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Mrs. Pritchard heard a tentative tap on the door, and opened it to find Tepic Harlequin standing there. “Ahh, young Tepic. Miss Bookworm’s in the main library–just go on in.”
“Errr… do I needs me lawyer?” he asked as he stepped inside.
Mrs. Pritchard looked at him with confusion. “Why would you need that?”
“Oh! Err… not sure, Missus. Just wonderin’.” With that, he turned to the left and peered around the doorway. Bookworm spied him and nodded. “Ahh, Tepic. Thank you for coming. Have a seat.” When she saw that he was remaining politely on his feet, she smiled a little and sat down in the smaller chair by the fireplace. Tepic settled onto the couch nearby.
“Before you ask, Tepic, I know about Friday. What did I tell you about not going inside the asylum without being invited?”
“Oh… well, I were invited in. Miss Rouse invited me–she always shows me the places she builds, cus she’s such a wonderful builder. Did yer see the place she made with the walls all over the place an’ the floors all odd?”
Bookworm sighed and rubbed her forehead. “That wasn’t what I meant.”
“Yer said I weren’t ter go in unless I were invited, an’ I was,” he said insistently. “An’ now we knows what that bloke is up to in there an’ we can arrest him an’ stop him, yes?”
“I meant someone in authority, Tepic. And you came *this* close to being arrested yourself that night.” She held up her hand, finger and thumb nearly together.
“Eh? What fer?” Tepic’s tone was indignant. “I aint’ the one torcherin’ poor creaters as ain’t done no harm ter no one!”
“You say that, after what happened to Beatrixe?”
“Yes!” he shouted. “That were one of Beryl’s folk; poor bloke ‘ad been torchered so he didn’t know what ‘e were doin’!”
“Tepic, I do understand how you feel,” Bookworm replied patiently. “But there’s no denying those two in his lab are dangerous.”
“An’ maybe if’n they weren’t being sperimented on, they wouldn’t be mad an’ attack people as was helpin’ them! An’ what ‘bout that contraption he’s got, with that poor heart… Miss Rouse turned on the machine… an… it were…” He trailed off, obviously upset, and began shaking. Bookworm reached out her hand a little. “Tepic, please, calm down.”
“I… I… think I know what that is… and… if I’s right…”
“What do you think it is?” she asked softly.
He began muttering under his breath. “They let us off easy… not again… they… poor things…” Bookworm frowned, wondering if somehow the lad was going mad. She jerked back into her chair as Tepic suddenly jumped to his feet, his face fierce, and whirled on her. “They was wrong when they did it last time, an’ if he’s messin’ again, they’s gonna do fer us all!” he shouted.
“Tepic, please–I don’t understand,” she said, her voice full of concern.
“It’s a Cloud Angel, ain’t it, an’ he’s hurtin it ter make his machine go!”
Bookworm paled a little. “A Cloud Angel?” she breathed. “Are you sure?”
“Wot else d’yer put in a machine ter make it go? An’ they’s not gonna be nice this time, I reckons!”
“If that’s true…” mused Bookworm. “Yes, this may well need investigation.”
“An’ it’s worse than that, Miss, much worse. When that bloke were throwin’ me out, he said he had a fox in there. A… fox!”
Bookworm frowned. “A fox? I didn’t see one when I went there.”
“He were straight out with it, said he wondered if I’d seen the fox in there, same as I was. He ain’t no different ter them as rides the hounds, Miss, ‘cept his jacket ain’t red.” At her puzzled look, he added, “The Hunt, Miss, the fox’s enemy. Them as will chase yer down, rip yer apart an’ laugh ‘bout it while guzzling down hard liquire.”
“Ahh. Yes, I’ve never thought of that as good sport.”
“Sport?! SPORT?!!” Tepic looked thoroughly outraged at that, and Bookworm hastened to add, “That’s how *they* view it, Tepic–not I.”
“Least yer get a chance with them, if yer dodges right,” he continued, a bit mollified. “They don’t strap yer down an torcher yer.”
