It was early morning in the Urchin Stronghold and Dodgy Goods Store, before the first hint of dawn was due to appear in the distance. A small group of urchins were lounging around a fire gently talking about the events of the day and plans for the next, others were sleeping on the upper floors under the warm summer night.
Suddenly, from the roof came a long descending whistle, followed by five short peeps and a fancy trill. Five people, dangerous looking, coming from over the canal bridge! Instantly, those around the fire were up, one lad kicking over the embers to dowse the glow, some heading up the stairs to wake the rest, and most to the barricade, drawing out slingshots and other implements to defend their home.
Tepic stood atop the barricade, seeing the group sauntering through the gate as if they owned the place, which, to be honest, could well be the case. In front were three men, two in dirty engineers clothing, faces blackened by soot, and a familiar figure of the local dunnykin diver, someone who could be recognised by the smell before he was seen. They were swinging long batons, and the boy could see revolvers strapped to their sides. Behind came a huge man, who could look over the barricade without stretching, one of the largest men he had ever seen, carrying something bulky in front of him. Beside him was a man in a blue suit, some sort of dandy, black hair cropped short, a condescending smile playing across his lips.
As Tepic turned to report his observations to the others, the three men up front let out bloodcurdling yells and charged the barricade, swinging wildly with their clubs. The fox boy leapt backwards to avoid being hit and the other urchins scattered into the dark recesses of their hideout. They had been prepared to defend against other gangs or the occasional irate neighbour, but this was a full on attack by armed and seemingly crazed adult men!
They scaled the barricade, moving crates to allow the other two to walk in unimpeded, then began chasing the children from their hiding places, unconcerned when they connected, sending a hapless urchin flying. Already boys and girls were streaming down the stairs, heading for the exits, fleeing into the night. Despite the desperate straits they were in, those charged with rousing the others continued at their posts, protected to some degree by being on the upper floors, away from the madmen below. Soon all those who had been sleeping were out, and their rescuers swung to safety across the canals on ropes attached for just such an emergency. Down below, urchins were risking blows to gather up their fallen comrades, dragging them down to the sewer exit, clambering onto makeshift rafts and boats, vanishing into the underground gloom.
Tepic stood by the exit, watching the men stand, on guard but no longer chasing after the now departed urchins. The toff stood beside the giant, the other three surrounding them, looking outwards in case of a sudden counter attack, menacing, brooding.
Quietly, the toff spoke, his voice at odds with the message of doom he was conveying.
“This is a bomb, if any of you are still in here, you may wish to leave now. The timer’s already ticking.”
With that, the giant placed his burden in the middle of the floor, and the group stepped smartly out the way they had come, vanishing in the darkness.
The boy took one step towards the device, then thought better of it and jumped onto the last remaining raft. Two minutes later, poling away from the old factory, he heard an enormous explosion, and a wave of warmth pulsed along the tunnel, the blast pushing the raft onwards……..
[img_assist|nid=7497|title=The Smoking Ruins|desc=|link=popup|align=left|width=640|height=560]
The next morning, Tepic and Strifeclaw stood on the remains of the barricade, surveying the devastated building. There were half burned crates and barrels split open by the heat of the fire that had followed the blast, even the sacks of potatoes at the back were burnt to inedible lumps of carbon. Of the stores the urchins had gathered to see them through the next winter, there was virtually nothing salvageable, and most of the goods given to them to look after were in a similar state. It hadn’t helped that some of the barrels had contained strong spirit, and a few crates had to have held even more explosive contents.
“They came on a boat, some of the lads saw it tied up by the bridge, there were some more bully boys on board, and what looked like a clockwork, so they’s said.”, the lad commented to his friend, before continuing, “We’s gonna find it, an when we does, it’s gonna sink!”.
“At least you all got out alive,” the cat replied, “and those that were hurt are at the hospital now.”
“Why would anyone do this, Strifeclaw? What did we do ter anyone? I can understands the Brothers, when they did over the Vole, cus they thought they was doing the best thing fer us, but this….”, he waved his arms towards the ruins, “an they didn’t care if any of us were still inside, they coulda murdered the lot of us!”
Strifeclaw didn’t have an answer for that. Finally, head down, Tepic leapt from the barricade to the yard, and started for the gate. It would be hard to replace the stores, and they were now under an obligation to those they had stored goods for. It was going to be a difficult summer, and even worse winter.