Meanwhile, Kat and Annie are blissfully unaware of the calamity unfolding far beneath them as they continue slowly and cautiously downwards. They’re gaining courage, so they aren’t going quite as slowly as they were before.
They still aren’t going fast by any stretch of the word, though.
Annie’s sensitive Elf ears pick up the first signs of trouble, twitching as they register a distant, but growing clamour. “I hear something,” she warns Kat. “It’s coming from below.”
Kat peers down to the lower walkways. She sees Dunstana, Jonas and the person whom she assumes is the captain of the Red Wolves being pursued up the walkways by a ginormous crab-thing.
She remains cautiously optimistic about the situation. It could, she decides, be worse. The crab could be even ginormous-er.
Or it could be two ginormous crab-things.
“Run,” she says simply when she looks back up.
Annie blinks up at Kat. “What?”
“Run,” Kat repeats, backing away from the edge and getting ready to take her own advice.
Annie’s curiosity briefly surpasses her acrophobia, leading her to cautiously peer over the edge for herself.
“Why? What’s — Oh.”
She quickly follows after Kat.
In light of the events unfolding below them, Kat and Annie find a whole new thing to be terrified about. In the face of the oncoming crab-monster, mere heights don’t seem so bad.
“What is that?” Kat exclaims.
Once, just once, she thinks, she’d like to go exploring somewhere that isn’t the habitat of something huge, horrible and trying to eat her.
“I think it’s a Gigacrab,” Annie says, her encyclopedic knowledge of everything not in the least impeded by the horrible, horrible danger facing them.
“Are they a protected species, too?” Kat asks.
“Actually, Gigacrabs have officially been declared hostes omnium gentium.”
Kat isn’t sure if that’s Elven or Legalese. Either way, it’s not a language she knows very well. “What?” she asks, looking down at Annie.
“More or less, it means enemy of everyone,” Annie answers. “It’s pretty much the opposite of a protected species. It means they’ll pay you to get rid of one.”
Normally, Kat would be thrilled about the prospect of payday. Now, though, there are very few paydays big enough to make her want to fight a giant crab with her bare hands.
“We have to help, Kat,” Annie says urgently.
“Yeah,” Kat agrees, but she does not relish the prospect. There might not be enough money in Realmgard to make fighting a Gigacrab seem like a good idea, but she can’t just let it eat her sister and uncle.
“Grab onto me,” Kat tells Annie. “And hold on. If you’re scared, close your eyes. We have to get down there.”
She takes a knee so Annie can piggyback on her shoulders. The one good thing that’s come from her forgetting her bow is that now Annie doesn’t have to share Kat’s back with a quiver of arrows.
“Ready?” Kat asks.
“Not really,” Annie answers. “But I’ll be okay.”
“Alright,” Kat says. “Hang on. Close your eyes if you have to.”
And she’s off, hurrying down the walkways towards the others. As she does this, Jonas, Dunstana and the pirate hurry upwards to escape the rampaging Gigacrab.
They meet somewhere in the middle, and all start running together, aiming for up and out of the pit and away from the Gigacrab.
“Kat, Annie,” Jonas says breathlessly as they meet up.
“This is Myra.” He points to the stranger.
“Myra, this is Kat and Annie.” He points to his niece and daughter.
“Got it? Good. Run.”
“Hey, Uncle Jonas?” Dunstana asks from his shoulder. “Can giant crabs climb ropes?
The question is quickly rendered a moot point, as the crab finds no need to climb the rope, instead grabbing onto the edge of the platform with its claws and hauling itself up and over in storm of flailing, clacking legs.
“Oh dear,” Kat repeats at the sight. She turns to Jonas. “Any ideas?”
Jonas nods. “Sort of,” he answers. He reaches into his satchel and pulls out his grappling hook, aiming at the crab.
Though the hook bounces off the Gigacrab’s shell without much effect, the thing still retreats back a few steps as it beats the air with its clacking claws.
“Keep running!” Jonas urges.
They run, and the Gigacrab, spurred on by their obstinate refusal to let themselves be eaten, scuttles after them. Previously, it had been filled with a merely predatory sort of hunger. Now, it is not only going to eat these two-legged interlopers.
It is going to enjoy eating them.
It is at this exact moment of the last hundred-and-seventy years that the walkways finally decide to collapse, buckling and giving way beneath so many pounding feet. Since Jonas is bringing up the rear of their frantic, fleeing column, it’s his feet that actually go crashing through the floorboards with a loud crack!
It takes him a moment to realise what’s happening. One minute, he’s running along after the others.
A heartbeat later, there’s nothing under his feet and he falls forward, slamming into the walkway, biting his tongue and momentarily losing his senses.
The first sense he gets back is panic. Lots of panic.
“Dad!” he hears Annie yell, jump-starting the rest of his brain.
Remembering the full terrifying weight of the situation, he tries to pull himself up and forward, but the jagged hole punched by his foot in the rotting wood doesn’t want to let him go.
“I’m stuck!” he calls back to the others as he notices a shadow falling over him.
“Kat?” Dunstana asks from her perch on her sister’s shoulder. “What are we gonna do?”
