“Welcome Doctor Falcon and esteemed guest to the final curtain in your gauntlet!” Dupyre announced grandly, raising his hands in the air as if he was speaking from a podium. The curtain the scientist was referring to was beneath him on the ground floor. Something large shifted the drapes as it awaited its que to emerge. “We have been eagerly anticipating your arrival for weeks and had time to prepare this little show. I hope you can appreciate the special work we put into this just for you!”
“Consider it unappreciated, Mister Dupyre,” Wright responded with an almost irish accent. Professor Falcon noted her aetheric weaponry would lose its potency while Wright found it harder to maintain his form. The aetheric dampener was like nails on a chalkboard passing through every muscle of his being. He refused to submit, but he knew the device was weakening him.
On the ground floor old stone columns and metal cages lined the walls, restored from a time long past. Dr. Falcon studied it growing more uncomfortably puzzled, “There shouldn’t be an arena in an Imperial scientific facility, but most of this is too ancient to have been constructed recently.”
“The sins of these stations are darker than your history books would lead you to believe.” Dupyre responded from his perch. His voice projected well in the arena reaching them though they were far away. “After the Fall these scientists tried desperately to cling to their lost power. The experiments they conducted only became more deranged and desperate with each passing year. The creatures they bred in these halls are things of nightmares. Icarus picked up where they left off experimenting on the ‘angel’.”
Avariel jumped up and her knees locked in place at the words coming from the villain’s mouth. “You have a Cloud Angel!?” Wright looked to the professor wondering what was so important.
“I knew that turncoat Gammis were lying!” Tepic snarled as he advanced Kiergarten pistol pointed at the man’s center. Leisig kept his hands out to his sides. “Yer idiots used them spiders ter capture an angel!”
“Spiders?” The hunter was confused, but then realized what the urchin suspected. “No. Itsy and her hive have not lived five winters. The doctors before Progress possessed no backbone to capture new angels. This facility uses the creature already trapped here.”
“Already trapped!?” Tepic had seen the ruins of cities decimated by the angels. Most had never been repopulated. How could the scientists contain an unstoppable force? And worse what would it do when released after its lengthy imprisonment? “How long has it been here?!”
“Before the Fall, after?” Leisig shrugged seemingly unconcerned with a trifling detail. “Perhaps a hundred years before any of us were alive, Fox. Every doctor that worked to restore station only inherited the mad creature within.”
“Yer-yer kept it locked up fer a hundred years?!” Tepic spluttered almost incoherently. His voice echoed down the abandoned electrified hallways. “It ain’t mad! It’s downright ready ter unleash incandescent wrath more like!! We’s gotta let it go now!”
“The creature must remain contained. It is dangerous.” Leisig warned Tepic, trying to make him understand the terrible dilemma before him. “It is not what you believe, and they have done more than just keep the beast imprisoned.”
“Doctor Gammis has been experimenting on the ‘angel’ for years now, so it should be he who explains this!” Dupyre shouted to his companion encouragingly while motioning him to come forward.
“Doctor this may be your last chance to tell them the truth! Tell them about your experiments, how you’ve deceived them all, the truth about your loyalty! This is your moment of triumph!” Dr. Winston Gammis shook his head and stuttered about how it was unnecessary.
Wright rumbled low as he ignored Gammis and concentrated on Dupyre, “We don’t want to hear from that two-timing traitorous twit.” He could feel his mind fogging. His own anger and the dampeners were making it harder to remain focused.
“Two-timing? That implies he was ever on your side! He has been our man through and through!” The villain ignored Gammis wincing at every word he uttered. Avariel scraped the floor with her right hoof as she snorted angrily, “It was he who betrayed your companions to me! There will be no prison break and even now Captain Heinrichs and her friends are locked away awaiting experimentation! Beryl Strifeclaw and the others you left in town will join us shortly as well thanks to Doctor Hartschlägel!”
Dr. Benton Hartschlägel had no qualms stepping forward from his elevated position, but he spoke with a deep, quiet self assurance, “The beasts were easily subdued by superior intellect and force. The Strifeclaw creature is nothing more than a mindless vegetable requiring someone to clean their drool, thanks to my efforts.” His gaze ignored the infuriated clockwork and locked on Wright who glared at Hartschlägel. The Doctor could feel the hunger and hate emanating from the wolf. “You are all that remain of the resistance. I will enjoy showing you mongrels your place.”
“For a flea like you, brain death will be an improvement!” Wright snarled angrily. He knew he had started to revert to his usual form.
