The League continued their hike through the hills, forthright in their determination to reach Joseph Curwen's cave and put an end to his operations. Baron Munchausen was ready to explain the concept of damnation to those who were baffled by the event involving Faust and Wagner, but no explanation was requested after The League regained their wits. Everyone seemed to dismiss the event as the type of phenomena that occurs during Munchausen's many adventures where the impossible somehow becomes a casual possibility.
M deduced an unspoken motivation behind The League's steadfast progress towards the inevitable showdown; they wanted this mission over before any other phenomenal occurrences compromise their sanity.
Jack Absolute had not witnessed the strange event, it was his upper class pride and military sense of duty that allowed him to keep up while walking a horse. Redmond Barry's mission for the Prussian secret service was over, but to cement The Baron's favour and give payback to Joseph Curwen, he would see this grand undertaking out. The Irishman hoped that his ample luck would flow throughout The League of which he was now a member.
Apart from a short respite for refreshments there was only one other stop and that was to examine a small red garment with a hood. It had been ripped, tattered and bloodied; whoever was wearing it, probably a child, had been attacked and savaged by The Beast.
The tragedy was a few days old, a deduction made by Chingachook after he found rotting body parts in the vicinity.
Not long after the trek was continued, Redmond marked the base of the hill that overlooked Curwen's cave. Jack Absolute was told to tether his horse to a nearby tree and follow The League as he is. The servant was ordered to remain behind and feed the the steed. The perimeter campfires were cold and unmanned.
"Curwen lost too many wolfmen yesterday." Said M. "He's saving his remaining manpower for defence of his cave fortress."
Redmond and The Baron were first to the apex; a thorough scan with their spyglasses found no wolfmen were positioned on the heights; there were several guards at the cave mouth though. From this point on they would have to tread carefully to avoid being seen. Each member of the party noted the cave mouth and its accessibilty.
"I know how we can get to it without being spotted." Announced Juliette. All eyes turned to her. "Well, I sneaked out of there. I can show you all how to sneak in."
M had given the area a tactical appraisal while making calculated judgments; he gave his approval to the courtesan then took Jack Absolute aside.
"Cadet Absolute. Do you see the cave?" He asked.
"Yes Baron." He replied.
"That is the target. Now, do you see that point on the hilltop?"
Munchausen was pointing at an easily recognisable point on the apex.
"Yes Baron." Answered Jack.
"I want you to get on the horse. Ride to where The Force is camped and bring them and their machinery here." Commanded M. "Tell them to set up their operation at that point on the hilltop. Have you got all that?"
"Good. Now go."
Jack Absolute saluted Munchausen then began his run down the hill to his horse.
Juliette led The League down into the vales out of eyesight of the cave guards. The course she took when she escaped was soon found; by backtracking along it, she got everyone close to the cave mouth without being spotted.
"Well done Juliette." Said M "Now we must take out those guards before they raise the alarm."
The cave entrance was at a slight incline, four wolfmen moped there, a bell dangled at the left corner. A strategy was quickly agreed upon, Redmond carefully climbed ahead.
As soon as all positions were reached, Munchausen gave the signal for action. Chingachook stretched out his bow and fired an arrow, hitting a wolfman in the throat, unable to make a sound, he died quietly.
Juliette fired her crossbow at its designated target and felt a surge of pleasure as it hit the wolfman's chest, he keeled over and died after a second of agonised groaning. Munchausen fired his crossbow and instantly took out another guard. The one remaining wolfman noticed the agonised groans and saw his three companions dead, quickly ducking to avoid any further projectiles he rushed to the bell, but before he got to it, a garrote slipped around his throat. Redmond came out of his hiding spot and tightened the deadly wire until it severed the guards jugular.
M bade everyone to enter the cave while resetting his and Juliette's crossbow. The cavern was wide and illuminated by the strange bright torches hanging from the wall. Hawkeye, Chingachook, Jean and Redmond were all curious about the light without fire and gave distracting attention to the torches. Juliette fired her crossbow again taking out a wolfman who casually turned a corner towards them, she emitted a whispered moan of thrilling pleasure.
"You just let a woman do your work for you." Whispered M to the men as he reset and reloaded Juliette's crossbow.
All members of The League returned their focus on what was ahead.
"Baron." Whispered Jean. "Both Curwen and The Beast are here in this cave."
The cave was a vast interior expanse, with many sections ahead. Many stalactites were visible on the ceiling, but only a few stalagmites remained on the ground, many had been chopped at ground level leaving a near flat cave floor to walk on. Joseph Curwen's study had been well gutted by fire, whatever papers had survived had been moved elsewhere. All side chambers where checked for any enemy presence, none was found.
Further along was the next cave section, what The League saw was an arrangement of dinner tables, this was the wolfmens' mess hall. A solitary grunting figure was manacled to the wall but the immediate concern to M was four wolfmen seated at one of the tables having a late lunch. Hawkeye bounded across the tabletops to rush the group. Chingachook let fly an arrow, killing one of the two facing them before he could yell. Munchausen fired his crossbow, taking out the other wolfman facing them. One of the enemy turned to face the intruders only to receive a deadly bolt from Juliette's weapon. Hawkeye hurled his knife at the remaining foe, its embedding impact brought an agonised wince, an arrow from Chingachook delayed any alarming scream. Hawkeye then pounced from the tabletop onto the wounded man, grappled him then seized the embedded knife and pressed it home.
The manacled person did not change the tempo of his insane grunting throughout the engagement. All but Jean considered him to be insane.
"He smells like the dead, Baron." Said the perfumer. "This man is a corpse, revived to its primal savagery by Joseph Curwen."
Juliette fired a crossbow bolt into the grunting fury, it did not drop or show pain, the tempo of its grunting changed only moderately.
"Baron this is what happened to Squire Thornhill." Explained Jean. "Curwen revived him from death, to be much like this soul. I had a hard time terminating the Squire because you can't kill what is already dead.
"You have you sword. Try it."
Munchausen drew his sabre and with deft precision sliced the grunting man's throat. There was an end to the insane grunting but the manacled hands kept clawing as before.
Hawkeye easily evaded the man's clumsy arm movements and stabbed a knife into his heart; there was no response. Redmond Barry fixed a bayonet to one of his muskets and drove the blade through the man's chest, with a stupefying lack of effect.
"Chingachook." Jean turned to Mohican brave. "A heavy blow to the head would have the result we're looking for. Would you please do the honours and end this travesty."
The old hunter and warrior swung his war club, that looked like an axe, and brought it down on the manacled man's head, clefting the skull. Just as the perfumer said, the crazy target dropped to a dangling motionless state.
"This is what I learned when I was attacked by the revived lifeless body of Squire Thornhill." Stated Jean. "Killing them in the normal way is no good, after all they are already dead. What you must do is destroy the control facility in their head. The Brain."