“Help?” Kat offers. She’s not sure how, but she needs to do something.
“Then help!” Myra says, surging past Kat.
“Stay here,” Kat says as sets down Annie and Dunstana. “And don’t get eaten.” She runs after Myra, hoping that the pirate girl has a plan.
Dunstana turns to Annie. “What are they doing? Are they gonna be okay?”
“I hope so,” Annie mutters.
“Hey, Annie! Look at this!” Dunstana says, pointing at the thing that’s just caught her eye.
“‘Stana!” Annie exclaims, looking at the same thing. “I have an idea! Get your sword!”
“What’s the plan?” Kat asks as she runs after Myra.
“Uh,” Myra answers, less than reassuringly.
“You do have a plan, right?”
Myra suddenly stops in her tracks.
“Here’s the plan,” she tells Kat. “You help Professor Darkstone, I’ll slow down the crab.”
“Right,” Kat says, charging off towards the Gigacrab. If she lived a normal life, this would easily be one of the stupidest things she’s ever done.
Since she lives the hectic life of a Darkstone, it’s really just another Wednesday.
Kat stumbles to her trapped uncle.
“Uncle Jonas! Grab my hand!” she instructs, painfully aware of the proximity of the advancing Gigacrab.
With one hand, Jonas takes Kat’s and with the other he desperately tries to push himself free of his predicament. He is also painfully aware of the advancing Gigacrab. Even with their combined efforts, Jonas’ trapped foot barely budges.
All the while, the Gigacrab gets closer and closer.
Kat glances over her shoulder, waiting for whatever help Myra is going to offer. When Kat looks back, she sees the pirate holding something above her head.
“Is that your shoe?” she calls back. “This is not a plan!”
“It’s the best I can do,” Myra shouts back.
She winds up and steps forward as she throws her improvised projectile. The shoe flies through the air as Kat watches and hopes, praying to whatever Powers will listen.
Whether it’s pirate’s aim or luck that is incredible, the thrown shoe lands straight inside the Gigacrab’s mouth. She doesn’t know if crabs can choke, but it doesn’t seem to like having a shoe lobbed down its throat. In a blur of frothing bubbles and clacking claws, the Gigacrab tears the shoe to shreds.
Myra’s shoe provides a brief distraction, but it’s enough. With a final desperate pull from Kat and a lot of desperate pushing on his own part, Jonas pops free like a cork from Dunstana’s gun.
Not eager to repeat the Dunstana-bush incident, Kat frantically back-pedals to avoid taking an uncle to the sternum. Once Jonas lands, luckily avoiding a collision, Kat pulls him to his feet.
“Thanks,” he says, starting to run from the enraged Gigacrab. Kat quickly follows his example.
Myra runs after them, not moving as quickly as she would like with only one shoe.
They’re almost back to where Kat left Annie and Dunstana. Kat is about to yell at them to start running, when she notices that they’re standing near the wall and Dunstana appears to be hitting something with her wooden sword.
As Dunstana continues whaling on whatever has her attention, Annie turns back towards Kat, Jonas and Myra. “Kat! Dad! You should jump right about —” She glances up towards the upper reaches of the treasure pit. “— now!”
Kat knows better than to doubt Annie, so she jumps as far as she can. Myra, unfortunately, does not. She opens her mouth to question Annie, but is cut off by Jonas grabbing her by the arm and pulling her forward as he jumps.
As Kat hits the floor, she hears a loud whooshing sound, followed by an even louder crash that echoes through the whole treasure pit.
There are a few heartbeats of silence, followed by a distant splash at the bottom of the treasure pit.
When Kat looks back over her shoulder, she doesn’t see the Gigacrab.
Instead, she sees a cloud of dust where the crab had mere seconds ago been slowly but unstoppably advancing.
Kat stares in disbelief. “What —”
Jonas takes off his hat and runs a hand through his hair. “—was—”
“— that?” Myra exclaims.
“Ha!” Dunstana laughs, smiling broadly as she surveys her handiwork. “That was awesome!”
Triumphantly, she sheathes her sword. That it takes her two tries does not diminish the glory of her victory.
“What did you do?” Kat asks as she trudges towards her sister.
Dunstana can’t tell if she’s excited or angry.
“Do you remember all those winches we saw on the way down?” Annie asks. “And the platform we decided was an elevator? We, uh, we dropped it. ‘Stana cut the rope with her sword.”
“While we were underneath it?” Myra asks indignantly.
Dunstana frowns. “We told you to jump!” she counters defensively.
Kat turns to study the hole smashed in the walkway, before turning back to Dunstana. “Good work, Captain Kid,” she decides.
“It’s just too bad about the orichalcum,” Myra says sadly, peering over the edge of the walkway into the depths of the treasure pit. “And my shoe.”
“I don’t think anyone will be getting it, now,” Jonas says.
“Yeah,” Myra sighs. “But at least that means no one can steal it, now.”
“Dad! Dad!” Annie says, running towards her father. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine,” he says, pulling Annie into a hug. “But if your mother asks, this never happened.”