Cyan was waiting in the alley, his urchin friends and Baird guarding the entrances and exits while he stood in a dead end in the twisting back alleys. It was dark, but he could see with his weak lamp when held high. His shadow danced on the wall beside him as he waited with growing anxiety. Neither Rayn nor Beryl had returned and the clocks of the city finished ringing the final stroke of midnight.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t you or another urchin,” Beryl purred from behind which made the cub jump as he twisted about in surprise. He could now see Beryl in her black rose decaled dress crouched behind him. She slowly stood up on her hind legs to preserve the dress, “I am usually followed everywhere, but you summoned me, so I’ve come.”
“Oh….” After his initial start he remembered that Beryl was like Tepic. Perhaps her sudden appearance should not have surprised him. “Do you need a place to hide? We can duck into my place.”
“I have no need to hide, but choose another location for our next meeting. Did Myrtil tell you anything about our endeavor?” The feline shook her head at the lack of communication to the other children.
“No.” Cyan would soon rectify that oversight. “I was concerned about you with all the talk at the bar earlier. Can you tell me what’s going on?”
He listened to her quiet explanation, the only person who could hear her. At every entrance, even Baird and the other urchins believed that Cyan was waiting for a visitor that was not coming. At the end she confessed, “I couldn’t refuse to do it.”
“I understand the not saying no part,” the youth had been around Tepic long enough to know that much. “But wouldn’t there have been a different way to… agree without agreeing? Or is that more of a Tepic trick?”
“Sometimes I can find a way out of things, but this time I couldn’t. I swore the urchin oath remember?”
“True,” The cheetah cub let out a sigh as he recalled the wording. “Well don’t get yourself hurt over this.” Cyan grinned as he focused on the wording to help his argument, “The oath means you are technically an urchin too and have to protect yourself!”
Beryl shook her head, and her counterpoint made Cyan deflate slightly, “Sadly, while I’m performing these duties for Myrtil she made it quite clear I’m not to consider or think of myself as an urchin. She needed an adult to do the job…and I accepted it.”
The boy crossed his arms stubbornly, making his own shadow make a grotesque form on the wall. He made a note to give Myrtil a piece of his mind the next time he saw her, “Well you’re still an urchin to me.”
“Perhaps you should discuss that with Myrtil. For now, I am simply doing what I need to for Fly.” Strifeclaw replied, and her answer just made Cyan sigh louder as he dropped his arms and scratched at the back of his head.
“Well, then if you ever need some place to get away from it all my attic is yours.”
Beryl considered the offer for a moment, before she declined gratefully, “I appreciate the offer, but I can take care of myself. Nicholas does not hit that hard.”
Cyan didn’t know if he should be more upset at Myrtil, Nicholas, or if he should just feel sad at the entire situation. The way that Beryl accepted her poor treatment at the hands of friends and enemies alike. “Maybe not, but I know you, Beryl. You can take care of yourself, but you don’t always choose to. I am just offering you a safehaven for when you need to escape. Just because you can take a hit doesn’t mean you still can’t be broken!”
Cyan’s impassioned words were louder than he intended, Baird at the end of the walk was the only one who heard even an echo besides Beryl herself. She paused to consider his point for the first time since she began this endeavor. “Yes, I have been…broken many times in the past.” More than Cyan could ever understand.
“Yes! And that is why I am worried!” Cyan shouted, trying to get through to his friend. The feline looked at the ground, unable to meet the cheetah’s gaze any longer. She considered her past, long before Nicholas there had been Oskir’s drunken rants, the Doberman’s, even Canergak and Doctor Dinosaur. More than she could count in fact.
She looked back at him, “Cyan, I’ve been kicked, punched, beaten, and derided for years before I ever came to New Babbage. That’s just how my life is.”
“Yes, but that’s not, or at least shouldn’t be your life now! You have completely changed and grown from the Arnold I knew!” He said as he took a step closer. “It’s great that you want to protect people, but you don’t have to burn yourself in order to do it! This should not be your normal life!”
Beryl kept her gaze lowered, not raising her head to match his indignant fury. “Would this be a bad time to tell you that I always intended to antagonize him. Encourage his rage so that he would strike me? I wanted him to believe I was too weak to fight back.”
“Well,” Cyan said with a growing frown, “If you knew what you were in for I guess you were prepared…but I hope that was all.”
