Arcanum – Of Steamwork and Magic Ch. 20-3

The Harrower gathered electrical charge as it tumbled through the air and struck the ground with the force of a hurricane. Tables went flying – as did men, their bodies perforated with wooden splinters. They crashed to the ground, smoking and smoldering as Gillian shouted: “Sir!”

The last man to remain standing sprinted for the same door that one of the men at the beginning of the fight had run through. He got through as I came to my feet. I charged after him, grabbing the MMG from the dead hands of the bartender. Through the door I went, and saw it led down into a dank basement. The air was rich with the smell of old, dried blood, vomit, and sewage. I came down to the stone tile that covered the uneven floor, and saw a man swing around the corner at the end of the corridor. He stood with a wide stance and held a double barreled hunting shotgun. He pulled back and I dove forward and to the left, shooting through a narrow doorway that led into a casket filled chamber. A single pellet grazed along my shoulder.

The man started to frantically pop the shotgun open as I rolled on my belly, emerging from around the corner I had dived about. The man stumbled, seeking to get himself behind cover. I pulled back on the MMG and found it nearly ripping out of my grip, so excitedly did it send bullets chattering into the fellow. But the bullets did their job, painting the wall behind him with red and sending him sprawling. Two more men emerged from the back room, firing their revolvers at where they thought I would be standing. As the bullets whined overhead, I blew out their knees with a savage burst from the MMG. They sprawled on the ground, gasping and crying and the MMG rattled and clicked. I stood, slowly, leaving the MMG upon the ground as I clasped my accelerator pistol in my hands.

I advanced towards the door at the end of the corridor that the two had emerged from, stepping over their writing bodies and casually putting a round in each of their heads – there was no time for being a gentleman here, and I had absolutely no inclination to do so.

The door swung inwards and I found myself in a chamber that looked as if had been converted many times. I could see the bloodstains of torture, the bed with the chain for enforced prostitution, the table which looked as if it could have been a chemist’s set or a reloading bench. Right now, the room contained two people. One was upon a stool, with her arms tied behind her back, and her face a ruin of bruises and battery.

Virginia.

She blinked through bleary eyes at me, while the blackguard who had so abused her was standing behind her and to the right. He was a narrow faced, hook nosed gnome, who was tall enough for his kind, tall enough that his head was nearly on the same plane as Virginia’s, thanks to her seated position and the shortness of the stool. He wore a suit that was quite fine – its cut was nearly on par with mine and unlike me, he had not shot his way past nearly thirteen men. However, the cut of his suit mattered far less than the revolver he had placed against Virginia’s temple.

“Who the bloody bloody bloody bloody hell are you!?” the gnome snarled at me.

“You will put that gun down this instant,” I said, my voice a low, growling rumble as I aimed directly at the gnome’s heart.

You will see three echoes, the Silver Lady’s voice whispered in my mind.

The newspaper, mentioning her name. The photograph, with those snake eyes.

That bruised face.

“So, you give a fuck about Beebee, huh?” the gnome asked.

And on the third, your heart will break, my poor Resh Craig.

Virginia smiled at me.

“I l-“

The gnome shot her.

Virginia slumped off the stool – then twitched once, twice, before laying still, with the boneless finality of the suddenly dead. The back of her head was a read ruin, and blood flecked the gnome, who grinned at me with a fierce smile. “I win,” he said. “You can kill me, but I still fuckin‘-“

The accelerator pistol clattered to the floor and I struck the gnome. It was not a premeditated action – it was rather, a function of the universe. A physical law, which could no more be controlled than the laws of thermodynamics or electromagnetism. A part of me observed this physical law from a remote distance. But a greater part felt only the consuming, raging fire of my emotion, boiling over. So long held in check, the orc in me was free. I grabbed the gnome by the throat, lifting him up, then bringing him crashing to the ground. He sprawled, his pistol skittering away from me. Then I was upon him, grabbing the sides of his face and forcing my thumbs into his eyes.

He screamed and screamed as I felt the orbs compress, then rupture. Brilliant red blood and pale white jelly streamed around my thumbs as I screamed back at him – a primal screech of loss and despair. The gnome writhed beneath me, but then his back arched and his knees began to drum on the ground as I felt the hard pressure of something behind his eyes. The skull. I pushed harder and felt my own thumbs creak, then crunch and crack as bone tore at my skin. I didn’t care. The thinner bone of the gnome gave way and I felt the pressure and rippling his his brains. His feet ceased drumming and I drew my hands back, drawing in deep, ragged gasps.

My hands were utterly caked in gore. I could not even bring them to my cheeks, to stem the tears that began to flow like waterfalls. I stumbled and crawled to Virginia. My screams had become ragged gasps – deep, choking noises. I could not draw in the air. Instead, I placed my hands to her cheeks, desperately touching the place where her skull came apart, trying to make it untrue. I clutched her to me, unable to look at her, unable to look away.

I turned my head to the ceiling, my eyes closing. I screamed and beat my fists against my chest, then the ground. My knuckles split, and there was nothing but the yawning blackness around me – for what felt like years. I knew not who had the bravery to approach me first – but when their hand touched my shoulder, I nearly lashed out at them. But even that was taken from me by the grief – I could do no more than attack than I could cease clutching Virginia to me.

I opened my eyes – and for a single moment, I swore that my desperate pleas had worked.

For I was looking at…Virginia.

Virginia as I had seen her a year before, in the wreckage of the IFS Zephyr. Clad in the robes of a Panarii priest, holding a quarterstaff in one hand. Then…I blinked away some tears, and realized how absurd the image was. Virginia had never had silvery-gray hair. Virginia had never had wrinkles. Virginia had never had the character and bearing of…a kindly mother, worn by cares and worries, but still deeply compassionate and human. The woman cast her hood back, revealing that her hair was incredibly long and carefully tended. She knelt slowly, down, her eyes sliding from my face to Virginia’s.

“Oh…Beatrice…” she whispered.

My voice worked in a croak. “J…Johanna?”

The Elder Johanna – the mentor and trainer of Beatrice, the woman who had taken her in and taught her to be Virginia – looked at me. Her eyes were filled with tears.

“I am sorry, Living One.” Then she stood. “We must away. The constabulary might take their time – but they will still come at the sound of the gunfire here. And we do not need to explain…this.”

I stood – and refused to put Virginia down. I held her to my chest – and solemnly, we stepped out of the Sobbing Onion and into the streets of Caladon.

TO BE CONTINUED

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