Meg couldn’t decide which was worse, the rain or the wind – both were loud, and blowing hard – harder than a girl should have to put up with, when she had dolled herself up in her glad rags for a night dancing, in her brand new dress and her brand new shoes, the shoes she had been saving pennies for, for weeks now, why they were surely going to be ruined in this rain. “Jeepers, Charlie, it’s raining pitchforks out here!” she finally protested as she hitched up her dress and clambered over the railing of the fire escape.
“Sorry, doll,” Charlie answered. He jumped, and caught the bottom run of the ladder, swinging up after her. “I tell you, you’re looking real spiffy – well, you were anyway before you got so wet.” He paused next to her, then grinned. “Tell the truth, you look pretty fine just like that, too, and I don’t think that heeler waiting for you at the dance hall would mind too much if you came back like that. ” He dodged as she swatted at him, and then put on a more serious expression. “But I tell ya, Professor Halliwell is hidin’ something – why would he be out on a night like this,” he threw out one hand, indicating the storm, water running off the brim of his hat, “all the way up there on the top of Ainsley Hall?” He pointed upwards, and Meg’s eyes followed the line of his finger towards he roof.
A crack of lightning right at that moment, and she jumped at the sounds and blinked at the sudden flash of light. Then she gasped, one hand flying to her mouth. “Charlie, look!! Look!!” Charlie tilted his head back. Twelve stories above them, against another flash of lightning, they could see two figures, one wearing the unmistakeable shape of Professor Halliwell’s bowler. The other – oh the other! Meg thought, panicked – had one arm outstretched with a long silver blade extending from a hilt.
Halfway up, Meg stopped just long enough to kick both shoes off, not caring where they fell. The dress would be a ruin, but what did it matter? She hurried as fast as she could after Charlie, who took two steps at a time, trying not to look up at the roof, afraid she might see – what, she wasn’t sure. But she stole glances, when she paused to draw a quick breath and brush the rainwater out of her eyes. Something else was flashing on the roof, a rhythmic pulse against the summer storm, and as they drew closer to the top level she could hear periodic thumps, like a metronome, over the wind and the rain and the thunder.
CRASH! CRACK! POW!
Was it the lightning or something else? Meg pulled herself up over the edge of the roof, not at all mindful of that pretty dress she had saved for so diligently. Charlie reached down to drag her to her feet, and they both just stood there momentarily, staring at the two figures. One was Professor Halliwell, grappling a taller man who struggled to free his arms to lift his rapier again. “It’s – it’s –“
“Doctor Quartz!” Charlie exclaimed in astonishment. “But he’s – he’s supposed to be—-“
“Dead!” Meg yelled back at him over the roar of the storm.
“Charlie, Meg!” Halliwell gasped, looking up long enough to see them. “The oscillator! Take the oscillator!”
Both of them turned their stares to the source of the pulsing light, a dull grey metal box, near the edge of the roof, with (two? Three? Meg couldn’t count them) revolving silver hoops spinning ever more quickly around one another. The sound was growing louder, like the tick tock of a giant clock, and the light was flickering faster. Charlie almost threw himself at the box –
“No!!” Quartz’s outcry was the angry roar of a beast chained. He bent, then lifted himself, throwing his arm’s wide and almost freeing himself from Halliwell’s grip. He lunged forward, blade outstretched – Charlie’s body arched, his mouth an “O” of surprise, as the rapier speared him.
“Charlie!!!!” Meg screamed, rushing forward. But one knock of Quartz’s arm, and she went sprawling, sliding across the tilted roof towards the edge, scrambling for purchase. She could see, through the wet hair flung across her face, Charlie pull himself free of the blade, dropping onto the oscillator and into the circle of light. Halliwell threw himself again at Quartz, and both slid closer to her, closer to the edge –
She made it to the edge to see Halliwell still holding on by one hand, Quartz clutching his leg. The rapier was a spinning line of silver tumbling to the ground below. “Professor!” she begged, stretching out one hand, “hurry.”
Halliwell glanced down at his mortal enemy, then back up at Meg. His free hand ripped something from his neck, tossing it to her, where it fell to the roof, unheeded. And then he gave a smile, loosened his fingers, and fell into the darkness below.
GM’s Note: Illustration adapted, under Creative Commons license, from this photograph.