The fireworks after the race were keeping everyone distracted, and those with especially sensitive ears would not be able to overhear them over it. Not that she suspected many wanted to besides the ‘busybodies’, but there were too many of those already. Lisa followed her to a nearby park, but Rayn had tailed them both. He was a feral fox, and Beryl thought she could share with him safely, but the cold feeling crept over her. “If you say anything, Mr. Fox, of what you have overheard, you will have to join Cyan in a hospital bed. And I won’t be coming read to you.”
Rayn was visibly upset and startled, but he agreed to say nothing. The tense moment passed into an awkward silence until Lisa approached, “Beryl… I want to know how *you* feel. Not Miss Byrne or anyone else – you.”
“Upset. Angry. Resentful. Sad.” Her words came haltingly, as if something was trying to hold her tongue. She stopped fighting it and let the calm demeanor come over her.
Lisa did not like seeing the shift in behavior happening before her eyes, and proceeded cautiously, waiting for the loudest of the fireworks display to play out before continuing, “At the urchins? Because of what happened three years ago?”
“It may have started three or four years ago, but if the situation never stopped is that history, or the present?” It was a bitter rhetorical question, asked mockingly. “You were not there. You may be family, but my orders fall in a way that I cannot tell you. One says that I can only tell family, and the other I could only tell an urchin unless Lady Byrne directly asked me. Is it any wonder I’ve gone mad?”
“But,” Lisa said as she bit her lip, “I was an urchin once? I’m almost too old now, but..” Lisa turned to Rayn. He was not family nor an urchin. She pleaded with her eyes for him to let them be alone. The small fox left reluctantly, looking back at her with concern before heading to the hospital.
After it was certain he was gone Beryl moved to where they could not be seen, hiding behind a wall in the park. She sat against it placing her head to rest against the unwashed brick. Her expression returned to the one Lisa remembered, one without a trace of cruelty within it.
“Lady Byrne has been good to me. The urchins did this to themselves. You know how I became the adult liaison right?” Lisa nodded vaguely, she had been on probation in the asylum at the time. “Except I was not. Emerson was chosen, not me. They kept me on so they could have two just to confuse people. Just to keep everyone utterly confused, Myrtil decided not to tell Emerson or me that there were two liaisons.”
She scratched at the ground idly, tearing up the weak grass beneath her claws, “Other urchins argued with Myrtil about this saying we shouldn’t keep another urchin in the dark, even though I was only an ‘honorary one’.” She had been an adult before ever entering New Babbage the first time. “So she said Beryl can no longer be an honorary urchin, and the urchins agreed. Tepic, Cyan, so many more, they all agreed and kept me in the dark, though they had ample opportunities to tell me the truth. They lied to me for so long that they themselves have forgotten they did it.”
She remembered Myrtil and Jimmy at the Imperial Theater where she met after getting her letter. Myrtil had made her swear to put the urchins interests first if she was going to take the job and keep all their secrets hidden, and she did because she trusted them. Her next order, was that she and everyone had agreed that she was not an ‘honorary urchin’ while she was the adult liaison.
Her new oath to serve at the will of the urchins made her put that above her own interests. She was told next that this took precedent over the urchin oath that was overridden as long as she was the liaison.
“I wasn’t their friend anymore. I was their tool, whether anyone realized it or not. I certainly did not at first,” She paused a moment, the music from the festivity down the street was drifting over the walls. The sounds of joyful celebration would have been nice to join again. But this might be her only opportunity to speak ever again, “Because when they sent me after Nicholas Herding, to find out if he was a murderer or simply a pimp who beat his women, Myrtil was able to force me to proceed her way. I could not find my own way of investigating him, but had to pretend to be a lady of the night he could employ.
“I did that job, faithfully, even if I thought it was dangerous and stupid. I hated how I was forced to approach it, but there was nothing I could do. Their will overrode my own. We were successfully faking everything between my friends and myself, not having to do the job in truth, and then Cyan came in and ordered me not to die.”
“With Myrtil’s strict orders, I had to still proceed as I had been, but had to do whatever it took to not be slain. I had to ensure Nicholas fully believed I served him now, so I was compelled to betray my friends who had already made threatening gestures to Mr. Nicholas, set them up to fail, and then when they screwed up Nicholas knew I had warned him. Knew he could trust me more. But I had not expected what came next..”
She had avoided the same mistake with Nicholas that she did with the urchins and Emerson. The familiar had never made a deal to work for him and instead let the man take it for granted. But as he closed on her the night after Quillman was attacked, he offered her a new deal. He would not strike her again, so long as she worked for him and never again thought of leaving his service. The compulsion from Myrtil to continue the investigation meant she could not leave left wiggle room to make it appear she agreed without actually committing. But the order from cyan to not die no matter the cost, she could not hesitate, and made the deal before she could even think. She had only been able to scream on the inside. It hadn’t meant she had to do the job properly with friends who would not out her to him, but for a time she feared this would be her new permanent lot in life.