Everyone managed to regain their senses and proceed to the next cave section, which followed a slight downward slope, just before they reached its base, a familiar bloodcurdling sound filled the cavern. It was The Beast and that was the growl it utters when it senses prey.
Jean placed the small enclosure he was carrying on the ground; brought out a tiny paintbrush and the bottle containing his latest perfume with which he wet the brush and dabbed the concoction on the meowing cat within the cage. The perfumer resealed the bottle and drowned the tainted paintbrush in a bottle of raw alcohol. The growls of The Beast intensified.
Two wolfmen appeared ahead, both Munchausen and Juliette fired their crossbows, silencing the foes. The courtesan asked M for another bolt but was informed that there were none left for either weapon.
Four more wolfmen armed with muskets arrived on the scene. The League's silent approach was over there was nothing else to do now but engage the enemy with firearms. Hawkeye and Chingachook brought two down with crack shots. Redmond, with his musket mortally injured a third. The remaining foe got a shot of, which hit The Baron's crossbow, destroying its spring mechanism, the wolfman then seized a musket from one of his fallen brethren and took cover in an alcove.
More enemy were approaching and taking cover. M discarded his now useless crossbow and commanded Hawkeye, Chingachook and Redmond to take strategic positions and engage. These positions were either behind stalagmites or rocks, in alcoves or niches,against walls or lying flat on the floor; the wolfmen did likewise. Juliette and Jean were told to stay back.
Both Hawkeye and Chingachook showed great aim and hit several enemies who chose good cover. The only hit Redmond scored was a wolfman who stepped into his line of fire to aid the wounded one, who succumbed soon after. Near misses from enemy fire harassed The League while they reloaded.
Baron Munchausen's gunplay struck the others as odd, he was firing his muskets up into the cave ceiling, reloading and repeating this strange activity after a calculating glance at the enemy. Hawkeye cottoned on to what M was doing when he noticed a wolfman get crowned by falling debris. Stalactites, shot at by The Baron, were falling on the wolfmen: one received a rock spike on his shoulder, breaking his collarbone; another stalactite was so big that it crushed two wolfmen; the next to fall was as slender as a javelin and neatly impaled another.
The remaining wolfmen retreated deeper into the cave, The League members fired shots to help them on their way. The pursuit ended in a hurried entrance into the next cave section.
"Now you're going to get it." Said a little boy in a wolfskin.
Munchausen recognised Guy Loup, the boy who tried to poison him; he was atop a ramp that led to a large wooden enclosure lacking illumination. An adult wolfman was with Guy, together they pulled open the gate they had just unlatched; a growl from within told everything.
The Beast was about to emerge and all four combatants realised that they did not have a ready shot between them; desperate reloads began. Juliette drew her pistol from its garter holster and shot the adult wolfman dead. Despite his child strength Guy Loup managed to finish opening the gate alone.
The monstrous shape of black fur, bright blood red eyes and huge teeth appeared on top of the ramp. Its tail pointed up as did much of the fur on its back; a bitter snarl became a savage growl of bloodlust that reverberated throughout the cavern. Redmond Barry froze in terror, it was his first look at The Beast of Gevaudan.
Jean had the only ready firearm, a pistol, but did not reach for it; he placed the small enclosure on the ground, directed the opening towards the cave mouth then released Tom the Cat. The feline ran to the previous cave section, stopping for a second to size up his situation. The Beast bolted down the ramp, members of The League braced to meet a lupine attack without ready firearms. With a few strides, the black furred horror bypassed The League, giving them a mere snarl, before racing after the fleeing cat.
"I made this specially for The Beast." Said Jean presenting a bottle of his latest perfume to his awestruck allies. "This perfume contains the alluring scent of a she wolf in heat."
"Amongst other things." Said Juliette.
The perfumer and the courtesan gave each other a look of scrutiny.
"I have just made that cat an overriding focus for the wolf." Explained Jean. "It will not bother us now."
M and the others praised Jean for his cleverness and inventiveness. Guy Loup was nowhere to be found, he had sneaked away when all eyes were on The Beast. All firearms were reloaded; Redmond reloaded Juliette's pistol, when he handed it back to her she seized his arm, drew him to her and passionately kissed him on the lips. The Irish rogue was exuberant, his luck was definitely still buoyant.
Tom the cat, at first, fled the enclosure but found himself running for his life. The huge monstrosity pursuing him brought out intense fear that drove him to near impossible speed. Tom had ran from many dogs in his lifetime but this topped all perils he had experienced in England. It wasn't just another dog, it was a whole new level of horrible.
Many tables and chairs seemed to offer salvation, Tom ran under them only to find his hot breathed pursuer running into them, pushing the furniture aside like they were empty garbage bins. Tom jumped up to a tabletop then leaped to others to get clear of this giant canine; it was no good, The Beast pushed aside the wooden structures like they were blades of grass; even four dead human bodies were stepped over with complete abandon.
At the edge of the last table, Tom bounded for the floor then made swift tracks for a set of pantry shelves, they were well stocked with food but more importantly they were high. Progress up the shelves to the top one was complicated but fast. The Beast gazed its red eyes on the pantry shelves and with a signal from its smelling senses decided what food item it wanted. With a leap, the wolf clamped its jaws on a middle shelf and pulled the unit into a forward topple.
Tom meowed hysterically, these shelves were no longer sanctuary and were falling to meet the ground. There was only one place he could jump to, thus avoiding impact and injury, the wolf's back; he did so, his claws found the lupine fur had great traction. The red eyes turned on the cat and the salivating jaws were about to snap when a falling bag of potatoes hit the monstrous head and stunned the viscous abomination for a crucial second.
A leap to the floor, had Tom fleeing for a new sanctuary, with experienced skill he ascended a coat stand then, just before his pursuer ripped it away, jumped to a bookcase. These shelved structures were hard to climb when full but the coat stand gave a high launching point; getting to the bare top was made easy. Tom crossed the bookcase and quickly bounded to a cave wall fixture. The Beast did to the bookcase what it did to the pantry shelves but too late to bring its prey down to the floor. This fixture was put there to hang things on, it was a single round wooden rod and Tom traversed it carefully, he was not high enough to avoid the predator below.
It would take a mighty leap to bring those jaws to Tom's level but the monster dog was driven, its nature was one of savage cruelty and intense bloodlust. Several lupine leaps were attempted to snap those large jaws on the feline body; Tom would suddenly alter his pace to evade the snaps, either by rushing forward and risk losing his footing, or by stopping just short of a calculated leap and bite, he would never dare turn back, maneuvering around would render him still and vulnerable for a few seconds.. He got so close to the end when a last desperate leap, by The Beast, had the jaws clamping on the wooden fixture virtually just where Tom's forepaws were. The monsters breath was hot and foul, it tried to snap again after releasing its hold on the fixture but gravity worked too fast and the jaws bit thin air. Tom reached the end of the fixture and jumped to a nearby ledge that sloped to a high point, he was safe.
