Candance arrived at the hospital to distressing news. Felina captured, the one who called her back to Babbage. The clockwork had managed to discover at least one name before she lost contact. Beatrixe Rouse.
It was not much to go on, but Captain Heinrichs insisted they had no better leads. Candance joined with Lunnete and her friend Bryan in following her. Wendy and Lisa stayed behind to inform Doctor Wright when he arrived. The group departed for Clockhaven searching for Beatrixe tea shop and became quite lost.
Rayn Demark, covered in numerous bandages from a recent encounter, overheard their plight and led the way for the posse. It took him several minutes to ascend the stairs, but they all waited for him politely as he then led them to the establishment. The Captain double checked her revolver, and then put it away. “Thank you, Mr. Rayn. Alright, let’s do this cautiously – we don’t really know what we’re walking into.”
They all agreed and went into the shop and were greeted warmly, the smell of chamomile tea wafting invitingly into the cold Babbage air. Beatrixe waved excitedly to everyone, “Oh my, we aren’t usually this busy! If this continues, I’ll get into a tizzy!”
Candance had been expecting the kidnappers to appear distraught, panicked, or at least unwelcoming, to the Captain. But she was surprised as Spalding Rookswood also invited them up with friendly gestures. “Hello all! Care for some tea!”
The third sat silent, but they were not the focus of anyone’s attention yet. Bookworm responded with some warmth despite her guarded manner, “Hello, Beatrixe.”
“Don’t stand outside in the snowy bend, come in and drink with my new friends!” Bea insisted quickly, “Quick before we lose the heat of coal, please oh please shut that pneumonia hole!”
Book and her posse shut the door behind them. Once inside, they examined around the newly discovered business. Lunette and Candance studied the decor with some interest, but the Captain kept on task, “New friends, eh? You’re… Mr. Rookswood, aren’t you?”
Candance recalled the last time she saw him, threatening Cyan on Halloween. It did not bode well that he might be involved in this if Felina’s message was true. Spalding beamed towards the Captain. He did not seem to feel guilty, and neither of the two had seemed to notice the gravity of the situation. “Yes, I am. So, what can we do for you Captain? Here to join our tea party?”
“It does look fun though, maybe another day yes?” Lunette seemed to think a tea party sounded fun, but Bookworm and the others looked at their companion puzzled and somewhat concerned. The girl looked between them wondering if she shouldn’t have said anything.
“You are not going to order a cup of tea? Well good company is always free.” Beatrixe rhymed as she finished off her cup and went to pour another.
Bookworm directed her attention at Bea. “I’ve heard reports of rather… unusual machines being spotted around the city lately. Somehow, I couldn’t help but think of you.”
“Is this about the clockwork Squirrel traps? Cause those were catching a lot of things I wasn’t going for.”
Lunette tilted her head even more confused, “Are the squirrels bad things?”
Beatrixe shook her head, her metal eye gently reflecting the light into everyone’s eyes for a second at different intervals. “Oh my, no! We just had to borrow their cognators. Those are hard to make and…hard to rhyme with!”
Bookworm frowned and continued her subtle line of questioning, it seemed she was on to ‘something’ at least. “Those are useful things, cognators?” The captain tried to ignore Lunette who suggested rhyming it with gators. Candance quietly complimented the lass for her ingenuity.
“Personality, thoughts, program, sentience, complex or simple it is basically a clockwork brain.”
Bookworm asked idly, “What did you need them for?”
“Oh, we got them to agree to get into the broom bots. They’re having a great time cleaning up the city with us.”
“Mmm. I hadn’t realized you’d decided to take such a task on yourselves.” Bookworm remained standing, but continued to lead the trio where she wanted. She even let herself admire the decorations for a moment.
“Yes. They were a huge help at the archive the other day, for example.” Bea poured another cup while blowing on it gently. Steam wafted off of it, still clearly hot. “Just before Beryl burned the archives that is.”
“Oh?” Bookworm did not look at them, but Candance could tell that she was surprised by that accusation. “Did you see her set the fire?”
“Oh no. We set the fire,” Beatrixe confessed simply and waved her metal hand dismissively as she sipped her chamomile, “She just must have tipped it over. And after all the hard work we put into cleaning it up too.”
Candance wondered if investigations were always this easy. She mumbled under her breath angrily, she had been hoping to see the archives herself one day but had not known about the fire. Bookworm openly grimaced and muttered, “All of Junie’s hard work…”
“Yes it was a mess, I must confess.” Spalding piped up again, “But we cleaned it right and left in the night.”
Seeing how distraught Bookworm was, Beatrixe tried to console her and told them what they burned was deliberate. The works of Brother N. Ing and Father Dru Paul…or the other way around. They also made sure to clean the slate with the images from the Cleanslate years. Lunette tried not to giggle too loudly, though Bryan loosened his collar a bit uncomfortably at the mention of fire. Bea concluded, “We didn’t see the kitty burn the stuff, but Mr. Hare figured it out, since Beryl is hurting everyone around her.”
