Tepic had gotten Bunny involved in his plan, but it had taken pleading and quiet reassurance to get it to agree. Bunny could move more freely than Tepic, and it had procured a stick of dynamite. Using his oils he would lay a long trail, as far as he could away from the explosive and then light it.
He’d destroy the cave entrance and take all eyes away from the rails. He’d still have to wait for its return, but he was almost ready.
Sister Pankirst and Loki entered the converted library with their warning of discovery. She reported quietly to Father Walstrand who put his hand on the side opposite his mouth gap. “Leisig is leading them with his dogs. They will discover our location shortly.”
Beryl winced at the thought of canines and soldiers capturing them. They had hoped to avoid the Battle of Aquila IX. Speaking just as softly so the patients would not overhear, “Is there anywhere we could hide?”
“Nowhere we could take the injured,” Father Walstrand responded with his lisp. He remained cool under the pressure as he studied the three visitors and the Sister with his good eye. “You have no choice but to surrender yourselves. They do not know of the patients. I will attempt to disavow any knowledge of the Sisters activities.”
Pankirst accepted the responsibility with dignity. Loki looked disheartened, until he remembered that they prepared a jail break from the beginning. The urchins eyes widened mischeviously while Beryl straightened their coat and mentally prepared themselves for what was to come.
One local had appeared from the Church and attacked the waiting army outside. Dozens of Tesla rifles fired sending him convulsing to the snowy ground. Dr. Hartschlägel struck him directly with his shock mace and the aetheric attack rendered him unconscious. Leisig departed having no desire to see the doctor at work. He wanted to discover who owned the tracks leading to the cave.
This left no one to countermand Benton Hartschlägel. He ordered his men to get a sleigh big enough to take the prisoner away. He then sent a runner to shout into the Cathedral to announce his intention to besiege the building unless the inhabitants surrendered.
The messenger soon returned informing him three Moreau and the old nun would emerge. The mobile cannons took aim at the sanctuary and waited for Dr. Hartschlägel’s command.
Sister Pankirst was the first to withdraw unarmed, followed by Beryl who kept their rapier sheathed. Loki followed Beryl closely, hiding behind them and looking at the armed men sheepishly. Yang was the last to follow with head bowed low and arms spread to his sides to show he meant no harm. He had not brought his knife with him for fear of losing it forever.
Benton approached the figures alone with his forces waiting for any surprises. He looked at Sister Pankirst tauntingly, “Aiding and abetting rebellion, and now inferior beasts of burden. How low the ‘holy’ have fallen.”
She did not rise to his taunting. She kept her gaze past him wordlessly and hoped the companions would see Reason and do the same.
His attention turned to the Moreau, Babbagers who wished they were back home. He started with the armed black feline. Inspecting their multi-colored eyes the doctor grinned to himself. “Well well. If it isn’t the demented heroine, Beryl Strifeclaw.”
“It isn’t,” Beryl grimaced wondering how he had known their name. Sister Pankirst muttered a soft warning to remain silent. “I’m not a heroine.”
“You find that more offensive than being called demented?” Dr. Hartschlägel chuckled, a harsh unamused chortle, “Someone in Progress wanted your city’s attention and warned us of ‘heroes’ and militiamen that may come to investigate. Captain Bookworm Hienrichs, a heroine leading a charge. Commodore Jedburgh Dagger and her Smoke fleet. The Adventurer Emerson Lighthouse,” Beryl coughed in surprise, “whose exotic adventures have spread far and wide. Tepic Harlequin, a young scoundrel who has consistently fought for his city in the past. The list contained a dozen names, but Beryl Strifeclaw was among them and how to properly deal with your kind.”
Beryl wondered what the doctor meant by that, but the villain turned their attention to Yang. Far from his usual quiet and inoffensive nature he stared balefully at Benton.
“Now what manner of ugly monster is this one?” He did not appear to recognize the fisherman. “Is that your face, or are you threatening me beast?” The doctor nodded and primed his shock mace again, letting it crackle and hum. Yang lowered his gaze and Hartschlägel grinned viciously.