The wolf leaped futilely and repetitively to reach its prey. Tom hissed at the Beast of Gevaudan.
"Ambush." Warned Jean. "Several wolfmen are hiding behind those rock pillars. I can smell them and their gunpowder."
The League had progressed towards the next cave section. At the threshold, stalagmites and stalactites met to form wide columns that could easily hide the enemy. M told everyone to stop and get against the cave wall.
"Jean." Said M. " It's time to use the special concoction I wanted you to make."
"I got it Baron." Replied the perfumer as he brought out a sealed bottle.
"Everyone tie your masks now." Commanded M.
All members of The League got out their issued handkerchiefs and,as they had been drilled to do, tied them to their faces, bandit style. Their noses and mouths were now filtered; the handkerchiefs were treated with a potent counter agent prepared by Jean.
At a signal from M, the perfumer hurled the sealed bottle at the pillars, when it shattered, the chemical contents exploded in a cloud of stinking gas. The wolfmen hiding behind the natural columns left their cover and, with a sound of abject revulsion, stumbled clumsily into enemy sight. They no longer cared that the planned ambush was ruined, some didn't even keep hold of their weapons. The stink bomb disfunctioned them so much that they could only pinch their noses and grasp their guts, some also vomited, even the sight of The League rushing them could not jolt them into undertaking a capable defence.
Chingachook was first into the stink area; the treated hankerchief had countered the foul smell of the gas. A tomahawk swing cleft the skull of a sickened wolfman; next, a full circle pivot, while uttering his war cry, brought the small axe down on another wolfman's head. The war mace was unslung, the Mohican brave swung it with lethal force, taking out as many of the enemy as he could before they recover their senses.
Second into the melee was Hawkeye, he clubbed a dysfunctional wolfman hard on the head with a musket butt, knocking him down. Another nearby wolfman tried to swing his gun stock at the frontiersman, it was done slowly this gave Hawkeye time to duck and, with his knife, hamstring the foe, bringing him down where a neat slash of his throat finished him. He was fighting many other would be ambushers at his best capacity, while the few attacks, blocks and dodges made by the enemy combatants were sluggish and clumsy; the stink had not only brought them out of cover, but handicapped their fighting ability. Hawkeye's blade bloodied many a wolfskin
A bayonet charge was Redmond's choice, he ran it through the chest of the first wolfman he got to. A nearby foe tried to use his firearm but the sickening feeling of the stink slowed him down; Redmond slammed the butt of his musket into the wolfman's belly then, as he lurched, brought the butt hard against his head, and again for good measure.
Baron Munchausen had a sabre in one hand and a shortsword in the other, when he reached the sickened enemy he opened a wolfman's throat with the former and disarmed a second foe with a strike from the shortsword. The disarmed antagonist, although retching from the stink, drew out his knife; M quickly crossed his two swords in front of the varmint's throat, bringing each blade on either side of the jugular; with a neat two handed move, the swords scissored, nearly decapitating the foe but for the spine. A musket was aimed at Munchausen, his keen battle sense alerted him and a swift sabre stroke knocked the offending firearm aside sending its shot to the right; the gunman, stunned by the stink and his miss, had The Baron's shortsword driven into his chest.
Jean and Juliette followed behind the warriors having little penchant for melee combat. A wolfman who was reeling from the stink was missed by the combatants, he stepped out of the fight zone and found enough faculty to raise his musket into the fray. His position placed his back to Jean Baptiste Grenouille, who with a heavy blow to the back of the head with his trowel handle, ended the sniper's life. Juliette had rearmed her crossbow with a bolt pulled from the corpse of a former target. The sight of a second foe stumbling out of the fight zone, recovering his wits from the stink and raising his musket, had the courtesan fire the deadly shaft into his ribcage. The thrill of using the crossbow was intense as was watching its effect, but disappointment followed, she could not extract the bolt from the dead target's chest for a third use. Juliette begrudgingly discarded her now useless weapon.
Three wolfman got themselves clear of the stink cloud by running deeper into the cave; Redmond gave chase and observed them making their way across a ledge that rimmed an illuminated amphitheatre. They were still debilitated from the chemical weapon, so the Irish rogue charged with silence and confidence. The first wolfman was taken by surprise, a trip and sideward nudge by Redmond sent him off the ledge, falling to a head first landing on the hard amphitheatre floor. Instantly the other two turned their heads, but their actions were slow; Redmond lunged forward with his bayoneted musket and stuck the blade neatly in the next foe's belly. The last wolfman was raising his firearm; Redmond had to act fast, with a swing to the left he dangled his stuck foe off the ledge, hoping gravity would slide him off the blade, but the still living wolfman clung to the musket, a forceful shove from Redmond's boot sent him on his way. Only the last enemy's sickened state saved the Irishman from being shot, despite proximity, the wolfman's aiming and steadying of the musket took crucial seconds, Redmond found time to swiftly seized the initiative and fire his kill shot.
The other League members approached the amphitheatre edge, a charnel battleground behind them, they had killed all would be ambushers; Joseph Curwen must now be running seriously short of wolfmen followers. Redmond finished reloading his musket, this made all guns ready and an available backup arsenal of loaded muskets left by the late wolfmen; Jean placed these many guns in a bag and hauled them along as M instructed.
"The stink gas has dissipated." Announced the perfumer.
Everyone slowly removed their masks and began to breathe unfiltered air.
The amphitheatre was a wide circle dug deep in the cave floor, only half the perimeter had tiers where people could sit or climb; a fall from the top of an untiered section to the bottom would be injurious if not fatal. A narrow ledge with several passages and alcoves rimmed the circular pit. There were two stages, giving the structure a dual purpose: one was on the far rim, it was more a podium chiseled out of the rock; this would be where a leader addresses his followers. The other stage was in the floor centre; it was a round marble stage with three ramps, one hundred and twenty degrees apart, giving access to performers; this was apparently for entertainment.
M told everyone to proceed around the rim to the far side, there was four separate attacks by lone wolfmen darting out of an alcove or a passage, but The League was highly alert and shot the rash defenders before they could fire their guns.
"You have all gone far enough." Bellowed a voice familiar to several of The League.
They were half way around the rim when the voice sounded. Joseph Curwen came out of a far passage and went onto the podium. His usual mean look was contorted by fury into a monstrous inhuman visage; the pallid skin looked alien in contrast to his colored robes.
"That's him." Said Jean, Juliette and Redmond.
"To my order and my designs you have done great evil." Roared Curwen. "So unto this League great evil will be done."
