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An Escalation and Tragedy

The alarm came in the early evening, the light just beginning to fade from the sky. The whistles were clear, the boat had been spotted heading towards the Warrens, and more importantly, the Sneaky Vole urchin bar! Tepic looked at Lilith, who was standing stock still, mouth open in horror – this had become her safe place since her accident, and now it was about to be snatched away. Within moments, Tepic started the evacuation plan they had hoped never to use, getting several of the other urchins to help Lilith down the stairs to the waiting raft, sending others to rouse those sleeping above. Before the boat had even reached the lock gates, the building had been cleared, youngsters scattering to the four winds. Those on lookout duty had scrambled down waiting ropes and ladders, heading for prepared lookout posts on surrounding buildings. They watched, disconsolate, as the boat reached the gates, but to their surprise, it turned the other direction, vanishing into the sewer entrance under the Warren opposite, a haven for smugglers in New Babbage. It was one of the oldest sewers in the City, more than large enough to accommodate a decent sized vessel, something the local smugglers took advantage of, but which now sealed their doom.

The urchins waved across the canal to their compatriots perched on top of the threatened buildings, warning them of their danger. There was no need to repeat the warning, they all knew how dangerous these men were, and scampered for safety.

At this time of day, the Warren was packed with workers relaxing after a long day in the factories and Port, carousing in the areas two bars, playing games of chance in the gambling dens, negotiating for a brief liaison, or planning dark deeds in shady and hidden corners. The watching urchins were too scared of the men to call warning, and anyhow, the denizens of the Warren were hard people, unused to running from any threat.

There were shouts and several muffled gunshots from beneath the structures, then the boat backed out, turned towards the Port, and vanished into the gathering gloom. The boys could see people boiling out of the buildings, milling around in the alleys and open spaces, an amoebas mob heading in the general direction of the exits. These were deliberately narrow, choked to prevent the Militia from raiding easily, but now those trying to escape found they were crushed together, able to only push and shove one another to safety.

Not long after the boat had departed, there were still crowds of people trapped at the exits, and they could see from their vantages that others had remained in the Warrens, some laughing as they took advantage to down abandoned drinks and lift dropped treasures. Then, it was as if a giant sea creature was surfacing from beneath the buildings. The middle of the Warren humped upwards, pushing outwards against the surrounding buildings, dirty water forcing it’s way out of windows and doorways, mixed with tongues of flame and plumes of smoke. The deep growling rumble of a deep explosion, contained by walls of rotten wood and ancient stonework assailed their ears, making them tremble back into the shadows and the shelter of the chimneys. They watched in horror as the mass of fractured masonry lifted high into the air, then in disbelief as it fell back, dragging with it into the pit of morass the surrounding buildings, now bereft of their only supports. The only saving grace was the final disintegration was slower, almost like the new lumier pictures when they ran them a few frames per second, to show the moving of a bird or racehorse. It meant those on the security of the surrounding ground could pull to safety their friends, relatives or complete strangers. Men and women dived from crumbling structures into the turbulent waters, striking out for the safety of the lock gates, even though they were swamped by waves created by the subsidence.

As quickly as they had abandoned their haven, the urchins returned, hauling sodden people onto the dryer walkways and stairwell, others hastening to bring dry blankets and reviving drinks to the shaken victims. Even as they rendered aid, there was a rumbling from the Warren, and the whole area collapsed in on itself, disappearing under the murky waters.
The urchins and rescued adults looked back at the ruins poking above the surface, aghast, knowing that many of the inhabitants must have failed to find succour, and must have been dragged to a watery death.

The unknown assailants had struck again, this time at the City’s adult underworld.

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