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Lisa Fargazer finished her chores upstairs, and hurried down with her empty buckets. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she saw a familiar figure entering. “Lisa?” the cat called.
“Hello, Strifeclaw.” She brandished a bucket as she passed him, ducking into the dining room and on through to the kitchen. Setting the buckets down in their places, she trotted back out, and found Strifeclaw in the office. Before he could say anything, she told him, “A strange man was just here–a doctor. He said he’d applied to work at the hospital.”
“Oh, yes,” Strifeclaw said. “I got his resume yesterday. A… Spatterhouse? Hold on…” He rummaged through paperwork on the desk, and brought up a folder, which he consulted. “Dr. John Spatterdash, MD, MB, ChB, and a few others.” He looked at Lisa, smiling wryly. “He told me what they meant, but I forgot.” Lisa shrugged helplessly, confused by the odd combination of letters.
“It’s not up to me,” continued Strifeclaw, “but the truth is we need a doctor, so he’ll likely be approved by Viper.” He frowned suddenly. “Wait–have you met Viper?”
Lisa shook her head. “I’ve heard voices through the door to the hospital, and sometimes seen people passing to and fro, but I haven’t talked to them yet.”
“Dr. Viper is the Chief of Medicine Canergak hired for the hospital. He’s kind of… reptilian.” With that, Strifeclaw dashed out of the office and headed toward the back of the building, Lisa following close at his heels. He suddenly stopped, and looked back at her. “Speaking of Canergak… his office.”
Lisa chuckled a little. “So I figured. I’ve been in several times, checking the… indicator thing. There’s been no change so far.”
“I want to see it,” he said firmly, looking around, “while no one is looking.”
Lisa nodded and followed him downstairs. When they reached the door, she fished the key out of her pocket and turned it in the look. The door irised open, and they both quickly stepped inside.
Strifeclaw stopped abruptly, confusedly staring around the room. “What is all of this?” His gaze quickly focused on the glowing chamber next to the door. “Indicator?”
“This is the thing he has me watching, that shows the health of the aether in this area. It’s been like this since he first showed it to me.”
Strifeclaw stared at it. “Blue looks… healthy,” he said a little uncertainly. “Feels healthy as well. But it’s like it’s drawing in…” He shrugged. “I have no idea what it’s doing, not really.”
“Neither do I,” Lisa replied wryly.
Frowning, he looked around. “What did Canergak take?”
Lisa moved to the table near the aether indicator. “There was a box on this before. The one that moaned.”
“Made your fur stand on end?” He seemed to file away her nod for later pondering, and looked around the room. “It seems bare–he must have taken almost everything.”
“Not really,” she replied. “Most things here are too large to move.” She moved over to the small bed in the far corner, and pointed to a chest behind it. “And this is actually new. It wasn’t here before.”
“Really?” Strifeclaw looked speculatively at it, then shrugged and cautiously tested the lid. It opened easily, revealing its contents–a number of glittering, transparent objects. He stared at them in amazement.
“What are those?” Lisa asked. She’d actually opened the chest before, but hadn’t known what to make of what it contained.
“Those are… rocks,” he finally said. “Valuable rocks. Except, apparently, to Canergak.”
Lisa felt rather bewildered at the concepts of valuable rocks. She still didn’t really understand “money,” though she’d heard the urchins talking about it plenty of times. (She was earning a salary at the asylum, but she turned it all over to Tepic for safekeeping, until she knew what to do with it.) “He said he was going to take most things of value out of here,” she mused.
“And then he leaves a fortune in diamonds…”
“As a test of me?”
Strifeclaw looked at her soberly. “Yes. It might be. Most urchins would have taken as many as they could have grabbed and run without a thought or chanced one or two.”
She picked up one of the diamonds, holding it up to the light. “It’s pretty, but…” Shrugging, she tossed it back into the chest and closed the lid. She gestured to an opening in the opposite corner, something rather like the sewer entrances outside. “This opens, but I haven’t gone down yet.”
“I don’t blame you.” Strifeclaw carefully pushed the cover aside and peered down into the inky depths.
“At this point, I may not even fit,” she said, eyeing the entrance. “I would certainly hate to get stuck.”
Strifeclaw chuckled. “You’re not that big yet. And Canergak has to be able to fit… I think. Still, this may be a trap…” He shifted the cover back over the hole, and turned his attention to the last two large objects he hadn’t yet inspected.
“And those.” Lisa paused, looking at the other glowing chamber and the steam engine. “I don’t know what they are. He didn’t say anything about them.”
Strifeclaw cautiously approached the glowing chamber, sniffing. As he got near, sparks suddenly flew from the chamber to him, catching in his fur. With a cry of pain, he skittered away, toward the door. “Are you all right?” Lisa cried, hurrying over to him.
“Yes,” he replied, though his follow-up of “Ow…” belied that a bit. “That happens a lot when I get too close to things I shouldn’t.” He smiled at her reassuringly.
“It might be a good idea to leave, then.” She looked back nervously.
“Are you sure nothing else is missing?”
Looking around again, she suddenly said, “The coffin–that’s gone, too.”
Strifeclaw stared at her. “The coffin?” he finally asked.
“It was here between the chamber and the engine. It was closed, so I didn’t see if anything was inside.”
“Why does he have a coffin? And why remove it?”
“Any reason I can think of… isn’t a good one,” Lisa said grimly.
“A coffin and a box,” Stifeclaw mused. “And leaving the diamonds… that had to be a test. One that another urchin might have failed.” He glanced back at the chamber one last time. “We still have time before Canergak comes back. We’ll go down that grate soon.”
“All right.” Lisa opened the door and followed him out, locking it behind them. They walked back up the stairs, each lost in their own thoughts.
((To be continued…))