Two shots were fired at the angry warlock, with a deft move of his hands he deflected both projectiles with an invisible barrier. Members of The League either unslung reserve firearms or got out their melee weapons only to have them yanked out of their hands by an unseen force and thrown into the amphitheatre.
Joseph Curwen's next movement of his arms was predicted and recognised by Jean and Redmond; both yelled out warnings to jump into the pit and get behind the stage. All League members bound down the tiers to the pit floor and took cover behind the stage, except for Baron Munchausen who believed in facing an enemy.
M drew out his sabre to face Joseph Curwen, the aristocratic German soldier found himself clutched by an invisible giant hand and suspended mid air in front of the warlock, he could move his limbs but the sabre could now only slash thin air.
"Baron Munchausen." Said Curwen. "Only a self deluding publicity moron like you could ever believe that he could stop me. Look where your aristocratic stupidity has got you; here in my lair, in my clutches. I think this is one adventure you will not be boasting about."
Hawkeye and Chingachook each fired a shot at the warlock but, despite his attention being firmly on The Baron, the invisible barrier remained. The two trappers along with Redmond drew their blades and began to climb the tiers to the podium. Jean stayed behind the stage and poured some perfume into a mechanism under his wrist. Juliette recognised the concoction, it was the one that smelled like Chastity, the Virtue assassin.
"Joseph Curwen." Said M. "Your machinations stop here. My League will destroy you."
"Your League." Blared Curwen contemptuously. "That mishmash of deviants and misfits down there. Well Baron, since you've got faith in them let's see what they can do without you."
The warlock threw his hands forward and down, Munchausen was hurled backwards at great speed as if flung by a catapult. He passed neatly in between the pillars, striking them with his sabre as he passed, this allowed him to turn around and observe his trajectory, which with subtle strokes form the blade against passing stalactites he managed a little directional control. All the League observed his flight, swift as it was; his course could take him out of the cave mouth.
Redmond knew M was in for a deadly flight, even if he did clear the cave mouth, there would be a hard landing. Then again he was the great Baron Munchausen, the soldier who supposedly rode on cannonballs in flight, as if they were horses.
"Fin fin finish ish ish." Baron Munchausen's voice echoed down the caverns as it became swiftly distant.
Joseph Curwen clenched his fists and swung his arms backward as if hitting an invisible object behind him. Instantly, the cavern walls shuddered with the violence of an earthquake; the amphitheatre walls with them. Redmond, Hawkeye and Chingachook were almost at the theatre rim when the shockwave hit, its force sent all three rolling back down the tiers to the floor. They were bruised but they all got to their feet as the quake passed.
"You really don't have a chance you know." Yelled Curwen from his podium. "That pitiful, delusional Baron has sent you all on a fool's mission. It is sad that he made you believe in this folly. He hasn't stopped anything, all he's done is get you all killed."
"Baron, good man." Said Chingachook while reloading his musket along with Hawkeye. "You bring bad medicine. Great Spirit angry."
Curwen cut in. "Oh, spare me your Indian mysticism, when I'm through it will be obsolete."
The warlock cast his gaze at Redmond with his bruised features. "And you Irishman, you were extremely lucky to survive being hurled through the air. So what do you do; come back for more punishment. My my, Munchausen has recruited stupid people."
"Well I did say I was going to get you for that." Replied Redmond.
"One more point for stupidity."
"It' over for you Joseph Curwen." Uttered Hawkeye. "Your wolfmen army are all dead. It's just you and us now."
"Yes, it's true that there is only a few wolfmen left." Said Curwen. "But that is only one army. The dead have provided me with a second army."
Ancient chanting vibrated from the Warlock's mouth while his swinging arm movements suggested opening doors. Hawkeye fired a shot at Curwen only to find the invisible barrier still active. The sound of many doors slamming open reverberated throughout the cavern. Next came the many grunting sounds, much like those of the manacled figure in the mess room but these sounds were many; they were of an oncoming multitude.
Joseph Curwen fell into a manic laughter as the amphitheatre rim was flooded with grunting human figures; they were all deathly pale with a wide eyed look of crazed madness. Some of these figures wore wolfskins and gunshot wounds could be seen on them; others wore burial robes or mortician's rags, a few were in civilian clothing, while several were stark naked with mortal diseases evident on their skin.
Instantly the crazed mob flowed into the amphitheatre towards The League, the figures cascaded down the tiers, but there were many trips and missteps sending individuals and those in their path hurtling down the large steps. Several crazies stepped over untiered sections of the rim, they would break both legs on impact with the floor, but no pain was expressed, just the same crazed resolve to attack The League, so they dragged themselves towards the stage.
Redmond Barry fired his musket at one of the crazies descending the tiers, the shot hit him in the chest, with no effect other than a slight knock back, the figure maintained its attack run.
"Aim for the heads." Yelled Jean.
Chingachook fired a shot that entered an attackers skull, it slumped to a real death position.
"Everyone get up on the stage." Commanded Hawkeye while reloading his gun. "Jean take the weapon bag up there."
The perfumer recognised Hawkeye's new status as team leader and carried the bagged arsenal up a ramp to the marble stage. Redmond and Chingachook each took a ramp and, while reloading their firearms took position at the peak. Juliette lost time reaching into her garter for the pistol, a female crazy who had tumbled down the tiers, got up without delay and clawed at her while showing bloodied teeth. The courtesan pointed the pistol at the deathly eyes of her attacker and fired; the figure dropped. Hawkeye seized Juliette by the arm and bade her to ascend the ramp.
Her rush up the ramp to the defensive circle of the stage was cut short when she was lifted of her feet by an invisible force and brought, suspended in the air, before Joseph Curwen.
"Hello my pretty." Said the warlock. "You ran out on me and burned down my office."
"I didn't fancy being your guest or the foul stuff you study." Answered Juliette. "Your plans for me were not to my liking."
"Well then. You will be pleased to know that I have new plans for you."
With a swift sideward movement of Curwen's arms, a screaming Juliette was whisked into a passage above the rim.
Hawkeye completed the defensive circle on the stage. He, Chingachook and Redmond would each face one of the ramps and repel the crazed attackers flooding the theatre floor; Jean will stay in the middle of the stage and hand out loaded firearms from the bagged arsenal. There was nothing they could do for Juliette, only hope that M's confidence in her was well founded, which means she can extricate herself from trouble.
Juliette's whisked flight ended at the end of the passageway, she found herself, regaining her breathe, in a gothic chamber where several torture devices were present. No sooner had she found her composure when she was roughly seized from behind; a struggle to break free proved unsuccessful. She did however manage to turn towards a large mirror, where a reflection revealed her antagonist's face; he was a wolfman but what chilled her to the bone was the recognition; it was Patience.
