“Festering midden!” Count Bologna cursed as the room filled with smoke.
“Bugger! Bugger! Bugger!” shouted Emerson, running around the blue flames in a completely non-functional panic.
“Hairy Dickens!” the Count waved his arms in a futile attempt to clear the air.
“Blasted bandersnatch turds!” Emerson’s throat began to burn due to the sharp fumes produced by the fire.
“Sweet gnatty humpenscrumpers! Pox-ridden masticators!” Count Bologna ratcheted up the cursing as he tentatively tried stomping along the edge of the flames to prevent their spreading.
“Blazing dung buckets!” Emerson looked about wildly, spotting an old tapestry depicting the legendary founding of the city. He tore it from the wall and threw the ancient relic over the blaze, covering the colourful flames. For a second the maneuver appeared successful, but then the tapestry began to smolder, adding a noxious element to the already choking air. A moment later with a whoosh that sounded like someone shaking a heavy linen bed sheet the dusty and dry fabric of the tapestry burst into flames.
“BATTY-FANG ME!” Emerson added volume to intensify his cursing.
“THE WINDOW! HURRY!” Count Bologna pointed. “THROW THE TAPESTRY OUT THE WINDOW!” Emerson grabbed a corner of the old tapestry, ran the burning piece of art to the window and threw it outside to the street below. As he watched the flaming tapestry burn out in the snow, he noticed a small crowd was gathering, several of them pointing up.
Emerson gave them a wave and called down, “Not to worry citizens of New Babbage. The Knight Crusader and…” Emerson turned back into the room. “Quick, what’s your superhero name?”
“The Blue Blood Avenger,” the Count announced proudly.
Emerson turned back to the window and called down to the crowd. “The Knight Crusader and the Blue Blood Avenger will save the day!” It was then that Emerson spotted a steam carriage bearing a remarkable resemblance to the one he owned, and kept behind the Gangplank, parked in the street below. ‘How odd,’ he muttered.
“Hey Emerson, hurry your ass up!” a voice called from overhead. He looked up to see Kaylee at the hatch of her airship lowering a rope ladder.
“It’s not Emerson,” Emerson hissed. “It’s the Knight Crusader.”
“Listen up, Knight Crusader, we gotta get outta here. I’m not takin’ crap from Underby on account of you and that bozo with the pointy hat, so move it!”
Emerson waved then turned back into the smokey office. It was so thick he nearly choked. “Wow, it’s really bad in here. We have to hurry, Kaylee’s getting antsy.”
“The floor; it is still burning, look!” Count Bologna pointed to the struggling fire which had been dampened but not extinguished by the mishap with the tapestry. “Wait, I know what to do! The water-closet!” The Count ran across the room to the door where Emerson had earlier thought he heard the thumping sounds. “Underby can’t abide public facilities,” the Count explained. “He has his own water-closet.”
The Count threw open the door then let out a shout of surprise. Hiding inside, holding a pillowcase with something heavy inside, was the urchin, Cyrus Forgrave. The little blond boy was sandwiched between Petra Flax on one side and Squire Malus on the other.
“Eh, Sir Emerson,” the Count called out, “Why is your bartender hiding in the water-closet with two children?”
“Squire!? Petra!?” Emerson called out, genuinely dumbfounded by their unexpected appearance. “What are you doing in Mr. Underby’s Office? How did you get in City Hall?”
“What do you mean, how did we get in City Hall; we walked through the front door,” said Malus. “The building is always open. Only the individual offices are locked after business hours.” The Squire paused and narrowed his eyes, preparing to deflect Emerson’s primary question. “Why? How did you two get in?”
“HOLY BLOODY BUILDER! YOU GUYS SET MR. UNDERBY’S OFFICE ON FIRE! YOU’RE GOING TO BE IN SO MUCH TROUBLE!” Cyrus interrupted with great excitement, swinging the hand with the pillowcase to gesture toward the fire. It was only a second before he recognized his error but it was already too late to cover.
