The worm lunged suddenly and St. Cyprian spat out his cigarette and grabbed Wendy-Smythe, hauling him out of its path. The worm’s jaws snapped shut on the arm of one of the portly man’s unlucky servants and the wretch was ripped into the air and flung high, his scream trailing after him.
“Gallowglass,” St. Cyprian bawled, snatching the Enfield revolver from Wendy-Smythe’s unresisting hand and leveling both it and his Webley at the beast. He fired, trying to catch the creature’s attention as it went after the other servants, who were pushing and shoving, trying to flee the study. The worm whipped towards him, following the sound of his voice. He scrambled away as it slithered rapidly after him. “Shoot it again! Shoot it again!”
“Now he wants me to shoot,” Gallowglass murmured, hurriedly reloading. She was forced to jump back as the worm’s tail swept towards her, nearly catching her behind the knees. “How much bigger is this thing going to get?” she shouted, climbing up onto the overturned desk.
St. Cyprian didn’t reply. He was too busy climbing up one of the remaining bookcases, the worm snapping at his heels. He turned as he reached the top and saw the study’s light fixture-an old fashioned gas-lit chandelier, now modified for electricity-hanging crookedly by a broken pendulum. Gallowglass’s first shot earlier had hit something after all.
The worm hissed like a steam engine and its scales tore splinters out of the bookcase as it slithered towards him. St. Cyprian jumped, tossing his pistols aside, reaching desperately for the chandelier. The worm dropped from the bookcase and sped beneath him. It rose up beneath him, its maw opening wide as if it intended to scoop him out of the air.
St. Cyprian grabbed the chandelier and it broke loose from the ceiling in a shower of plaster. Man and fixture crashed down, the latter smashing into the worm’s open mouth and driving the beast flat against the floor with a thunderous cracking of floorboards.
Gallowglass’ rifle echoed the crash a moment later and the worm’s thrashing coils gave a frenzied spasm. The worm shrieked again and hurled itself towards the large picture window. It smashed through the glass like a scaly lightning bolt and vanished into the night beyond. As broken glass pattered to the floor, St. Cyprian rolled over and pushed himself up with a heart-felt groan. “Ow,” he grunted. “Ow, ow, ow…”
“Daft monger,” Gallowglass said, nudging him with her foot. “That was a dumb stunt if I’ve ever seen one.”
“Don’t sell me short; I’m sure I’ll do something infinitely more stupid, given time,” St. Cyprian said, getting slowly to his feet. He rubbed his shoulder with a wince. “That said, ow.”
“Serves you right,” Gallowglass said. She looked at the window. “He’s a quick one, I’ll give him that.”
“My worm,” Wendy-Smythe bawled, fez askew. He thrust his head out the window. “It’s escaped!”
“Good,” Gallowglass snarled.
“Not good,” St. Cyprian groaned, grabbing his Webley from the floor. “If it gets away, no one in London will be safe.”
“How is that different from normal, exactly?”
“Well, it’ll be our fault, for one,” St. Cyprian said, heading for the door at a quick trot. “The game is a-foot, Ms. Gallowglass!”
“A-crawl, more like,” she said, hurrying after him.
As they reached the front door, he spun and pointed a finger at Wendy-Smythe, who had been following them. “You, Phillip, will dredge that memory of yours until you find the name of the fellow who sold you that egg, and have it on your lips the very minute we return.”
“Do they still put people in the Tower?” Gallowglass said. “Or do we just execute them?”
Wendy-Smythe went pale and began to babble as they stepped outside, closing the door in his face. “That was unkind,” St. Cyprian said.
“Yeah,” Gallowglass said, smirking. “Fun though.”
The familiar shape of St. Cyprian’s black Crossley hp 20/25 was waiting for them on the street. The car was the same make and model used by the Flying Squad of the London Metropolitan Police, a fact which its owner found amusing. After all, the Royal Occultist was a policeman of sorts, at least these days. They climbed in hurriedly, and the Crossley growled as lurched into motion, its headlamps pointed towards the northern bank of the Thames.
The worm’s trail wasn’t hard to follow, thankfully. It slithered through the mostly dark streets, its scales flashing beneath the soft gazes of street lamps. Late evening party-goers, Bright Young Things dressed for masquerades and pajama parties screamed and scattered or simply stood and stared as the monstrous serpent swept past down Shawfield Street, its eyes blazing with a hellish light. The Crossley fairly flew in its wake, bumping over the sidewalk in places as St. Cyprian spun the wheel, taking the corner and hopping onto Flood Street in pursuit with more enthusiasm than skill.