But she killed him. He was dead, she strangled him herself and made sure he would never get up to bother her again. How come he's alive? She could see the rope marks on his throat and burn marks on his hand. Patience had a burning hatred on his face, not the usual antipathy a Virtue would cast on someone like her, but a furiously stoked malevolence revealing intense rage.
The virtue turned her away from the mirror and clamped his arm around her throat then whispered into her ear.
"You foul disgusting whore. Killing me was bad enough, but the way you did it destroyed something very valuable to me. I woke up on the alter; Curwen brought me back, just like he brought you back, he did it so I could get you. Now wretched succubus, I'm going to give you pain and torment because of what you did to me."
Patience had a skinning knife, he could've stabbed or slashed her then and there, completing his duty as a Virtue, but then he had clearly lost his virtue, he was all rage now. He was pushing her forward, even lifting her up off the floor for short bursts to make headway as she struggled. Juliette looked ahead to his destination, it was the iron maiden, the upright sarcophagus was wide open with its spikes retracted; he was going to shut her in there, sandwich her with the spikes and thus torture her for hours.
Heavy breathing told the courtesan the position of her captor's head, she brought her own head forward, as much as the clamping arm allowed, them snapped it back impacting with Patience's face. He flinched in discomfort, loosening his hold on her neck. Juliette grabbed the loosened clamp arm, pushed it out, managing only an inch or two, then brought her teeth down on its skin and bit as hard as she could. The screaming Virtue dropped his knife and withdrew the bitten arm but maintained his hold around her belly. Juliette lurched forward and discreetly reached into her cleavage. A cruel hand seized the back of her hair and wrenched the yelping woman back to an upright posture. The push towards the iron maiden continued.
Juliette had her knife in hand now, she had unsheathed it from her cleavage scabbard when she lurched forward; she remembered Hawkeye's lesson in dealing with rear grapplers. The blade plunged into Patience's thigh, Juliette then gave it a good twist; the Virtue shrieked and, through shock, relaxed his hold on the woman. Juliette extracted the knife then spun herself free while curses and expletives were spat at her.
"I thought you were a Virtue." Said Juliette.
"Damn you. You turned me into this." Yelled Patience.
A grasp at her own dress lacework was supposed to collect the little bottle of knockout concoction, it did that, but also tore the garment, revealing her naked shoulder. This seemed to make Patience even angrier.
"Shameless tart." Screeched Patience.
"That was the truest thing he said." Juliette surmised. She pointed the nozzle at his face but, despite his wound, he bound towards her and whacked the bottle aside with a sweeping hand. Only a fraction of spray emitted, the glass receptacle shattered against the chamber wall.
Patience had blood running down his leg and twitches revealed a minor effect of the knockout concoction, but he was determined and fueled by hate, he limped quickly to retake Juliette, she managed, despite the confined area, a couple of dodges before his hand grabbed her dress tearing it further. An upward slash from her knife, cut the grasping limb making it release the hold before Patience could secure it.
The Virtue picked up his huge skinning knife and moved on his target again. Juliette was fleet and managed to keep her distance, she even bounded over torture racks with with spritely grace while her pursuer got slower and slower. She could have fled the chamber, but she wanted to finish this Virtue campaign against her once and for all.
After a few minutes, Patience's movements became sluggish and clumsy, only his hate remained buoyant. He would slash, with his knife, at thin air; his eyesight was clearly blurring. Juliette picked up a set of loose manacles; when her pursuer got to a designated point she hurled the chains into his face, the impact was not severe, it merely caused him to stop for a few seconds and reorient himself. Those few seconds were all the courtesan needed; she availed herself of a pike, standing on a weapon rack, then drove the point into Patience's belly, pushing him back into the iron maiden. She withdrew the pike and dropped it, it had not penetrated far, being too heavy for her to use that way.
While the Virtue stood still catching his breathe and feeling his new stomach wound, Juliette spread her arms, grabbed each side of the iron maiden doors and slammed them together shut then quickly set the latch. Straining from within revealed that Patience was trying to open the doors, then came desperate knocking and more foul curses and screamed insults.
Juliette placed her hands on the wheel at the structure's side the began to turn it clockwise, The wheel engaged the mechanism on both sides. She had seen demonstrations of this device and new how it worked. As the wheel turned, the metal spikes protruded further and further out of the enclosure's interior walls. The trapped Virtue's ferocious ranting soon became loud and unbroken screams of pain as he was slowly impaled on both sides. Blood oozed out of the sarcophagus vents. There was no window in the door, that was OK, Juliette did not which to see the assassin's tortured face.
"Now." Yelled Juliette. "I'm going to give you the mercy you were not going to give me."
She turned the wheel, with strained difficulty, all the way clockwise. The interior spikes extended to their maximum length. There were no more screams, no noise of any kind; Patience was once again dead; the spikes would have penetrated his heart and head. His essential salts were now spilling down a drain, preventing any further resurrection by Joseph Curwen. Speak of the devil. She had to rejoin The League and assist in his destruction.
Two loaded pistols were found in the chamber desk; Juliette took them and went back down the passage she had been whisked through.
When The League took the marble stage they would be putting on the performance, not of their lives but for their lives. Joseph Curwen aside, there audience was one of bestial crazed humans who were trying to get on the stage so they can bite and claw the performers to death. Many got to the stage base and tried to reach for the marble top that was above their heads, their grunts and roars formed a cacophony of savage intent. Their hands could reach over the edge to grasp an ankle but the performers stayed clear.
The first crazies to make use of the access ramps were shot in the head by the defenders. Each of the three ramps were thus employed, after each shot a fast reload was required, all three managed this but soon the approaches became too frequent.
Redmond was first to find too little time to reload after eliminating an approaching crazy. The next attacker trudged feverishly up the ramp ready to bite and claw, the Irishman put down his firearm and accepted a loaded one handed to him by the astute Jean. The musket taken from the wolfmen ambush worked effectively, sending a shot through the attacker's cranium.
Chingachook soon found himself in the same predicament, but instead of accepting a loaded gun from Jean, got out his tomahawk and delivered a hard blow that cleft the crazy's skull. It worked just as well as a shot in the head, the attacker slumped.
Hawkeye could reload very fast, but even he found the approaches too frequent, he accepted one firearm from Jean to take out an attacker approaching too soon after the former. He could use these enemy guns almost as good as his own. It was during a rushed reload that a crazy scaled the ramp very quickly, the frontiersman was still ramming his half loaded barrel, he aimed the musket half cocked, applied a trick manipulation to override the safety and fired, shooting the ramrod into the attacker's eye socket; with the brain obviously pierced, he dropped backwards. Hawkeye copped powder burns doing that move, but he picked up his own musket and continued the fight.