“No. It gets worse,” She lifted her gaze again to study Cyan as she confessed her plan until now. “My first strategy was intended to follow the exact path that got Amnely’s killed. If I tried to leave in the exact same way I could learn if he was the murderer that way.”
“Ummmm,” Cyan shook himself slightly to overcome his initial shock. He tried to put this delicately, without insulting his friend. “I think you need a slightly updated plan unless you plan to kill him instead.”
“Oh no,” Beryl said quickly. “I was never going to kill him, even if he tried to kill me.”
“...What?!” Cyan’s jaw dropped, “So you planned on being killed?!”
“My plan wasn’t that terrible,” Beryl was insulted that he would even suggest that. Cyan sighed, this time in relief.
The cat misinterpreted the expression as one of exasperation, “Listen, my plan was simple. I would get his trust as an effective girl of the evening. Then when the beatings came he would trust that I was breaking just like Amnely’s. Then I would make like I was going to run away just like she did. If he really was guilty of her murder he would try to kill me next!”
Cyan was silent for a short time as he watched his friend’s plan spelled out for the first time. He almost wanted to cry as he asked, “Imagine for a moment Myrtil told you what you just told me. What would you have told her?”
Beryl froze, as the words replayed in her own mind from Myrtil’s mouth. The imagery sent a chill down her spine. The determined and strong willed urchin would never say something like that, but it was still clear in her mind.
The cat took a moment to respond this time, “I…I wouldn’t stop her. But….I would mention that…maybe this plan sounded better in her head?”
“Well, there’s an alternate plan now anyways,” She countered to quickly change the subject, “He might have the last half of a letter that could serve as evidence.”
“That’s a better plan… just don’t get caught finding it!” Cyan replied with enthusiasm. “Otherwise it could lead more quickly to the end you described earlier.” He took a quick breath to steady himself and to gather his thoughts. Beryl blessedly didn’t reply or add anything that would fluster him any further as he gathered his wits.
“Look, there’s just two things you need to think about. One is, and forgive me I’m a feline too, there is more than one way to skin a cat.” Beryl still growled at his poor taste all the same. “The other is work Smarter, not harder. And both basically mean there’s better ways to reach your goal if you think about it.”
“That’s what I did,” Beryl rebuttaled. “He’ll be underestimating me if I play a weak woman the entire time…besides I had a backup plan.”
The lad shrugged weakly, the emotional conversation had left him feeling tired along with the time, “Just make sure you don’t lose your strength when you need it the most though, what was the backup plan? Was it better than the first you mentioned?”
She paused as she considered the words coming from Myrtil’s mouth instead of her own. “It was just as ‘good’ as the first one I mentioned.”
Cyan stared at her for a short time, and then he couldn’t help it. The absurdity of it all made him laugh as he shook his head. Baird at the end of the road wondered if his friend was okay down there alone, talking to himself. “Umm yeah… you now have a better plan. Find the note and get out. And if he doesn’t have it anymore you should consider other non-lethal options.”
“I am fairly certain that I will not die,” She replied quickly. “I am trying to avoid that fate.”
“No, I need you to make sure you don’t die.” Cyan drew himself up despite his growing fatigue and exhaustion. He spoke like he was making a pronouncement, and trying to assert some form of authority from his ten year old frame.
The feline stopped a moment as she considered the feline across from her. Did he know what he was doing? “Is that an order?”
“Yes,” Cyan seized on the word quickly. “That is an order. Don’t die. Otherwise I won’t have someone to call me the ‘not cat’.
Beryl felt herself, her thoughts, and her priorities shifted with those simple but commanding words. “Well…there goes my back-up, back-up, back-up plan.”
She gave Cyan an enigmatic cheshire grin that made him giggle. He wouldn’t have laughed so hard if he knew that if her secondary fallback strategy failed the last contingency she had written out stated ‘Well, now I die.’ Since no one else would have a reason to kill her currently, Wright and the others had been told to investigate Nicholas immediately.
“Come on! We’re cats! We’re devious! You can think of something that doesn’t involve your death! Or near death!”
“Well, it didn’t. Just a little pain, but I will do as you ordered then. I will not die.”
“Great,” Cyan said with some relief as he lowered his lantern for a moment.
She closed her eyes and turned away from him, seeming to blend into the shadows, “But you might not like what I do to ensure it.”
“What?!” Cyan re-lifted the lantern into the dead end, illuminating every stone. There was nothing there. He lowered his light feeling dread creeping into him as he realized that he had just given the familiar an order. What had he really done?