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Canergak was waiting for Lisa at the top of the basement staircase, his mechanical eyes staring at her. “Come along,” he said, gesturing for her to follow him down. Apprehensively, she descended the staircase, and watched as he unlocked the door to his private rooms and swung it open.
She almost turned and fled. While the equipment and layout were certainly different from Ambrose’s laboratory, the atmosphere–the feel of it–was definitely the same. Curiosity–feline and human–warred with fear–feline and human. Curiosity finally won; she realized that if she left now, she’d never have a chance to learn what Canergak was doing. Still, she felt more than a few qualms as she stepped inside and heard the door iris shut behind her.
Lisa looked around, her eyes wide. On her right, an engine puffed to itself, carrying out whatever task it was created for. On her left was a thin, crackling column of energy that stretched from floor to ceiling. Further along was another chamber filled with glowing energy, and beyond that, a bed. Near the bed was a grate, from which puffs of steam periodically escaped. Lisa wondered if it opened, and if so, to where. Two other objects, a chair with restraints and a coffin, gave Lisa a chill. The last thing was a table, on which sat some tools and a box that was emitting a strange moaning. Canergak quickly approached it and hit the box. The moaning stopped. “Ignore that,” he said to her.
“Yes, sir,” Lisa said with a mouth gone dry.
Canergak fixed his full attention on her. “Do you know what that creature in the cell upstairs is?”
“Do–do you mean Rasend?”
“Yes. The specimen.”
Lisa swallowed dryly, then nodded once.
“And you still came to try to help him four months ago, with your little friend. You do seem to like creatures that you should despise and fear.”
A surge of anger pushed back some of Lisa’s fear, helping to steady her. “It is better to despise people because of their actions, not their appearance.”
Canergak waved that away. “I don’t care for physical appearance; I don’t really see it with these eyes anymore. For all I know your fur is blue and Beatrixe’s is pink. I don’t have anything against ‘Moreaux.’ It is their natures that I despise, and cannot trust.”
“What is it about their natures you despise, sir?” Lisa couldn’t help but ask.
“Monsters,” he said shortly. “Aetheric beasts. Spirits. Creatures beyond the Mundus.”
Lisa was confused by his later pronouncements, but certainly understood ‘monsters.’ “Arnold is not a monster, sir,” she said a little indignantly. “He’s been very kind–and very brave.”
Canergak dismissed that with a wave of his hand. “Trust him if you wish; it’s your folly. He would as soon turn on you as breathe if Dr. Maddox had not mastered him. That is not why I invited you down here.”
Lisa felt her apprehension return. “What–what do you want of me, sir?”
“Two things. One–I will not have you uneducated and working for me. Not at your age when you can still learn so much.”
“I have been learning to read, sir, a little,” she felt compelled to say. Canergak looked at her keenly, then abruptly asked, “What is seven hundred and forty divided by seventy four?”
Lisa blushed and stammered, “Uhh… umm…”
Canergak shook his head. “I see that you have far to go yet. The answer was ten.”
“Yes, sir,” she mumbled.
“The second thing I wanted you to see was this.” He gestured to the tall stream of energy by the door. Lisa asked, staring, “What is it?”
“Simply a way to view the health of the aether within this area. It is a warning beacon of trouble. If you ever see it fluctuate and I have not been here, you know that something has happened. I will want you to contact me.”
“Fluctuate, sir?” Lisa wasn’t sure what that word meant. Canergak, though, ignored her question. “That is your next duty. While I am away, you will watch my room. I will take mostly everything of value from it, so you will not be tempted.” She growled to herself at that, as he continued, “I will be going collect the specimen personally. That is why I need someone trustworthy to watch over it. Hoyt used to, now I’m entrusting you.”
“Yes, sir,” she said carefully, hoping she wouldn’t reveal too much of her true feelings, hoping she’d continue to be considered “trustworthy,” at least for a while longer.
“I will see you again in less than a month. By then I hope you will know how to divide by tens if nothing else.”
“I will try, sir.” She followed him out of the room and up the staircase. Canergak, at reaching the top, stopped abruptly. “Were you listening?!” he shouted, and Lisa shrank back a little. She didn’t hear any reply, but after a few seconds, Canergak growled slightly and looked back at her. “Do not trust him.” With those parting words, he disappeared around the corner, and she soon heard the front door slam.
Tentatively, Lisa climbed the last few steps to the top of the stairs and peeked around the corner. Strifeclaw stood hunched there, evidently waiting for her. As he led the way to the front office, he said that Dr. Lionheart had stepped out for a few minutes, and he had decided to linger by the stairs and wait for her. “I was worried when you went into his room,” he concluded.
“So was I.” Lisa exhaled a slightly shaky breath.
“Have you seen it?” Lisa asked him.
“His office?” He clarified, and then shook his head. “No, never.”
“It… rather reminded me of Ambrose’s laboratory.”
Strifeclaw frowned at that. Then they both heard the front door open again. A woman’s voice called out, “Arnold? Lisa? Are you still here?”
“Yes, hello,” called Arnold, and Dr. Maddox appeared in the office doorway. She took a look at Lisa and stepped nearer to her. “Did he scare you, Lisa?” she asked gently.
Lisa nodded. She *was* frightened of Canergak, of his constant referencing to people as “specimens,” of his callous attitude toward… well, everyone she knew, really. And she was frightened of what he might do if he ever found out what she truly was.
Dr. Maddox smiled softly. “Don’t worry. I’ll be here more often to keep him from badgering you too often.”
“He wants me to learn more,” Lisa said, starting with the less-mysterious task he’d set her. “He… asked me a math problem.”
“Math?” Strifeclaw appeared to be confused as he tilted his head.
She nodded, her eyes half-lidded as she recalled the conversation. “He asked me what was seven-hundred and forty divided by seventy-four.”
“Umm…” Strifeclaw looked sheepish suddenly, for the first time since he had entered the asylum. “Sorry, math hasn’t come back. Now I know it never will.”
“Whatever does he want you to learn math for?” Dr. Lionheart shook her head. “Well, I suppose it won’t harm you to know how to do mathematics, dearest.”
Lisa looked up at her, her face finally showing how crestfallen she felt. “I’m… I’m not good with numbers.”
Dr. Maddox chuckled. “I’m not truly that good with them either, Lisa. But I can teach you what I know. All right?”
“Thank you,” Lisa replied with shy gratitude.
“You’re very welcome.” With that, Dr. Maddox went to the kitchen to prepare them some dinner–her usual solution for their jangled nerves.
((To be continued…))