Tepic came to the end of his hastily formed plan as he ducked behind an old outhouse. He had followed the heroes tracks here, and he now had a good view of the enemy’s hideout. The full moon and bright flood lights made it easy to see everything as long as he didn’t look at them. Catching his breath he peeked at the procession. At the front Captain Dekkar and his followers were unarmed walking being escorted by a group of pirates and soldiers. Their weapons aimed on and around them in case the Shores-men thought they could quickly dive out of the way.
Ran Decagon marched to their left looking pleased with his living haul. Tepic glared at the conceited pirate who had almost drowned them when they arrived. Bookworm had requested a full debriefing and his name and description was one Tepic had partially remembered. ‘Mr. Decadence’ made Tepic’s tail bristle indignantly.
Unfortunately he saw no sign of the heroes or Jeffrey. He could no longer subtly warn them, or somehow subdue the huge lad. He hadn’t quite gotten far enough in his plan to know how to accomplish that feat, but he had been in a hurry. With the army now disappearing into the cave he had to rethink his strategy.
“If he turns on ‘em, someone’s gonna haveta let them out if they’s get caught,” Tepic muttered to himself. Who better than himself could do that? A hero obviously, but they were busy at the moment. Besides if everything went south he was sure Beryl and Loki would think of something together.
Everyone was watching the passing giants apprehensively. Now was his chance to edge inside and make a plan from there. A part of him could remember promising the Captain he would not go off on his own, but he had kept his promise. Bunny was still in his backpack and to the youth that counted.
The camp was cheering their latest victory as the last leader of the known resistance had fallen. The Skullions, preparing to attack the Carpathia in the morning, let out a cheer for their fellow scallawags. Inside men bearing the sigil of Progress prepared their own weapons as the Shores-men entered. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves except for Dr. Benton Hartschlägel and Leisig the hunter.
“What a wasted opportunity,” Dr. Hartschlägel looked at the giants being led by Admiral Decagon and shook his head mournfully. “They don’t look subdued yet. I can still see a fire of hope burning inside of them.”
Leisig shrugged, he was trying to watch the opening rather than the procession. The flood lights forced him to blink and the shadowy sea of bodies shrouded everything. He gave up and responded to the doctor, “Whatever hope they have will be crushed later, yes? Is now our jobs to inspect Church and then find Babbagers.”
“Ah yes,” Dr. Hartschlägel grinned harshly. Next to the Shores-men he was small, but he refused to back down even when they stared at him. Unlike the other scientists at Aquila IX, Benton was a thick muscular fellow who looked more like a wrestler masquerading in his lab uniforms. Under his warm fur coat his labwear was missing half of its buttons and exposed his linens underneath. Both bore the symbol of Icarus Research, “Let’s show Mr. Decagon how you educate prisoners.”
Tepic slipped between the light poles while everyone kept their attention on Captain Dekkar. The footing had been dangerous as he skittered about on the unknown terrain but once inside he could see thick stalagmites and supply crates he could hide behind.
He hid himself and tried to keep still as the soldiers marched on oblivious to his presence. Risking a quick glance he noticed he needed to pass through an illuminated and populated area. The cavern had a worn path in between several different tents for the troops. Beyond them were tram cars, at least four of them connected which the captives were preparing to board. They had to squeeze into vehicles not designed for men of their size.
Tepic hid behind the crates as he saw a group moving towards the entrance. They dressed differently than Progress, these having brown coats and bearing a different sigil. Now that his distraction was over he would have to be more careful in how he proceeded. He took off his pack and whispered to Bunny to calm down. The tiny clockwork was cowering within so terribly that Tepic pet it soothingly as he looked through his supplies.
He wasn’t as prepared as he hoped. Like the other companions he’d anticipated a treacherous hike, monsters, and telling off brain-dead scientists. He spied the assortment of oils he’d brought and grinned to himself. He had an idea, but with the soldiers on alert he’d need Bunny’s help. Judging by how it quaked that might take an hour.
Eventually, Beryl’s first patient accepted there was nothing to be done for his affliction tonight. Once the Shores-man acknowledged the diagnosis he limped out of the room hugging the wall and ignoring requests to return.
“You have a quaint bed-side manner,” Father Walstrand commented as they followed them to the next curtain. “You are fortunate he did not perceive your tone as patronizing.”
Beryl steeled themselves for this group of patients. Two were unconscious and recovering from charged Tesla strikes, and another had to amputate his arm after it was crushed by a cannonball. To hear the native tell it, he had been trying to punch the projectile out of his way. Despite his accelerated fever the patient expected Beryl to craft him a replacement arm in time for the battle. The nurse glanced at Yang, who shrugged and smiled. Instead of saying it was impossible they told him, “I’ll see what I can do.”
Leisig studied the tracks that Ms. Whitesmith had reported leading to the Cathedral. His two pure-bred huskies were sniffing at the trail, though he would not require their assistance yet. He kept his crossbow ready as he studied the scene. The giants charged through the front which even the most inexperienced tracker could determine. “Constantly they underestimate their opponents.” Leisig prevented anyone from rushing over and disturbing the evidence before he could study it.
He soon discovered the smaller set of tracks leading from the side of the building to the battle. They had only found Shores-men in City Hall and Whitesmith had told them no one else had approached the Church. “Smaller sets of footprints lead to the fight. Disappear into armies passing.”
Dr. Hartschlägel caught the hunters implication, “Spies have infiltrated the ranks. That explains Dekkars continued defiance and quick surrender.”
“Send man with report. Will return momentarily.” The hunter handed the dog leashes to the doctor. Leisig checked his belt for his silver instruments and then followed the tracks to reach their source. He found the windows they had exited and noted their retreat to an outhouse, and a smaller set of feet going into the cave from there. In the snow beside the latrine he uncovered a few red hairs.
The grizzled hunter kept those for his husky’s in case the men somehow overlooked the small boy and returned. Hartschlägel seemed to be pleased with the report, “We’ll send word to search for a Moreau too. I look forward to educating the beast.”
The hunter shrugged lightly and allowed the soldiers to enter the Cathedral following the dogs. Leisig discovered the window room was a deserted kitchen. The cannines sniffed around, but soon their hackles rose and they backed away snarling and barking. “They have smelled something they vehemently dislike,” the huntsman said with a frown. “Something unnatural.”
“Wonderful,” the doctor seemed genuinely excited. “That means we won’t have to hold back when we subdue it!”
“Have shock maces and silver at the ready. The dogs cannot tell me what creature we hunt.”
“I have a better idea. There is no need to risk stepping into a trap,” Dr. Hartschlägel grinned and sent one final runner to call for the mobile cannons. “Surround the Church. And fetch the aetheric dampeners.”