Beryl glossed over it, though she could still see the tears welling up in Lisa’s eyes. It was better not to dwell on that moment, “It was not long after all till the riot and he attacked me anyways, releasing me from that. But Myrtil saw what had happened and gave me a new order. It stated that I was still the adult liaison, there had been a vote after all, but that I was on extended leave and to wait till they contacted me about it.”
They never had. Not being on active duty still meant that she was the adult liaison. It still meant that the orders she had been given were in effect. It still meant she was not bound by the urchin oath, nor that she was an honorary urchin.
“So you see it now? Many never knew the urchins voted to cast me out, those that did are gone or forgot it ever happened, and the final order told me not to discuss it until I was approached about it. So when it came time to deal with Itsy, I just abandoned them…but then the Hag came and things got so much worse. Lady Byrne saved me…but gave me a few orders too.
Keep your head high, smile, only show weakness to family, no one else deserves to see what lies within.
Lisa grimaced at this, but the next order was worse.
Unlike the other fools who have claimed you before, I will not use you like a tool or strain your good will until there is nothing left of you. I do not need you, and that alone will be good for you. But I do say, Little Cat, that as part of this family, you will protect this family above all others. Let others suffer their own stupidity, but defend this family with your life as we shall protect you. Anyone who threatens us will be crushed. Do you understand?
And there was a final active order…her friends had noticed her dramatic change in behavior caused by first the Hag breaking her, and then sparks of Lady Byrne’s own personality flashing through to give her strength.
Why do these fools keep annoying you after all this. You were hurt and it takes time to piece someone back together. Why can’t they just leave you alone? You know what, they want me to be bad? Let us *be* bad. Make them suffer Little Cat. Make them regret messing with my family.
“Now you know the truth,” Beryl finished sadly. Lisa’s face was wet, close to sobbing outright. She turned away from it. “I have not been one of the good guys for two years, and what happened three years ago never went away.”
‘It’s a wonder you haven’t gone completely mad, being pulled so many ways like this. Even I’m guilty of pushing you too much when you came back from her, aren’t I?” Lisa looked at the ground, unsure what to say beyond, “I’m sorry. Is… is there anything the urchins could do to end their part in all this?”
“Saying you’re sorry isn’t going to cut it,” Beryl said bitterly. “Myrtil and Cyan eventually apologized, but it does nothing. Remember when Tepic was compelled to work himself to death for Popplefot?”
Lisa nodded as she recalled that bitter time and what it took to release the boy from his burden, “They need to release you, don’t they?”
“From the liaison position completely?” Beryl snorted. “Good luck with that! It was a vote, Lisa. It would have to be another vote to get rid of me or it wouldn’t be the will of the urchins.”
She considered it slightly, “I can talk to Tepic. He’ll at least understand what you’re going through, once I explain it.”
“He doesn’t even remember it! I tried to tell him about it twice even dropping hints, since he was the only one who might organize something besides Jimmy. And…he forgot. I was abandoned and cast out…and he forgot.” Myrtils order that the urchin oath did not apply to her meant she wasn’t family to either of them. Phaedra had ordered to keep her pain hidden from those that weren’t family. It had been a perfect, unintended, mess that left her out in the cold.
“Family can share what I tell them,” She added with a look at Lisa. “But do not approach Lady Byrne. If you do, I will have to make you suffer. She does not want to be disturbed by this at all. In fact if all the busybodies were to just promise to leave her alone the order would be fulfilled and lose any meaning. The other orders, well they’re just reality now.”
“Who is family to you now…and how did I count?” Lisa asked, not ready for her friend to turn cold again yet. The music was dying, and their time being candid was growing short.
“Lady Byrne, Pip, maybe Lapis one day but that’s doubtful,” She almost laughed to herself. It was doubtful he was aware she was part of the Byrne family currently. They had been quiet about it until recently. “As for you, I may have cheated a little. Family is Kin, and it can also mean Folk, which is the cat word for cats. I joined with your Folk, and so they and you are my family as well.”
Lisa smiled, wiping away some of her own tears. She just happened to be the only ‘Folk’ who was also an urchin. Her smile faded slowly, “I’ll be careful with what you’ve told me. But I’ll drop what are hopefully the right words in the right ears, and we’ll see what happens.”
Beryl stood up quickly, the revelers were coming down the street, nearing hearing distance. She quickly whispered to Lisa as she straightened herself. “I hate what I’ve become at times. Not with Lady Byrne, but with the urchins.” As she spoke her voice took on its colder tone once again. “But you cannot say they aren’t getting exactly what they deserve.” She walked away, head high and smiling. There wasn’t a trace of pain left on her features at all as she joined the crowd returning to their homes.