Approach frequency was getting higher. Although the ramps were wide enough for two to approach side by side; Redmond found himself approached by three crazies, each a few feet apart. He fixed his bayonet and shot the first attacker in the head. The second he gave a strong buffeting swipe with the used musket, knocking the crazy off the ramp, he would approach later. With a calculated duck, the Irish rogue got beneath his third antagonist's clawing arms then rammed the bayonet under his chin, thus impaling the head, eliminating the foe.
Melee defence was highly favoured by Chingachook, he took very few reserve muskets from Jean. When the ramp attacks multiplied he got out his war mace and tomahawk, howled out his battle cry and engaged the enemy at close quarters. The latter weapon would cleft many a skull. The war mace could also drop an opponent; a strike downward from in front or a swing from the side would end the impacted brain's functional status; but the clawing arms of the target crazy could deflect its trajectory and a miss would be disastrous. What the Mohican warrior settled on doing was swinging the mace at the legs, then, as the crazy fell, aim a second swing at the head. When many attackers scaled the ramp at once, the mace would be used as a buffeting tool, sweeping them off the incline edge down to the floor. He could terminate them later when they came up the ramp in numbers he could manage.
Hawkeye would use many different rifles in this fight, the crazies were approaching to often for him to reload his musket, he would seldom get the chance to complete it. The ready firearms from the bagged arsenal would be handed over to him, get used and then piled up on the stage floor. Sometimes the crazies attacked in pairs, the trapper would shoot one through the head then club the other with the gun butt, the latter would be knocked off the stage but return later with a face contorted by the fracture. Better melee results were had when Hawkeye would trip the attacker then drive his knife upwards from under their chin, or just face the clawing fury and stab it in the eye socket.
The arsenal of ready muskets was almost depleted; for Jean this provided a measure of relief, burnt powder fumes were making him sick. As he diligently handed out loaded firearms where they were needed; a glance upwards showed Joseph Curwen observing his discomfort with keen interest.
Five crazies started up the ramp, in single file towards Redmond Barry. A head shot from his current firearm stopped the first. Jean handed the Irishman another musket, a rushed shot from that terminated the second. Redmond bobbed down to quickly pick up his bayonet tipped gun, there was no time for a stab under the chin, the Irish rogue drove the blade into the third attacker's chest, the crazy seized the weapon that had impaled it, forcing Redmond to push his antagonist over the ramp edge, when he fell the bayonet and musket went with it. With the remaining two attackers almost on him Redmond drew the musket pistol from his belt and sent a shot through the forehead of one. The other grappled the Irishman who tried desperately to keep its bloody mouth from biting him; the wrestle for superiority ended when both contestants fell of the stage.
All crazies in the vicinity of the fall rushed to the scene with extra frenzied grunting. Redmond managed to extricate himself from the grapple, get up and run to the amphitheatre tiers, he bound up to the second level as his pursuers groped in his direction from the floor.
Both Hawkeye and Chingachook had their hands full defending their ramps, this left the third undefended. Jean took his bottle of pure alcohol and smashed it on the incline's base, he then took out his issued pistol, set a piece of wadding paper alight and placed it in the muzzle then fired into the spilt fluid. A spontaneous bonfire erupted, several crazies, showing no fear or understanding of the fire, tried to ascend the ramp, they were consumed in flames. As their hair caught fire, the skulls heated, cooking the brain, ending its control; the fearless attackers slumped into a burning heap.
Other crazies were also caught up in the fire, their dead flesh and old clothing seemed to burn well; they did not express pain or discomfort, just disorientation as their perceptual faculties became compromised by the heat. Many of these would stumble blindly and collide with more grunting furies, thus spreading the fire among all of them. They would all prove to be quite combustible.
This was a relief for the two trappers, they could not have kept up their defensive efforts much longer, the burning attackers were clumsy and easily pushed off the ramp. There was little need for combat as the fire would soon finish the attackers. The last ready musket was handed over to Hawkeye who sent its shot into the head of a mollified figure running blindly up the ramp.
The only crazies still active were harassing Redmond, who had picked up a loose musket during his run. The Irish rogue was on the second tier, using the spent weapon to knock back any pursuers who managed to climb the first tier; this was only attempted spasmodically, so Redmond could easily counter all attempts to rush him. Ten grunting crazies groped up the tiers for the desperate Irishman who kept himself just out of reach.
Smoke had filled the amphitheatre. Hawkeye had noticed Redmond's plight but also saw that the podium was obscured.
"If we can't see him, he can't see us coming." Said Hawkeye. "Chingachook we must climb to the podium now and rush Curwen while the smoke blurs his vision."
Hawkeye and Chingachook readied their blades. "Jean." Said the former. "We're going after Curwen. See what you can do to help Redmond."
As the perfumer acknowledged, the two trappers began their ascent up the tiers towards the podium; Redmond's plight was on the amphitheatre's other side. Of the several crazies who had become a disorientated walking mass of flames, Jean noticed one who still had the Irishman's bayonet still lodged in his chest and the musket dangling from it. The blazing figure was stumbling blindly, Jean seized the stock of the dangling musket and, while avoiding the threshing arms, pushed the burning figure into the backs of the groping horde harassing Redmond.
Flames spread like the wildfire they were. All crazies who came into contact with the burning figure began their own personal cremation as the close knit bunch they were a part of were all set alight without exception. Jean pulled the bayonet out of the burning man's chest, took the musket in both hands and tossed it to Redmond who caught it with a grin at this providence. Several of the newly combusted crazies turned their attention towards the perfumer who promptly fled back to the stage hoping to conduct some defence.
An ancient chant emanated through the curtain of smoke. Chingachook faintly recognised an old obsolete term for wind in the utterings, as he and Hawkeye neared the amphitheatre rim. A sudden and furious breeze suddenly came from nowhere and collected all the smoke, blowing it away to the cave mouth.
Hawkeye reached the amphitheatre top on the right side of the podium, Chingachook on the left. Joseph Curwen was there; with the smoke cleared he noticed both approaches; with a whispered chant and a clawed hand he focused on Hawkeye. The forest scout found himself gripped, as if by an invisible giant hand; he could not move. Chingachook hurled his tomahawk but saw it deflected by the invisible barrier. With his war mace unslung, the Mohican brave rushed the warlock. Curwen, while maintaining his hold on Hawkeye, uttered another chant and extended the palm of his right hand towards the Indian. Chingachook was suddenly knock back against the cave wall, as if a stampeding buffalo had rammed him. The stunned Mohican dropped his war mace then went into a near helpless roll down the tiers back into the amphitheatre.
"Munchausen's blind arrogance has infected you Hawkeye." Blurted Curwen. "I will put you down like a sick dog."
