One hundred seventeen

One hundred seventeen

It was perhaps a little much to expect a supernatural attack within hours of moving into the hospital, and that’s not quite how it happened.

What did happen within the hour was the arrival of a steady stream of liveried girls, boys, mice, gulls, and dragonflies all depositing calling cards in the heavily-shielded foyer. The cards were all inert, as per protocol, but ranged from parchment to pearl-coated colloids to non-orientable exotics. The message was uniform: ‘So-and-so, at home’ and an address. There were also folded letters making overt inquiries, including a number that were on the order of  TO BARNA BYOU ARE A PRETTY RABIT AND I HOPE THEY DONT PUNISH YOU. Jeanette liked these even though they were a faintly creepy reminder that her interaction with Lieutenant Octavian was playing all over Storisende.

“We can conclude that nothing spreads the word like royalty coming to Storisende, ready to do business and renting a hospital in the ultra-ritzy part of town,” Senhor Capoeira Capybara said. “Our foe can’t help but notice that the Queen it tried to kill is alive and on its doorstep.”

“We won’t be attacked right now, as the flush of interest reaches its peak, but very soon, before we are given a chance to move forward,” said the Queen.

Barnaby Bartleby Rudge had moved back to having its fur smoothed by the Queen of Hearts, which disappointed Jeanette more than it should have. The clockwork lynx that was the last gift of Diotima Urantia Gearhart was definitely a better ally to have by her side, but was indisputably far less pettable. As for the upcoming battle, she wasn’t scared--not too much, at least--with all her powerful friends sitting around the table with her, all ready for the danger.

Storisende’s sun had gone down, and the hospital’s lights had come up. Everyone was staying relaxed and ready. She shivered a little, but didn’t think anything of it.

Then she was alone at the table.

The lynx was with her, but that was it. She touched the jewel on her necklace that launched the magical shield. She could feel it surround her: unfortunately it didn’t bring back her friends. That meant they had actually been separated. She got up from the table and walked around it, ready to pull out a weapon at the first sign of attack.

She had thought about this: one advantage to this is that the enemy may think she was just a little girl along for the ride, and that the others would be scared for her. So it would be to her advantage not to show off her weapons too early. She would naturally feel better holding a nice big gun, but--

--the beast was upon her. It was big, it was hard, it stank, and it had long jointed arms. She wriggled furiously, and  just managed to have a long, long talon slide down and tear her dress rather than her skin. Both her arms were in bad positions, and she couldn’t even get to her necklace. She could hear and maybe feel the attack of the lynx, but even if it were tearing into the monster, it wasn’t making it move or change position. This was bad. If she got scared it would be worse, but it was bad.

Her one advantage was that, with them tangled together, the thing couldn’t tear her up either. It was mainly trying to snap at her with its jaws, and she kept throwing her head back and forth. She had gotten one deep scratch across her cheek, but that was it so far. The lynx was making the noise that it did when she had seen it get bigger, and that might help, but she couldn’t hold it off much longer.

Then she had a thought. She had been used, ever since she used it first in the wrecked city, to reaching up and back beyond the sixth wall for a gun or a bomb. But when she had done it, there had always been a feeling of contact with that other space. Could she do it without that reach? Still pinned, she tried flopping her wrist back and forth, trying to arch her back without getting in the path of a claw. It wasn’t working.

She pushed her right forearm back--and screamed as the monster bit into it. But as the thing clamped its jaws shut on her--she got the feeling.

It certainly wasn’t a rifle: it wasn’t much of anything, not at all heavy, but it had a trigger and she pulled it.

The sound was deafening, and it nearly threw her wrist out, but the monster bucked. Her wrist got a little more motion, and she shot from a better position. This time she could feel the creature thrust backwards from the impact. A third shot, and its grip loosened.

She tried to roll away, and went over onto her wounded arm, and it hurt so bad things went a little white. But she kicked away from the monster, and using the arm she wasn’t used to, reached back.

She was rewarded with a nice big gun this time. She pulled the trigger, and was rewarded with a long steady burst. She saw the thing’s face, and wished she hadn’t: she had been assuming it was like a cat or a wolf, and it was far more twisted than that. Somehow she couldn’t fire it into its face, but she raked its side again, and the lynx, more than twice the size it had been before, tore out the back of its neck.

She got up slowly, letting the gun drop and vanish. The dining room was a mess: the table was smashed and there were bullet holes everywhere.

But she had done it! Alone, and without freaking out!

There was a furious banging on the front door. Jeanette limped down and opened it up. There was Lieutenant Octavian, Looking dashing with a rather small gun and a sabre, leading a squad of far more heavily armed soldiers in the lieutenant's colors. “Jeanette!” He cried. “You’re hurt!”

And there was something about the tone of his voice that made her grab him and start to cry. He put his hand on the top of her head.

The troops deployed in the entrance hall and moved up to the dining room. It may have been the tramp of their boots, but one by one, the rest of her friends appeared through different doorways, each one of them with the look of triumph on their faces.

Her father carried a big energy projector gun that still sparked and crackled; Senhor Capoeira’s fur was in all directions; Lord Elphinstone walked casually, his sword over his shoulder and his other hand holding three very ugly severed heads; O Tse strode in, his spike dripping with something green.

Last, and maybe by deliberate timing, the Queen of Hearts strode in, her cloak in tatters, but with a great tawny beast slung over her shoulders. “Lieutenant!” She said. “I’m touched by your concern.”

Octavian stopped resting his hand on Jeanette’s head, and she smiled. Her father came down the steps and she hurried to him.

They sat together on the chairs of the dining room table, which had somehow made it through. Quintus Octavian had a tablet on his lap, and was scrolling with a stylus. “We’ll get confirmation soon enough, but these beasts are from various planets in the Caladrone Cluster, far outside Storisende’s ambit. Do you have enemies there?” He may have meant it as a general question, but his eyes were only for the Queen.

“Our latest activities may have gained us new enemies,” Silvertyger rumbled.

Dr. Ransom came over with the stack of calling cards. “It’s not logical, but our attacker may have  announced himself beforehand. It’s a common trope in crime fiction.”

Quintus started to shuffle the cards. He extracted four, “These concerns do business with the Caladrone,” he said. He gave them to Jeanette, who was seated next to him.

The names meant nothing to her, but something else did. “That’s a strange address,” she said. “‘17 The Library’?”

Lieutenant Octavian smiled. “Why, don’t you know about the Library? It’s our great mystery. Come tomorrow, and I’ll show you.”

Jeanette’s hand went to her breast, where the pendant holding a small key had suddenly gotten very warm.


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