The werewolf lay flat in a splatter of drool and ink. Vale half supported, half dragged Irene out of the office and into the main hall. ‘It seems you will have to come with us after all, Miss Winters,’ he said.
‘Quick,’ Kai exclaimed, ignoring the general mob of bystanders either shrieking or staring. ‘We need to catch a cab.’
‘A cab? My dear fellow, a cab would be far too slow,’ Vale said. ‘We need to get to the roof.’
‘The roof?’ Irene said. She was possibly being a bit slow here, but she wasn’t sure that Kai turning into a dragon and flying them there would be much use, unless . . . ‘Oh. Of course. The airships.’
‘Precisely,’ Vale said, hurrying her to the stairs. ‘Of course, there may be some problems with mooring subsequently, but it’s our best option.’
Kai caught up with them, and grabbed Irene’s other elbow to assist in the dragging-her-along-like-a-giant-doll process. ‘I hear more of them coming . . . Which way, Vale?’
‘Left at the top,’ Vale instructed. They dashed past two astonished tour groups and turned left, entering a wide gallery full of large glass cases. Here, stuffed hyenas menaced stuffed deer, a giant stuffed polar bear towered over some bored-looking stuffed seals, and a rainbow of stuffed birds sat mournfully among dried flowers.
‘Catch them!’ she heard Silver’s voice calling from behind them.
An utterly blood-chilling howling rose up ahead of them. Panicked visitors fled the room, forcing Irene and the two men to one side as they stampeded out of the far doors.
‘Get me a megaphone,’ Irene said quietly to Kai. Her legs were still cramping, and she had to hold on to Vale to stay upright. But she had an idea and this time, just this time, she had the feeling it was going to work. ‘The tour guides have them . . . ’
Kai grabbed a tour guide as he rushed past, and swiftly relieved him of his megaphone. ‘Will this do?’
The first werewolf came howling into sight, rounding one of the glass cases. Its head and hands were totally wolflike now, and its clothing was splitting down the seams as it changed shape.
Irene tried the megaphone. ‘IS THIS THING ON?’ Feedback fuzz echoed in the room.
The werewolf seemed to laugh. Another one joined it. They were approaching slowly. Clearly they were just as interested in fear as they were in bloodshed.
‘Miss Winters,’ Vale began, ‘if you have anything in mind – ’
Irene held up her hand in apology. Very precisely, she directed the Language through the megaphone, ‘Stuffed creatures, come to life and attack werewolves.’
The words shook in the air and drew energy from her to make themselves real in the world. It was simple enough to tell a lock to open, or a door to shut. These actions came naturally to those objects, and the universe was glad to oblige. But stuffed animals weren’t in the habit of reanimating to attack things.
Except now, as Vale looked at her in growing comprehension and Kai smiled a sharp-edged smile, it was coming true.
The polar bear burst from its case with a silent roar, mouth open to display all those carefully preserved teeth. The glass panes crashed in a waterfall of shards onto the tiled floor, shattering in all directions. The seals came crawling after it, flopping in spasmodic jerks across the floor. Elsewhere in the room, more glass cracked as a flood of creatures fought their way out. A wolf pack staggered forward on stiff legs, and a carefully wired boa constrictor came writhing out of its own case, uncaring of the glass daggers stuck into its sawdust-stuffed body, and even the birds threw themselves at the walls of their cases, struggling on the ends of their wires.
‘Dear heavens,’ Vale said. ‘Miss Winters. What have you done?’
‘They’ll only attack the werewolves,’ Irene said, tossing the megaphone to one side. It crunched and tinkled as it hit the floor. ‘We need to run while they’re distracted, before Silver gets here.’
Vale had a good instinct for knowing when to act now and ask questions later. It must be part of being a Great Detective, Irene decided giddily, wondering if the strychnine / curare cocktail was making her delirious. One of the werewolves tried to break away from the attacking mob of otters and crocodiles to get at them, but a persistent baby alligator (Observe the Young of the Species, Only Two Feet Long) chomped on its ankle and dragged it back into the melee.
Vale navigated confidently though more stairs and corridors, and then they were on the roof. The air outside was smoggy and cold. It hit Irene’s throat and made her cough. Two small airships bobbed on the end of moorings in a darkly ominous sky, hovering perhaps twenty feet above the roof of the museum.
A guard came hurrying towards them. ‘Mr Vale!’ he said, moustache quivering. ‘Now excuse me, sir, I’m sure that you have very urgent business up here, but this is off limits.’
‘There is no time for that, man!’ Vale declared. ‘Barricade the doors. There are werewolves at large in the museum. Inspector Singh is bringing a force from Scotland Yard to sweep the place. In the meantime, I require one of your zeppelins to stop the perpetrator before he can escape.’
The guard’s eyes widened. He stroked his moustache nervously. ‘Is it that urgent, sir?’
‘It’s a matter of life and death,’ Vale snapped. ‘Inspector Singh will explain everything when he gets here. Are you with me, man?’
‘Yes, sir,’ the guard declared, nearly snapping his heels together in his enthusiasm. Werewolves and assisting great detectives must be somewhat unusual. He turned to look up at the floating airships, waving an arm. ‘Jenkins! Throw down a ladder, girl, you’ve a run to do!’