"Joseph Curwen." Said Hawkeye. "Your shady activities in Rhode Island have been the dark conversation of many a Delaware campfire. Munchausen may consider your destruction his duty, but Chingachook and I consider it the will of the forest."
The warlock shook his clawed hand aside. Hawkeye was pushed, by the same force that held him, over the rim into a hard roll down the tiers. Both Hawkeye and Chingachook were on the amphitheatre floor with multiple bruises. They both got awkwardly to their feet to find four wolfmen on the rim pointing muskets down at them; they were in pairs and each pair were on opposite sides of the theatrical pit..
Jean was on the stage, with a burning crazy approaching from each of the three ramps; their perceptions were intact enough to zero in on him. The flames would soon terminate them but not soon enough. A familiar lifting sensation came over the perfumer; he was levitating above the stage. All three burning crazies collided and turned their primordial fury on each other; they became a mass of threshing arms, grunting mouths and incinerating flesh. The perfumer found himself suspended in mid air before the podium, Joseph Curwen, with a controlling hand out, was facing him.
"Well Grenouille." Said Curwen. "Now you know what its like to have the dead attack you in vast numbers. This need never happen again, my good graces have just saved you, they can keep you safe while together we bring the world of both living and dead under our dominion. Munchausen is dead. I have toyed with his League enough, they are about to be eliminated. You can join me in supreme life or them in rotting death. Are you with me Jean?"
"You are indeed majestic and would bring much power to any who join you." Replied Jean. "Of you I have given plenty of thought."
A disturbance on the rim turned the warlock's attention. Two of the four remaining wolfmen, with their backs to a passageway, suddenly went over the edge to a hard lethal fall on the theatre floor. Juliette appeared at the passage entrance, she had pushed the two wolfmen off the rim simultaneously. A quick pistol shot from the courtesan, across the theatre hit a third wolfman; as he gripped the bloody hole in his chest he lurched forward and fell off the edge with his musket.
The last wolfman hurriedly leveled his musket towards the woman on the far side. Juliette had a ready pistol and recognised the situation was much like a duel. She had witnessed many pistol duels, quite a few fought over her, the victors taught her that the way to win a duel was to scare the opponent into a rushed ill aimed shot, then, after they miss, you can take the time to aim carefully and finish them off. She had just killed three of his brethren and by leveling her loaded pistol at the wolfman she gave every indication that she was going to make him a forth prompt kill. The desperate gunman panicked and rushed to the initiative, his musket was far from steady, it fired and missed Juliette by a foot. More careful aim was achieved by the woman, her shot entered the last wolfman's throat, he was thrown back against the wall, dead.
Joseph Curwen was was so focused on Juliette's interference that he did not notice Jean bring a hand to his alternate wrist and operate a mechanism. A strong spray of fluid burst from Jean's wrist towards the warlock. The perfumer had correctly ascertained that the invisible barrier protecting Curwen was not a solid wall but a mesh designed to stop normal projectiles. Jean could smell the warlock's mind twisting scent through the barrier, therefore it was a mesh and minute droplets of perfume could penetrate it. A good measure of the fluid, got through the barrier and doused Joseph Curwen, who, with a bitter scowl, turned on the levitated perfumer.
"What have you done?" Demanded Curwen, trying to deduce the nature of the fluid.
Jean just stared blankly at the angered sorcerer who held him in a grip.
"You're not with me at all." Shouted Curwen.
An angry swipe of his controlling hand flung Jean sideward to a painful impact against the cave wall. The perfumer had enough of his faculties left to prevent himself rolling of the rim into the amphitheatre. A familiar growl reverberated throughout the cave, it was The Beast and subsequent growls revealed that it was approaching the scene.
"I could have given you divine majesty over all creation Grenouille." Blared Curwen. "But no. You choose The League. My pet will tear you to shreds."
The huge black wolf with blood red eyes entered the chamber, let out a fierce growl then bounded around the amphitheatre rim towards Jean. Juliette was in its path, she promptly ducked back into the passageway, which the lupine fury passed without a look.
Hawkeye, Chingachook and Redmond had no more active crazies to deal with, the fire had terminated all of them. Each of the three availed themselves of a loaded musket, provided by the three wolfmen who fell into the pit. They aimed the firearms at the huge wolf running around the rim but, before either of them fired, an invisible force wrenched the muskets out of their grasp.
Joseph Curwen worked the disarming spell. The Beast will kill Grenouille then all the other members of this nuisance group. He was strangely perplexed when The League members, after being disarmed, began to grin as if in triumph. The perfumer was also grinning, despite the fact that The Beast was almost on him. Jean tore the squirt mechanism of his wrist and threw it at the warlock's feet, then lay face down as if dead. Juliette reappeared at the passageway and elicited her own grin at the situation.
The Beast got to Jean but, without stopping, bound over him and rushed its designated prey. At that moment, Joseph Curwen realised the concept of the fluid he was doused with, it was a perfume specifically designed to irresistibly attract wolves; anyone wearing it would be priority prey. The warlock desperately tried to issue a master's command to The Beast, but the savage animal was driven by an overriding primordial instinct.
As Joseph Curwen's eyes went wide with horror, he hoped his invisible barrier designed to ward off projectiles, will protect him from this unforeseen threat. It didn't. The Beast lunged at the warlock's chest sinking its huge teeth into the ribcage, Curwen was down, the snapping of his ribs could be heard through the agonised screams. Blood splattered on the podium as Curwen's screaming body was dragged this way and that as the growling wolf found more and more ways to maul the still warm flesh.
Jean got up to see The Beast tear big chunks of skin and tendons away from the warlock's body while he continued to scream. These ended when the strong lupine jowls closed on the victim's throat, destroying vocal and breathing organs.
A loud thudding reverberated throughout the cave, it was repeated as if a giant was stamping on the hill above. The Beast did not halt the massacre of its master. Light slowly became dark as the illuminating torches faded.
"Joseph Curwen is dead." Announced Hawkeye. "The illumination is derived from his magic, so now they are fading. We must leave here now."
With the last few seconds of light, The League members collected their personal weapons and climbed out of the amphitheatre. Chingachook tied a discarded garment around the muzzle of a musket and set it alight from the residual fires among the burning corpses. Juliette went back down the passageway and returned with a lit candle lantern; that and the Mohican's makeshift torch provided a little illumination as they backtracked towards the cave mouth.
Killing The Beast of Gevaudan was briefly discussed. There was not a shot among them to kill it with and it was too dark to aim anyway. They had eliminated Joseph Curwen, that's what was important. Everyone could hear that The Beast was still engaged in mauling his master.
Boom boom. That thunder continued, dirt fell from the cave ceiling with each thudding. Hawkeye, Chingachook and Redmond recognised the sound of cannon fire.
"We have to get out fast." Said Hawkeye.