“Hey kid!” Emerson caught Cyrus by the scruff of the neck. “You have that talking head thing the Count and I have been looking for. It’s hidden in that bag, isn’t it?”
“How should I know what you’ve been looking for,” Cyrus replied, holding the pillowcase behind his back; he maintained a brazen eye contact with Emerson despite the fact that his eyes had become teary due to the smoke and fumes. “Besides, who’s to say it isn’t you two that have been looking for what I already found.”
“Forget the Head for a minute. Putting out the fire should be our first concern,” said the Squire.
“Exactly what I came in here to do,” said Count Bologna. He pushed passed everyone. “The pipe that fills the tank that flushes the toilet!” the Count gripped the pipe supplying water to the tank mounted to the wall about six feet above the toilet. With one foot braced against the wall and two hands around the pipe, the Count put his weight behind it. With a crack the pipe’s seal broke. Water gushed from the tank while a continuous spray of water from the broken pipe began to flood the area around their feet; a large puddle was already seeping from the water-closet out into Mr. Underby’s office.
“That’s a great idea,” Emerson nodded approvingly to the Count. “If the room floods, the water will douse the flames. Meanwhile we climb out the window and escape in Kaylee’s ariship.”
“Are you sure the child has the Brazen Head?” asked Count Bologna.
Before Cyrus could react Emerson grabbed the pillowcase from the urchin and peeked inside. “Hey, that’s mine, I found it first!” Cyrus cried out.
“I wouldn’t do that, Sir Sir,” Petra warned as Emerson reached into the bag.
“We can negotiate custody arrangements with you, Cyrus and the Squire once we’re all safely back at the Gangplank.” said Emerson, his fingers wrapped about something that felt like a handle.
“That’s not what I meant, Sir Sir,” she sighed.
“Count, I do believe we have found your Head,” said Emerson as he pulled the legendary Brazen Head from the pillow case. The head was round, bronze in colour and about the size of an actual adult human head, although somewhat flattened. It was wearing a crown of intricately cast leaves that leant the impression this artefact may once have been a South Seas treasure.
The Brazen Head opened its mouth as though it were about to speak; about to solve all their problems with some deep and meaningful words of wisdom.
“Cripes,” Petra said only a moment before the Brazen Head let loose with a hair-raising scream so extreme and unrelenting in its intensity that Emerson was unable to endure it. He threw the Head to the Count. The mechanical, fortune-telling head went silent as it sailed through the air; the sudden cessation of sound leant the illusion of time passing in slow motion but the moment Count Bologna caught it the shockingly loud shrieking recommenced and time resumed its chaotic pace. The Count, spooked by the unbearable wailing threw the head to the Squire. Sweet silence reigned again, until Malus caught the head and the screaming started once more. Malus threw the head to Petra, who threw it to Cyrus who returned it to the pillowcase he’d retrieved from Emerson. The Brazen Head fell silent.
“What a nasty device,” said Emerson. “I’m not even sure I want partial custody anymore. You can divide my days between Petra, Cyrus and the Squire.”
A loud cracking sound, almost like the crisp snap of artillery fire reminded all of the dire situation. “Did that cracking sound come from the floor?” asked Emerson, eyes wide beneath his black Halloween mask.
“The fire!” said Malus. “It’s starting to get to the beams.”
Though water continued to flood from the water-closet, the floor’s inclination channeled the flow along the wall to the far corner where it seeped beneath the wainscoting and drained into the walls of the offices below. It didn’t seem as though the flooding would have any immediate effect on the fire.
“Quick!” Emerson called out. “Everyone to the windows. We’ve got to get out of here before the smoke suffocates us. Kaylee’s waiting just above in her airship.”
Petra reached the window first. She looked up and waved to Kaylee, then looked down and let out a shriek and a curse. “It’s Mr. Underbite!” she called back. “He’s down there and he don’t look too happy.”
“He’s down there now?” Cyrus couldn’t hide the concern from his voice as he ran to the window. “Where, I don’t see him.”
“He was down there,” said Petra. “He just came inside the building. I figure we got about two minutes before he comes storming through that office door.”