Last, he turned to Loki who bared his teeth at the odious man. Dr. Hartschlägel raised his mace, but Beryl moved between them. Everyone tensed as the scene was about to devolve into a massacre, the soldiers ready to fire.
The doctor smiled and stepped back. “How very like a heroine. Are you that eager for your turn?” He faced his troops and shouted, “Bring me the aetheric dampener!”
A runner had returned with two heavy metal suitcases. They carried it to the doctor who opened the clasps to reveal a machine with straps and a collar. He hoisted the device and held it out towards Beryl. “Put this on, or we’ll shoot you and your friends down.”
Loki had never seen a device like this and examined it curiously, but Yang knew a similar construction as did Beryl. Yang whispered the question running through both their thoughts, “Is that a Reality Enforcer?”
“Reality Enforcer?” Dr. Hartschlägel stroked his chin in thought. “That is an interesting name for it to be certain. We call it an aetheric dampener. Keeps aether beasts in check.”
Their companions and the sister studied Beryl, something the feline wished they wouldn’t do. They sluggishly put on the pack and fit the collar around their neck. With the weaponry aimed at everyone there was no choice. Finally it was ready and the doctor flipped the switch to active.
The machine hummed to life and for a moment Beryl stood rigid, their eyes wide and their mouth open in a wordless screech. When the apparatus fully activated Beryl collapsed into the snow unblinking, unmoving.
“Wut yew do to ‘em!?” Loki and Yang rushed to Beryl’s side, lifting the arm which fell lifelessly as they dropped it.
“The effect is not usually that pronounced.” The doctor seemed almost disappointed as they kicked Beryl. Yang and Loki glared in outrage at Benton, but from the cat there was no response. They were an unresponsive vegetable. “Must be something wrong with its inferior brain.”
Loki snarled as he reached into his pocket pulling out his knife. Awareness of his surroundings had vanished after what happened to his friend. Yang stopped him from lunging at Dr. Hartschlägel as Sister Pankrist moved to help him. Loki fought in their grasp, unable to comprehend that the two were trying to save their lives.
Benton’s mace had been ready to swipe upwards and catch Loki under his jaw, and the men were tense and ready to fire again. Two gave out warning shots over their heads. The only reason his men had not already shot them was their close proximity to their leader.
“Find Reason within yourself, boy!” Sister Pankirst slapped Loki and he dropped the knife in shock. Yang sighed with relief and tossed it further away to the snowy ground.
Loki rubbed his face gently as he slowly calmed down and remembered the guns trained upon them. He lowered his head in shame at his outburst. He wasn’t violent, but sometimes his emotions ruled him.
Dr. Hartschlägel approached Loki with his shock mace ready. He motioned for Yang and Sister Pankirst to step back. They did so reluctantly. “Did my comment about your friends inferior mind upset you? Hit close to home for your own intellectual weakness perhaps?”
Loki stared angrily at the man, but then he let himself grin like a cheshire cat. A smile that twinkled with malice and inadvertently offered a challenge to the scientist. The doctor was thrilled at the boys defiance, nothing made him happier than when he was breaking the strong.
“Here is something that you need to learn child. In this world you are either the killer or you are the victim.” Loki’s smile faded as he recognized the haunting words the spider had told him in his cave. How she was done being the victim. Benton continued, “I am the killer. You are my victims.”
“Oi-Oi ain’t a victim!” Loki shouted defiantly as he spat at the cruel scientist.
“You aren’t?” Dr. Hartschlägel acted perturbed by this development. “That is unfortunate, but luckily I have a magic wand with me.” He hefted the shock mace and lowered the teeth so that it would just be a shock prod.
“Tha’ ain’t a wand!” Loki cried befuddled by the villains remark.
“Sure it is, watch this,” Dr. Benton raised the shock baton into the air and shouted, “Abacus Dabacus!” He brought the instrument down on Loki, striking him and the electricity flowed through his body. For two seconds Yang and Sister Pankirst watched Loki’s body flail until finally he lost consciousness. His attacker stood up with a flourish, “Voila! It has transformed you into a victim. Get used to it.”