Bookworm ascended the stairs and looked at the silent fox, who had not said anything yet. The arctic fox woman examined her back just as silently. Rayn kept his silence, his breathing labored from his wounds, while Lunette and Bryan whispered to each other. Bookworm was possibly regretting her choice in companions, but the message had seemed urgent. Candance hoped Cyan and Felina were all right. She turned away from the others, starting to look for any clues of Cyan while also checking out the menu.
Bea spoke for her, “She usually has more to say, but does not seem to like you today. It would appear that I lost the bet, because I thought you’d like each other when you met. But even if all of us do not strike the right cord, we would be willing to testify against the mean kitty on the record.”
Bookworm asked softly, “You’ve been concerned about what the mean kitty is doing?”
“Yes, she has threatened most of us,” Bea gestured to her mechanical limbs. “Much of this the mean kitty did, the not Beryl, but then Beryl isn’t Beryl now.” Candance found that sentence confusing, but the mouse woman was not done yet. The moreau gestures to her fox companion, “She threatened her too.”
Bookworm shifted her gaze among the members of the tea party. “Is that so?”
The fox nodded, using her soft voice for the first time tonight. She had been staring into an empty cup. “Yes. The kitty is more than meets the eye… and I thought I would die..”
Bryan, who had been quiet himself to this point, smiled and rhymed with her, “To die would be but to touch the sky. But a pity without a reason why.”
The fellow chuckled to himself, but the fox stiffened and she seemed to fold into herself. Candance couldn’t see well from her angle, but she looked distraught.
Bookworm saw the exchange and inquired cautiously, “So have you done anything to protect yourselves?”
Bea was about to tell her, when suddenly a foot kicked the door of the tea shop open, knocking Bryan back several feet and gave a yelp as his arm was dislocated. Wright stomped inside the establishment uncaring and clearly pissed off. Candance nearly jumped out of her skin and landed near the stairs under Book, Lunette turned so quickly she almost lost her balance in shock, the barista behind the counter just ducked out of sight at this point. Book whirled around, muttering under her breath that all subtlety had just been lost. The fox turned and glared at Wright, while the others merely looked surprised.
“Wolfy!!” Beatrixe waved happily to her old warden. “Why are you kicking down my door?”
“Because you Keep Making Horrors!!” Wright shouted as he cracked his knuckles, “WHERE IS THAT TROUBLEMAKER!?”
“What horrors?” Bea asked calmly, as she asked him to shut the door. Lunette helped Bryan as she wondered aloud, “Is it a wolf thing to yell? I get it a lot from Nell…”
“Winter, maybe you should go upstairs and hide. Wolfy sometimes gets like this.”
The arctic fox moreau nodded and slowly got up, her body visibly trembling as she made her way to the stairs, “I shall take my leave.”
Bookworm made no move to impede her progress, she had other concerns now as Wright had focused his attention on Spalding. The wolf pointed with a growl, “AND YOU! There but for the GRACE OF MY GOD have you not been dragged off and thrown onto the third floor of the asylum.”
Spalding looked about for someone else as his target, “Who me? Why I am perfectly sane.”
Wright growled and Bookworm tried to glare at him as he had interrupted a productive questioning. Rayn slowly spoke up, “Wait I recognize you… the fox…you were the one hiding the tracks after Otis was taken.”
“Taken? Do you mean when we helped him out?” Beatrixe looked to the others, even Wright turned to her again. Bea didn’t seem worried and took a looooong deep breath. As she did so, Bryan gave a yelp as Lunette popped his arm into place. Finally, Bea explained in a single rushed breath, “Well we went there to remind him of the tea party in the dreams, but then he didn’t remember those dreams at all! So we had to help him, but it wasn’t helping at the clockwork knocked him over! So he had a concussion. Then I remembered all those times I got in trouble for not helping a hurt person! So I helped him! But to make certain he was safe we didn’t take him to the hospital where the kitty was so we took him over here and took care of him and he’s happy now!
“WHAT THE HELL?!?!?” Wright shouted, they were starting to get an audience. Lunette wiped her hands on her pants, “Well, they seem pretty sane to me…” Wright responded, “I swear, if I COULD have a heart attack, you people would be the cause!!”
Candance looked back and forth among the arguing adults and sighed. It seemed they weren’t getting anywhere, and Cyan and Felina were still in danger. As her companions argued about who seemed sane or insane, Bookworm had caught the more important clue, “Otis is here? May I talk with him?”