“Look, I’ll do what I can to investigate what you’ve told me. And keep an eye on Lisa… and look for Beryl…” Bookworm sighed, rubbing her forehead again, then looked at Tepic soberly. “Tepic, I won’t forbid you doing anything. I rather doubt you’d obey. But I do want you to understand this. If you go into Canergak’s lab again, I will not be able to protect you. If Canergak catches you, he’ll have you arrested for breaking and entering, and whatever damage you do there, and he’ll have you sent to the mines in Falun.”
“Oh.” Tepic looked startled. “Been there. Ain’t much fun, so I left…”
Bookworm smiled a little crookedly at that, but only briefly. “You should also know this,” she continued. “Canergak knows about Lisa now–what she is.”
“‘An he’s thrown the poor lass out?” he asked, somewhat hopefully. Bookworm shook her head. “He did threaten to tell the world about her if she doesn’t toe the line.”
“Err… ain’t that blackmail?” He looked even more hopeful at that.
“She’s still his employee. He can discipline her as he sees fit.”
His expression deflated. “Oh.”
“Well, up to a point,” Bookworm added. “Unfortunately, blackmail isn’t that point.”
“Didn’t think it were. Don’t do Lisa no good ter catch ‘im on it, though. But if that heart is wot I think it is, an’ Mr. Tenk finds out… an’ when Beryl finds out ‘bout his kin…”
“Is there a way to find out if it is a Cloud Angel heart?”
Tepic shrugged. “Yer could ask the bloke, Canergak, but he might not tell yer. But it shouldn’t be hurt like that, no how.” He shook his head, lost in thought for a moment. “Strange, ain’t it?”
“‘E don’t like me, an’ ‘e don’t like Beryl, an’ lots of others. But ‘e likes Miss Rouse, an’ he knows ‘bout Lisa now and coulda got rid of her, but he don’t.”
“Apparently there’s something different about you and Beryl. Lisa told me what he told her.”
“Weird, cus I’s just a fox,” he broke in quickly. “Nuffin’ special ‘bout me at all.”
Bookworm quirked an eyebrow. “He doesn’t consider you ‘living’ creatures, because he thinks you can’t be killed in the same way he or I or Lisa can.”
“Bloomin’ heck!” Tepic exclaimed. “Hope ‘e don’t try an’ find out! Don’t think I’d like that.” More to himself, he continued, “I saw meself dead, once, an’ was with meself when I died, too, so I knows I can.”
That was quite the interesting concept to Bookworm, but she decided it wasn’t the right time to pursue that. “She also told me… well, the only way she could explain it is that with his mechanical eyes, he doesn’t see bodies, he sees spirits.”
“Oooh. Wonder what a fox’s spirit looks like?” He seemed to muse on that for a moment, then looked at her. “Err… did yer know there’s metal platin’ all through the Asylum? Like on them big warships as come visitin’?”
“Really? I wonder why.”
“It’s all over, includin’ under the roof tiles, cus I s–Miss Rouse told me!” He continued quickly, “I hope she’s gonna be all right. I likes Miss Rouse. We have good chats together.”
“We could go and visit the hospital, and see how she’s doing.”
“Could we?” He looked at her hopefully. Bookworm nodded, stood up, and moved to the front door, Tepic trailing behind. She took a hat from the stand nearby and let the two of them out.
It wasn’t a long walk to the hospital, and Bookworm had been there before to check on Beatrixe, so she could lead Tepic right to her room. She quietly peeked inside while Tepic hovered at the door. “Is she all right?” he whispered.
She studied the unmoving form. “It looks like she’s still in a coma,” she whispered back, backing away from the bandage-swathed figure that was now so different, with an arm and leg gone, and one eye covered with a patch.
“She’s gonna die, ain’t she?” he whispered plaintively.
“Don’t give up hope, Tepic,” Bookworm tried to reassure him. “She’s made it this far.” It was no use, though; Tepic stifled a sob, turned, and ran out the hospital entrance. She sighed as she watched him leave. The lad truly felt for Beatrixe, and Bookworm hoped he’d learned a valuable lesson in all this.