Chapter 28

"A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day!"
- Aragorn, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

The sun was just setting as Blake slipped underneath Waterloo Bridge. They had been able to link parts of the sewage system to the river before, and this served as their passageway. There were entrances all over this side of the Thames; he and the others had made their way through the network.

"Evenin', guv'nor," one of his men greeted with a bored smile. "Not a peep from the oth'r side, sir, not even a volley to remind us that they're there."

"Keep at it, Smith," Blake offered, patting the other man on the back. "We still have a ways to go." The men who had arrived earlier were sorting through boats and weapons that they had brought with them. "Still a ways to go."

"Aye, and there's a war to be fought," Smith granted as Blake helped him pull a boat closer to the water. "Never thought I'd be waitin' in the sewers for my turn to get at 'em."

Blake could only offer a small smile as he piled a pair of oars into the boat. "Neither did I, Smith — but I never thought I'd be fighting this war." Smith gave no answer as he moved off to help others. There would be more supplies coming in later, and they had to make sure they were ready to receive them. This was their time, and Blake would make sure his team would be able to render assistance to their allies.

It felt good to be back on the Nautilus again. Tom was in the bridge with Nemo and some of his men, going over their route down the river. It wasn't very far, but it was essential that they not be caught along the way. There was no obvious difference to being on land, but the gentle hum of the ship's mighty engines and the movement of the men aboard reminded him of the old days when he was still a Secret Agent.

He liked it here, even though he was standing on the cargo bay, near the giant doors that would open soon. The ship was not yet in motion, but he knew it was almost time for the others to move. The other men in the hold were quiet, but there was a sort of anticipation thick in the air, like jam on toast. His faithful companion was beside him, a floating rifle.

Skinner was silent for once as he nervously fingered the gun. They had found a spare rifle for him, and this was it; it was an old service weapon, but it worked spectacularly.

Beside him, Mina lounged casually against a crate. Death was her forte and it showed; she was perhaps the most relaxed in the hold. She had not changed so much in ten years.

Jekyll was with the other teams. The last Tom had seen of him, before they had boarded the Nautilus, he had been clad in his pants and a loose white shirt that had seen better days. He had been playing with a vial of formula.

Nemo was above decks. He would join them later. Damon had been with him but he had come done before to speak to some of the men. Now he returned to wait with the ex-League members.

Tom's watch clicked to one o'clock. He held his breath; would the plan work?

The Nautilus was cruising now. He could feel it in his bones, in the gentle hum of the engines as they kicked into gear. He tensed up, ready for combat. Nemo came into the hold, still regal and with some more of his men.

"The assault has begun," he said simply. "We are moving towards Customs House."

Chauvelin watched this with a sulky look. They were guarding him in a way; Mina was more than enough to keep him under control. "You'll want to watch out for any boats on the water. There may be a few patrols."

Nemo nodded. No doubt he already knew of the patrols and had taken the necessary precautions to avoid them.

"It's about bloody time this war got started," Skinner muttered from his place.

As expected, the fighting was fierce. Blake watched as some of his friends in the police force were gunned down by Second Reich or Underground. He felt saddened that he had to see good men go, but it cheered him slightly to know that some of them changed sides in the fighting. He watched as a constable wearing a Second Reich uniform turned on his companions, knocking them out with the help of a friend from the Yard.

He was pushed along by the surge. He fired at some oncoming Second Reich. He shot to kill.

He did not realize it, but the battlefield was spreading and there were more people joining the fighting. The group fought their way to Somerset House, where someone opened the door for them.

"In! Inside now!" he yelled, ducking into the cover of the doorway. It was riddled with bullets as his men escaped to the relative safety of the building. He took a few shots at the Second Reich before he felt someone grip him by the back of his collar and pull him in as the door was slammed shut.

The door was quickly barred by some of the original men who had come here. The doctors were already fanning out to help the injured. He looked out for his friend, anxious to know whether he had made it or if Arsène had been captured. He cornered the nearest person and asked him where Arsène Lupin was. The man said that no Arsène had joined them. Blake's heart sank but he knew this was no time for grief. If Arsène was dead, then there would be more than enough Second Reich to follow him.

There was a commotion from upstairs. One of the men ran down, his head in a bandage. "Look! Look outside! The sky! Look at the sky!"

Blake ran to a side window facing the window. He was joined by other excited people and he craned his neck to peer at the sky. At first he didn't see anything, then a broad streak of red flew in a graceful arc through the sky. His eyes followed it, and then he jerked backwards when it landed and exploded in the middle of scattering Second Reich soldiers.

Firecrackers. Who in the world used firecrackers in war?

He knew the answer. Blake grinned and looked towards Cleopatra's Needle. Between the explosions' flashes, he could see a thin figure gallivanting about the top of the needle, stepping on the sloped top with the surefootedness of a goat on a mountain. He recognized that figure anywhere and he laughed out loud when the figure whipped off his hat and bowed jauntily to the awestruck soldiers below him. Arsène's sense of humor never let up.

Arsène had kept his lair a secret, even from his Underground friends. The Needle had been his base for two years now; he had discovered its underground secrets while snooping around for information on the black marketers. (#1) He had been keeping it as a secret getaway in case he needed it, and he had, when he had lowered the bridge to stop the advancement of the Second Reich. Somerset House had been surrounded and there had been no way of getting in, no matter how crafty or cunning he could be. So he had retired to his place in the Needle, where he had weapons, some food and some treasure hoarded. The firecrackers had been leftovers from Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and he had kept them out of whim. He had never thought they would become so useful in such a situation.

He saw the faces crowding at the windows of Somerset House, and he whipped off his hat to bow at them, in a most theatrical gesture.

As the fighting took place further down the river, the Nautilus rose silently out of the water, slicing through it with the barest of sounds.

It came close to the bank. Quietly the men filed out, taking pains to be undetectable. Mina glared at Chauvelin as he followed behind Skinner and Tom. They were pulling out the large lifeboats they had secreted in the hold. The first of the boats slipped into the water and more followed.

Tom made a motion, and a section of the men broke off from the others. They climbed into the boats and lit lamps, but kept the light low. Tom trailed behind.

None of them were under any illusion that there would be no deaths. They also knew this could possibly be the last time they saw each other alive. After the war was over, if they were still alive, then they would bury friends and comrades, none of who would be forgotten.

They didn't exchange words. They just nodded to each other and then Tom was on the first boat, pushing off with an oar.

High above them, a firecracker erupted in a spectacular explosion of sparks.

(#1) In The Hollow Needle, one of the Lupin stories, the Hollow Needle is a gigantic rock formation off the Normandy Coast, near Ettretat. Maurice Leblac proposes that it is hollow and used to house the secret treasures of the Kings of France. Some creative license has been exercised in this regard.