“Yes, he’s here, but he is in the secret place we found the Alice.” Beatrixe said, it was then that Candance realized Winter had ascended the stairs. She started to edge that way herself as they argued about what the ‘Alice’ was. Unfortunately Beatrixe stood up and was standing on the stairway herself.
“So he’s captive and you have a bloody Alice,” Wright responded and Bookworm shot him another glared. The Captain took a deep breath and continued, “Then perhaps you could bring him from the secret place to here. That way the secret place will remain secret, because we don’t know where that is, but we all know where this is.”
Candance watched the Captain cross her fingers, clearly hoping she had followed the logic that drove their madness. Beatrixe rubbed her chin with those metal arms, “I suppose we can bring Otis up. He’s probably finished by now.” She went up the stairs and left everyone below. Candance saw her chance but Bookworm caught her before she made it up two steps. For now they waited, reluctantly, as they could hear an elevator moving.
The group waited in silence, but eventually Otis, who had not been seen in days followed Beatrixe. It looked like he had been in a recent scuffle, and had some fur sticking onto his coat. It was black and potentially orange. He also had a dangerous implement on his hat.
“Otis! It is,” Wright paused a moment. “Is that dynamite on your hat?”
Spalding beamed proudly for his friend, “Doesn’t it make him look oh so dangerous, our mad hatter?”
Otis moved as if he was in a dream state, looking up at the hat, “Huh….I forgot that was there….seems an odd thing to forget. Oh right, it’s why I can’t take it off or I blow up.”
“REALLY?!” Wright asked as he stared around at the other conspirators, who also looked shocked. Spalding spluttered into his tea, “WHAT?! Bea, did you make it so it would blow up?”
Bea blinked, “Who told you it would blow up? I just added it for a decoration. He can take it off anytime.”
Several eyes glared at her, but Otis just looked dreamily relieved. “Wonderful. I’ve been sleeping sitting up a couple weeks now.”
Lunette looked up at Wright and scowled, “It is a small room…we can hear…why do you keep yelling in my ear?”
“Stop rhyming with them!” Wright yelled, he looked almost ready to rip someone apart.
Spaldng slowly poured a new cup and offered it to Dr. Wright calmly, “Poor Mr wolf, you clearly need some tea. Have some chamomile.”
Candance sighed. Except for the archives she had not seen or heard anything too bad herself. Many people had made plans to protect themselves against Beryl. And it did not seem Otis had been kidnapped after all, though he must have thought he was. He didn’t seem to be asking for help now. They were still no closer to finding their lost friends. She hoped this wasn’t a dead end. Felina wasn’t always right.
“Anyways, I better get back to Cyan. He’s almost ready,” Otis waved dreamily and went back up the stairs quietly as everyone else felt shocked.
“Cyan’s here?!” Wright shouted as he moved forward, as Book called, “Wait a moment, sir!”
Beatrixe barred the way, her metal arms stretching out as she looked down at the Captain, her metallic eye whirling as it adjusted, “HEY! No going up! Or down! Or whichever it is!”
The group could hear the elevator again, and Book looked pleadingly to the mouse, “Bea, this isn’t right!” Beatrixe tilted her head confused. With as much passion as Candance had ever heard the Captain speak, she implored her, “You know me. You know I wouldn’t say that lightly. You’re holding Cyan! You kidnapped him!”
“Cyan, who YOU,” Wright closed on Spalding and growled near him, “YOU threatened to kill on halloween?”
“No I didn’t.” Beatrixe responded, looking distraught for the first time at the accusation. “The Alice brought her and Beryl as presents. Just told us this morning.”
“THAT’S KIDNAPPING!” Wright yelled in exasperation.
Beatrixe blinked, “Is it?”
“Yes, Bea,” Bookworm said kindly, clearly relieved she had gotten through to her troubled friend. “It is.” Dr. Wright added in less friendly terms, “I smelled Cyan’s blood, saw the signs of struggle, and if he didn’t go willingly, that’s a crime we like to call kidnapping!” Lunette finally seemed to agree that the trio might be insane. It was about time.
“Ohhhhh…Oops?” Beatrixe looked to Spalding, “Did you know that?”
Spalding shrugged, “Well, I know he wouldn’t willingly come to me, but I know nothing about any kidnapping.”
Wright growled, clearly losing his patience, “Bea, I swear to My God if you do not let them go, you will never see the sunlight again.”
Book glared at him again, then turned back to the wavering mouse, “You can make things right now. Please let us go to them.”
“Well…the Alice has been locked up for a really long time. Maybe it’s wasn’t kidnapping when angels could restore her to life. Anyways we better let you go up!” With enthusiasm she led them to the elevator and called it back up. Spalding waited sipping tea as if nothing wrong had happened, Wright keeping watch over him. Rayn, Lunette, Rayn, and Candance with Bookworm. As they descended Beatrixe waved, “Bye bye! Have fun storming the basement!”