“RUN!” Arnold shouted as Beryl tried to carefully flee down the treacherous street towards the Port. The last time, the Port had been a bustling hub full of people and he hoped to lose the dogs there.
Beryl stopped at the intersection in surprise and disappointment. There were people on ships and safely tucked away in shops around the Porthead Tavern, but the streets were clear of anything but the vine-wires which kept the people indoors. Beryl turned to his left and looked at Cuffs, wondering if he could duck inside the building which had long since disappeared from his New Babbage, but was still standing proudly the last time he had visited.
The building was here, but it was a depressing sight. The vine-wires had collapsed the ceiling into the rest of the building and the streets were scattered with rubble almost as far as the sewer manhole which was open. Though he could make it inside of Cuffs there would have been no way out again.
Beryl could not waste any more time, and he rushed towards the opened sewer passage, hoping to escape inside the tiny opening where the steam-cycles would not be able to follow.
“Are you daft!?!” Arnold snarled before Beryl had reached his destination. “Are you really going to jump into an electrified sewer!?”
Beryl paused at the uncovered manhole to discover that Arnold was right. The sewers had been torn apart, stones cut away intentionally by hand while others had been pushed out by the vine-wires. The wires were dangerously close to the sewer water, frayed cords hanging mere inches from the liquid in places.
“Lookout!” Arnold shouted as a snarling steam-cycle covered in flesh roared and came careening towards Beryl with open metal jaws. Beryl almost dropped Arnold in his attempt to get safely away, but was surprised by the cycle’s stretched animal head at the front which moved to take a bite out of Beryl.
The cat fell to the ground landing on all fours. He had managed to avoid the exposed vine-wires that grew beneath him, and he was so relieved to have fallen safely he had forgotten Arnold.
Arnold’s head let out an angry shriek of surprise, his exposed brain had landed right on an exposed filament and the wound began to smoke. Beryl quickly removed him from the ground and a shock ripped through him. It made his fur stand, but it was short lived and he got Arnold tucked back under his arm.
Beryl turned to see why the other steam-cycles had not run him over while he was getting ready and found himself surrounded. The steam-cycles circled him, snarling and barking along with their Moreau riders, and he noticed that their glowing goggles were tinted green when they looked at him as they growled.
The hound-cycles seemed like a perversion of the science used to make Avariel appear like a living horse. Twisted clockworks meant to simulate a life, but something told Beryl that they had once been Moreau like the Dobermans that rode them.
Beryl recognized one of the Dobermans, though it was not Sanderson. It was the leader of a small pack of ruffians that had used Sanderson’s position to do whatever they wanted. He looked very amused at the cornered feline as he spoke to his men in German.
“We either die fighting or surrender at this point,” Arnold whispered hoarsely. Obviously being dead already had preserved the cat from any actual harm from the shock. “I’m fine with either!”
“Quiet,” Beryl said as he watched their movement for an opening. If there was a weakness he did not find it before the Doberman began to speak in English, “It seems that even your own people want you dead, Cat. I was surprised to find them capable of wisdom.”
“Yes,” Beryl said though he only faked interest in the conversation to buy time, “I remember our last meeting.”
“How I told you that Babbagers were the world’s most backwards and inefficient engineers, and you just turned and ran like a frightened kitten?” The Doberman replied with glee, but his tone implied there could not be any doubt. “The whole world knows this because it is true.”
Arnold muttered something that might have been an agreement. Beryl ignored the jibe completely as he had before, but the bottle that was hurled from the remains of Cuffs was a surprise to the Doberman rider that had been closest to it. He lost control of the hound-cycle and flipped over, causing a second cycle to crash over him and to land into the deadly vine-wires. The Dobermans and vehicles howled in pain as their bodies flailed and started to smoke.
The dogs turned and growled as an elderly drunken man with a full gray beard nearly as long as his wild hair stumbled forward. Beryl was certain he had never seen the scarred man with a nose that looked like it had been broken several times, but he felt familiar all the same as he hobbled forward in his long red coat and bearing an old rapier. He had a pistol as well, but he was carrying a rather large book in one hand and had taken out a hip flask in the other to take a steady drink.