Beryl tucked Arnold’s head under their arm after removing him from a muddy ditch as it growled, “If I wasn’t just a head right now I’d have thrown dignity to the wind and stormed away from you.”
“We’re in this together, Arnold.” Beryl said as he started the journey towards the cities gates. Amused, he added, “Besides, when have you ever had dignity?”
“Good point. Dignity is for people with pride anyways.” Arnold replied bitterly as Beryl carried him, unaware that Beryl was being nice by walking on two legs. “Where are we going?”
“We’re going to Tepic’s camp.” Beryl responded as he continued to pass the soggy fields that had been washed over with the runoff from the Fells. Last time he was here he had met Avariel and the urchins who had set him on his journey. “It should be safe there.”
“Tepic?” Arnold asked, sounding genuinely surprised, “The little fox boy who sells voles? You trust him?”
Beryl stopped his journey and stared down at the head with incredulity, “Of course I do! He was your friend too!”
“You should know that I don’t really have any friends,” Arnold replied bluntly. “I have a gaggle of moronic lemmings who I strive to keep from killing themselves.”
Beryl was shocked by Arnold’s words, though not because he had said them. Beryl knew that before Arnold had arrived in New Babbage, and for many months after, he had always thought as he spoke now. What was unexpected was that he seemed to have forgotten the friendships that he had started to gain just before his end, something he claimed he did remember.
This unwelcome revelation only halted the journey for a few moments before Beryl pressed onwards towards Tepics camp, which as he passed over the last hill was not what he had anticipated. The camp was larger, far grander than it ever had been in New Babbage. Dozens of tents and makeshift boxes had been fashioned into shelters outside the walls and he could clearly see the sign, hanging from only one nail, of the United Urchin Republic.
It would have been an impressive sight if there hadn’t been signs of clear neglect and abandonment. The tents and boxes looked as if they had been left to the elements. Tents had holes that were unmended and mildewing, and boxes had begun to rot away exposing blankets that had been abandoned. But there was something strange, some kind of strangely colored vines that were growing over everything in the camp. Even from this distance Beryl could see that there were red, blue, and even purple vines covering everything. Sometimes he thought he saw something small moving down there among the vines and tents.
“Oh yes, that looks perfectly safe!” Arnold shouted sarcastically. “I’d be happy to take a nap here and wake up hogtied in vines by hungry native voles!”
Beryl ignored him and increased their pace to a jog until they both arrived at the edge of the camp tired and hungry. Arnold had been right about the voles having taken over the camp. They even seemed to be armed with tiny little sticks, as if Tepic had trained them how to fight.
Beryl didn’t take pride in scattering them, but hunger and desperation to understand what had happened drove him. Once he had gotten through and taken a small snack he wanted nothing more than to find more, but he needed to find Tepic.
The smell of mildew and rot was stronger than anything else. He couldn’t find any trace of any urchin, let alone the friend he searched for. He walked among the tents, stepping over the many colored vines for several minutes. He didn’t want to risk touching them before he knew what they were, and this forced him to make a few jumps to his next secure foothold. Beryl eventually reached the back where Tepic made his home, but the fox boy was not there. Only his friend’s hat remained, abandoned next to its owners decaying home.
Beryl went to it and carefully put Arnolds head down in a clear spot between a large group of the vines and tried to get Tepic’s scent from it. It smelled so very weak now.
Beryl turned to Arnold’s head, which looked up at him from his position on the ground that was not covered in the vines. “Tepic wouldn’t have just left his hat here. Something’s gone wrong…maybe it has something to do with the vines…”
“These aren’t vines!” Arnold said and looked down intently at the growths that were coming out of the ground and going back in.. Beryl bent down to get a closer look at what had been growing over everything and sat up in surprise. The entire camp had been covered in wires that were growing out of the ground.
“What’s going on here?” Arnold asked, looking up at Beryl with undisguised suspicion.
“I don’t know,” Beryl admitted as he looked down at Tepic’s hat, and then put it on. “I suspect the only way we’ll find out is to find Tepic.”