Beryl?”
“Snow came to visit.” His voice was a little stronger, too – less dreamy.
“He did?” She was arrested in the process of lowering herself into the chair that sat at Beryl’s bedside.
“Yes. Crawling at my window. He’s going to try to finish what he started, of course. That’s what they do.”
Bookworm’s mouth set in a thin line as she sat down. “I don’t suppose he let drop anything about where he’s hiding?”
“No. As soon as he saw that we had seen him, he ran.” Beryl nodded his head toward the door. “Your militia guard had his gun.”
Bookworm sighed, rubbing at her face, thankful now that she’d assigned a guard here before this happened, but wondering who else decide to target the hospital now.
“Am I that distressing? asked Beryl.
“No. It’s this whole situation.” She smiled sourly. “I’ll admit, part of me is rather tempted to let Snow and Prometheus’s gang duke it out among themselves. But too many innocents could get caught in the crossfire.”
“Prometheus would tear Snow apart.”
“He must have *some* weakness. If only we could discover what it is…”
“If only you could get Freya to talk,” Beryl added with a sigh.
Bookworm nodded, her thoughts suddenly straying to an idea. Perhaps Lisa would have better luck getting Freya to open up a little. Their experiences were somewhat similar, after all… But before she could pursue that idea further, Beryl said, “Book. Do you hate me?”
“No, of course not,” she replied, startled at the question.
“I don’t know why. I’ve caused you more grief than you even know.”
“You’re my friend – even when we disagree.”
“And the secrets I’ve kept?”
Bookworm took a deep breath, delaying her answer a little. “I know you have your reasons.”
“You sound less convincing now.” Beryl smiled wryly.
“I don’t always agree with your reasons. But friends don’t have to agree on everything,” she replied, reminding herself as much as him.”
“That’s good. Because I knew about Prometheus since Bunny tower was destroyed. Well, I didn’t know his name then…”
Bookworm carefully asked, “Did you know what he wanted?”
“I did.” Beryl studied her face carefully. “Lilith went into hiding the same day because of it. And after that, he was gone. No sign of him till the fires. And only then did I hear his name.”
“I see.” She returned his gaze, keeping her face calm, though it cost her quite an effort.
An effort that, apparently, was visible to Beryl, for he replied, “You’re angry. You deserve to be, probably.”
“I… can’t deny that.” Bookworm chose her words carefully. “I can’t help but think of ‘what if’ – if the militia had known more before, could we have prevented at least some of this?” She shrugged. “We’ll never know.”
“Prevented… or forced it to happen sooner,” Beryl pointed out. “At the very least, the fires would have had one less unknown figure egging them on.”
Bookworm closed her eyes for a moment, tamping down her anger and disappointment as best she could. “I suppose I should be used to this by now. Everyone keeps their own council here. You, the urchins, Canergak. And how many citizens of this city are armed to the teeth, and perfectly willing to wade into any situation, sure they can handle it themselves?” She smiled wryly.
“Don’t forget Dr. Sonnerstein and the Cabbits. The list is limitless.” Beryl paused. “If you want some council, here’s my best advice: Keep your allies close.” Bookworm nodded, and he continued, “Prometheus will attack. Leon said something about…” He trailed off, sighed, and rolled over. “He said many things.”
Once Beryl had turned away, Book let her smile go a little bitter. But she said gently, “Rest well, Beryl,” got up and left the room, nodding to Orin. She returned to her own room to see if she could continue her interrupted rest, though she had her doubts.