“Do you have any idea where it’s heading?” Gallowglass said.
“Where everything eventually goes in this city…to the Thames,” St. Cyprian said.
“Is that more folklore?”
“What of it?” St. Cyprian said.
“Just pointing out that the church bells didn’t work,” Gallowglass said.
“Thank you. Your attention to detail is noted,” St. Cyprian grated. “Like any injured animal, it’s seeking someplace to hole up and lick its wounds, the darker the better.”
“And what happens if we don’t catch it?”
“Then the Chelsea set better start rounding up virgin sacrifices, because once it reaches its full growth it’ll take more than a rifle to send it slithering,” St. Cyprian said, squeezing the horn and sending late-night revelers reeling drunkenly from the Crossley’s path.
“Lovely,” Gallowglass said. “Do you have any idea how we’re going to stop it then? Because shooting it only seems to make it angry.”
“I’m thinking,” St. Cyprian said.
“Think faster,” Gallowglass said, pointing. “There it is!”
The worm lunged across the Crossley’s path even as the car reached the Chelsea Embankment. It reared up, though whether in surprise or hostility, St. Cyprian couldn’t say. Its coils rolled over the Crossley, shattering a headlamp and bursting the windshield, peppering St. Cyprian and Gallowglass with glass. The Crossley groaned and skidded, its front bumper striking the side of a building as the worm slithered away. Swiping glass out of his face, St. Cyprian put the Crossley into reverse. Steam boiled from beneath the hood, mingling with oily smoke. Coughing, he stomped on the accelerator and hurled the car after the worm.
The creature sped across the Embankment towards the welcoming embrace of the Thames. The Crossley bumped after it, and St. Cyprian jerked the wheel and let it spin, sending the automobile cutting across the worm’s path, too sharply for the beast to avoid them. Metal struck scales and the creature screamed again as it convulsively coiled about the Crossley. Metal buckled and the rest of the windows cracked as the creature’s thrashing carried the car up into the air. “This? This was what you came up with?” Gallowglass yelped, hanging on for dear life.
“I panicked!” St. Cyprian said. “Get the jerry can out of the boot, quick!”
As the Crossley bent and buckled beneath the strain, Gallowglass heaved herself into the back. Flipping around, she kicked her way through the ragged remnants of the roof and dropped onto the boot. The worm thrashed wildly and she was nearly thrown to the street.
Meanwhile, St. Cyprian kicked his own door open, wincing as it was flung wide, snapping off of its hinges as the worm tightened its grip on the auto. One hand on the roof, he jerked his Webley from his pocket and fired. The worm ducked its head towards him, blade-like fangs clashing together as he swung himself out of its reach.
“Do take your time, Ms. Gallowglass,” he shouted over his shoulder.
“Got it,” Gallowglass crowed, from the rear of the auto. She grabbed the side of the Crossley and swung the can, which sloshed with petrol, towards St. Cyprian.
“Swap,” St. Cyprian barked, twisting around and tossing the Webley towards her. Gallowglass sent the jerry can wobbling and he barely caught it, nearly losing his grip in the process. The worm lunged, its fangs tearing through the canvas roof of the Crossley. St. Cyprian cursed and slammed the jerry can into its head. The worm turned, jaws gaping, and struck. St. Cyprian interposed the jerry can and the creature’s fangs bit into the metal, puncturing it. Petrol slopped everywhere, across the creature’s scales and down its gullet. It swung about, sending St. Cyprian spinning from his perch like a rag doll.
Gallowglass fired the Webley.
Fire blossomed as the bullet struck the can and sparked, and worm was wrapped in flames within moments. It let loose an ear-piercing shrill and whipped about wildly. Burning inside and out, the pain-maddened creature tried to hurl itself towards the Thames, but could not free itself from the wreck of the Crossley. It thrashed and squirmed, burning steadily and gradually, its wriggling became less pronounced. Its screams faded, disappearing into the soft snapping and crackling of the fire.
Gallowglass picked herself up from where she’d been thrown and limped towards where St. Cyprian sat on the sidewalk. She sat down beside him and extended the Webley. “Good plan,” she said.
“Thank you,” he said, pulling his cigarette case out of his coat. He opened it and proffered it to her. She took one and he lit it, then his own. He glanced at Gallowglass. “Feel like a day trip? Say to Castra Regis?”
“Only if we take along a few more jerry cans,” Gallowglass said.
“I think that can be arranged,” he said and snapped the cigarette case shut. Across the street, the worm gave one last convulsive heave and then, there was only the sound of the fire.