Jean picked up the cat enclosure on the way. As they passed through the dining cavern, Juliette noticed Tom the cat meowing in fear on a ledge. She managed to entice the feline down into her arms where after an indulgent hug he was placed in the small enclosure.
The cave mouth was still open, only a few stalactites had fallen due to the cannon fire. A fresh pounding occurred while they were crossing the cavern floor, more stalactites fell, they landed dangerously close to The League as they rushed to reach the mouth.
"Everyone." Yelled Hawkeye. "Get to the mouth and wave."
All League members stepped into the afternoon sunlight and waved. A line of cannons were on top of the next hill; they went silent as The League waved.
"This is the second force M sent for." Said Hawkeye. "Let's go to them now."
The League exited the cave and made their way up the hill to the cannons. First to greet them was surprisingly, Baron Munchausen.
"My dear friends." He said while enthusiastically shaking hands and embracing. "My how relieved and happy I am to see you all alive and well."
M explained that when he was hurled towards the cave mouth, he managed to tip his trajectory, by hitting passing stalactites with his sabre, in favour of clearing the entrance without going splat against a wall. His flight came to a soft landing when he hit a plush willow tree and landed in a set of thick bushes. The cannon crews had arrived when he got up, so he watched over their set up.
A fresh and jubilant set of handshakes and embraces ensured once Munchausen was told that Joseph Curwen was dead; set upon by his own beastly pet.
"You did the right thing leaving when you did." Said M "The Beast is just a loose end. What's important is that you got Joseph Curwen. The world is now safe from his machinations. To make sure it stays that way I'm going to put this second force to task."
A man in British military uniform was the clear commander of these cannon crews, he was in his late thirties, short, slight, blond and blue eyed. M introduced the Lieutenant Colonel as Lord John Grey, a seasoned artillery commander who had come out of retirement for this special mission.
This artillery force had been hiding in the French countryside, while disguised as closed wagons. They knew that today was the day of deployment. Jack Absolute was part of their team. After The Baron pointed out the target site to the young cadet, he left on his horse to fetch them and lead the cannons here.
Jack Absolute approached The League for a brief re-acquaintance and congratulations before returning to his post.
All existing cannon loads were fired into the hillside with little effect. The League knew that it was this that produced the thunder sound heard within the cave.
Baron Munchausen unlocked an ornate box in the ammunition wagon he placed a red cannonball into the hands of each cannon loader, telling them that it will be the next round fired.
"These cannonballs look and feel different Baron." Said John Grey
"That's because they have been specially forged by Vulcan." Explained M
Soldiers, cadets, the commander and The League all stood in disbelief.
"Baron." Pleaded John Grey. "I don't want another tragic incident of artillery blowing up and killing my crew. It seems were dealing with highly potent ammunition."
"Oh it is." Said M. "Though they won't achieve that potency till after they're fired. Your cannon crews are quite safe. Trust me."
After all cannons were loaded, Lord John Grey gave the command to direct each shot to various points, indicated by Munchausen, on the cave's hill one shot would be fired into the cave mouth; this was done under the commander's expert supervision and aim.
"Fire." Ordered John Grey.
All cannons fired in sequence, all shots hit their designated points but what happened then defied logic. The hill erupted into a thundering dark cloud of dirt and rock, the bang roared throughout the countryside. Everyone except Munchausen expected to be showered with debris. Although the thundering sound echoed outwards, the solid mass of churned dirt and rock rushed into a vacuum at its centre. This was not an explosion but an implosion.
It took a minute for the large cloud of churned matter to settle. The hill wasn't there anymore, it had been leveled. There was no cave, it had been filled in. All grass had been overturned, it was a layer of dirt now with the occasional rock. Anyone still in that cave would certainly be dead and buried now.
"The Beast." Said Hawkeye. "We didn't see it leave the cave; which means it's buried in that settled mass of dirt."
"Quite right Hawkeye." Replied M. "If by some miracle it survived the implosion, it would then have to dig its own way out. There is almost no chance that it would bother this countryside again."
"One more question Baron." Asked Hawkeye. "If the cannons could do that to Curwen's lair, why were we sent in to combat him and his wolfmen."
"Because if we didn't go in and kill him, this artillery unit would never have completed this act of necessary destruction." Answered M.
Hawkeye was puzzled and showed it. Lord John Grey stepped in to give greater explanation.
"Destroying Joseph Curwen with raw artillery has been attempted before." Explained the commander. "A few months ago Curwen had set up a base of operations in Russia. The Czarina knew of his dark practices and ordered him wiped off the face of the Earth. An artillery unit was deployed to deal with him. Its commander was a captain called Ivan Mironov. He set up his many cannons outside Curwen's lair then gave his crew the order to fire. Immediately after sending a volley to the lair, the artillery unit was suddenly wiped out by return fire. It was already ascertained that Joseph Curwen had no artillery of his own. Ivan Mironov and a few injured raggedy survivors limped back to headquarters.
"A second team was sent there, but Curwen had fled and made his way here. An investigation of the unfortunate artillery unit revealed that their own cannonballs had been fired back at them. This was the warlock's sorcery, it had stopped the shots in mid flight and bounced them back, with all their destructive potential, to the cannons that fired them. Captain Ivan Mironov was sent to the Kazakh frontier to command a fort, though his sense of failure kept him downhearted.
"The same would have happened to us if The League did not enter the cave, penetrate Curwen's defences and terminate him. In the end we were just there for good measure. The first cannon shots were a test to see if he could repeat what he did in Russia. He couldn't, I heard from you later that he was dead by then. The next few rounds were a warning to all allies inside to get out. You did so."
"Once The League was clear and we heard that Curwen was dead." Added M "We could then deliver the real payload and wipe his research, his pet, his wolfmen and his legacy off the face of the Earth."
Hawkeye turned to Munchausen and revealed his fresh bruises.
"Baron, we all have many new bruises from that ordeal. I hope you have a lot of ointment in your Chateau de Lune and champagne too."
"I do have all that." M grinned. "As for tomorrow, I have something special planned to mark this brilliant victory for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen."
Guy Loup stared at the head of the wolfskin he was carrying, he felt the spirit of the wolf surge through him. The boy had eluded The League and got clear of the cave before the artillery unit arrived, he watched from a distance as the lair and hill itself was destroyed by the powerful cannon fire.
The sun was setting, it wasn't just setting on this day but on the wolfman cult of which he was a proud member. It was gone, Joseph Curwen was gone and the Beast of Gevaudan was gone. Guy had fed, looked after and touched The Beast, its essence was in him as was the wolf spirit, these qualities will make him a great General one day.
He will return to his home and to school. The wolf spirit will always be there to help him grow up and hold true to his resolve. He would become a great warrior and in time start his own order of wolfmen.