He looked to Dr. Falcon who had overcome her shock and they nodded to one another resolutely. They both heard enough from these villains. Dr. Falcon whispered, “Those turrets on the wall will have a maximum height so they won’t target the crowd. We need to get above that!”
Wright growled low in response, any more delays would only make the effects worse. If these scientists had been trying to goad them into unleashing their fury they would get their desire.
They both dashed forward at full gallops, Wright’s stride covering more distance that Avariels. At this speed they could avoid the mechanical turrets or leap past their safety threshold. Before they reached halfway there was a loud roar from behind the red curtain.
A beast of metal and false flesh jumped out from behind the drapes and hit the ground with its fists, shaking the room. Doctor Falcon and Wright turned to the new looming threat as it slowly rose. The crowd above gave out a cheer, this was what they had been waiting for.
The construct was massive in girth and was over twelve feet tall without counting the two bull horns made of a glowing green rock. Most of its face ranted metal burned covered in fur, but the form was of a bull. It even had a ring going through its nose. The clockworks appearance caught both of the contestants by surprise.
Dupyre seeing them re-evaluate the situation introduced his creation, “If you were not aware, Progress had always intended to lure you here Doctor Falcon! We knew you’d trace Itsy back to our station, but it was me who wanted to make this victory special! I am a clockwork specialist and you are an intelligent machine designed after a mythological beast and an accomplished scientist. For a true sporting challenge it was only proper I should create something superior!” Doctor Dupyre said with pride as he gestured downwards to the clockwork minotaur. “I call him Mephistophicles!”
“Your creation looks unfinished,” Avariel replied as she looked over the design bitterly. She ignored the crowd rooting for her defeat, though part of her wished this was New Babbage. It would have been nice to hear someone cheering for her. “It needs more than a few improvements before it could compare to my schematics.”
“This may be true, Doctor Falcon.” Mephistophicles said, bringing her attention down to the clockwork itself. It had a quiet almost conversational tone that was almost drowned out by the audience. “Perhaps once I defeat you my creator can complete my design more thoroughly. But first, we bow.”
The mechanical minotaur bowed its head low to show respect to his opponents. Wright feeling his time running out rushed forward and attacked the minotaur grabbing for his throat and horns. He gripped them and tried to lift the mechanical monster.
The hand that grabbed the horn burned like he had gripped silver and the mechanical creature was more solid than it had appeared. Mephistophicles raised its head ignoring the grip on his thick mechanized gullet. “You did not bow.”
He punched Wright’s abdomen and the heavy wolf buckled over and fell back as if struck by a cannon. The wolf tried to stand up properly but found it impossible as he fell over cradling a cracked rib. He could feel his body healing slower than usual and it was sapping his strength. He soon found himself in his natural form clutching bruised sides.
Avariel charged forward getting between Wright and Mephistophicles. She could tell that in a battle of strength her opponent , but she had other abilities. Already she was calculating counter strikes but most of them would be limited by the aetheric dampener. She charged her horn and prepared something tricky for Dupyre’s creation. She was pretty sure this would not be almost safe.
“Dangerous!?! Course its bloomin dangerous, yer bleeding daft twonock!” Tepic shouted as he ran towards the man and climbed his coat. He scrambled up the hunter and stared intently into his eyes, feet resting on Leisigs chest as he strangled the man’s lapels with one hand and held his gun in the other. “If we don’t let it go, what’s gonna happen when the rest of em come back fer it!?!”
“The more you speak, the more you betray your ignorance,” Leisig responded almost pleadingly for Tepic to calm down and understand. “They had a hundred years or more to return for this angel creature the scientists created. They either do not care or do not know it is here.”
“Then they don’t know, but yer can bet they will before we gets through with yer!” Tepic shouted as he tried to shake sense into the man. He was seeing red and not thinking clearly as he ranted, “Yer bleeding buttered daft brained nincompoops! Slugs is more intelligent than-”
Tepic was shocked into momentary silence as he realized what Leisig had implied. He spluttered and then put his eyes right next to Leisigs and stared him down, his face turning beat red. “What der yer mean scientists created this angel!? What have yer daft billies done!?”
Leisig met Tepics gaze at first worried, but then it grew confident and relieved. Tepic wasn’t sure what had changed until he could feel the his hand again. The hunter had grabbed the hammer to the Kiergarten and was holding the weapon and Tepic firmly. His other arm held a firm grip on the urchins coat.
Tepic flushed almost purple, his embarrassment mixing with his rage at the scientists and himself. Leisig headbutted the bridge of Tepic’s nose and the fox fell back to the floor. His last thought was hope no one would ever know how this happened.