The call came from the dining room. Lisa left the kitchen, and the last few dirty dishes, and found Beryl sitting at the dining table. “Hello, Strifeclaw,” she said, sitting down across from him.
He sighed, and said, “I’m glad you took the day off yesterday.”
“Dare I ask?” she replied wryly.
“Marsh gas.” He paused. “That’s not really what happened, but it’s the only way to explain it that makes any sense.” He proceeded to tell her about Snow, and Zaros, and the robot that had tried to kill him before, but was now “fixed” by Beatrixe, so it wasn’t trying to kill him anymore. “That’s the important thing,” he concluded. “Getting there… made no sense.”
Lisa grinned. “Has anything in the past two years made sense for you?”
He thought a moment, before returning her grin. “No.”
“For that matter, has anything in the past two years made sense for me?” she added with a wry smile.
“No,” he replied thoughtfully. “No, I suppose not.” They sat in silence for several moments, broken when he stirred on the bench. “Canergak returns tonight. If we’re going down that grate, we should do it now.”
Lisa nodded. “I agree.” She stood up, and dashed upstairs, finding a quiet corner to change into her old urchins’ clothing, which was definitely fitting more tightly than it had before. Back downstairs, she led Arnold to Canergak’s office and unlocked the door. They made a beeline for the grate, where Lisa slid back the cover.
“Okay,” Beryl said with a steadying sigh. “I’ll go first.” Before she could protest, he dropped down into the pipe, lowering himself on the rungs built into the side, and quickly disappearing into the darkness. Lisa scrambled over the lip, squirming until her feet found one of the rungs, and she followed after.
She heard nothing but silence ahead, which seemed a good sign. After a moment, she dropped down into a room, and turned around to find Beryl. They were in a stone chamber; along one wall resided two large cages and a restraint table of the sort Tenderpaws had been confined in. In the far corner was a large grate. On the opposite wall was a wardrobe–empty–and a row of bookshelves, also empty.
Or, rather, nearly so. One book was forlornly peeking out of a bottom shelf–one of the tales of New Babbage, judging by its cover. In another shelf, tucked away back in a corner was another book. Beryl reached in, retrieved it, and opened it, but its text consisted of strange hieroglyphs that neither of them could understand.
Lisa frowned. “Why so empty?”
Beryl shrugged. “Maybe he took them with him.”
Lisa wondered about that–if the shelves had been full, that would have been rather a lot to travel with. But then her attention was caught by the iris door beyond the shelves. Despite Beryl’s warning of “Be careful,” she pressed the switch on the side, and the door opened to… an empty, smaller chamber. She stepped inside, followed closely by Beryl, and they saw another iris door in the wall to their right.
The door behind them closed, and Lisa could hear mechanical clanking and hissing taking place behind the walls. After a moment, that stopped, and the other door irised open. Beryl stepped through; Lisa poked her head through, then followed him.
This chamber, too, was empty–empty except for the water that took the place of the floor, except for the small platform on which they stood. The tang of salt was heavy in the air here, telling her this water must be from the ocean.
Beryl stared unhappily down. “All this time I thought we’d know if he was leaving or going. He’s had his own way out whenever he wanted. And from down here… we’d have never heard anyone. Or anything.”
Lisa frowned, peering down into the water. “I don’t think I want to go down there.”
“No–it’d be like when you got into Tepic’s submarine.”
Lisa shuddered at that memory, and followed Beryl back through the doors into the main stone chamber. He took a step toward the larger grate, but stopped. “Did you hear something?”
“I’m not sure…” Lisa listened intently, and then heard it–a sound of metal on metal, and the unmistakable tickings and whirrings of an engine, echoing up from the large grate. Suddenly, a large, robotic thing climbed out, and immediately swung its head toward them, growling. Lisa gasped, unable, for a moment, to move.
“Run!” shouted Beryl as he grabbed her arm and propelled her into motion. He shoved her toward the pipe they’d climbed down. “You first!”
She climbed up the rungs as fast as her arms and legs would move, sighing with relief as she heard the clicking of Beryl’s claws not far behind her. She heaved herself up out of the pipe, then turned to help Beryl, throwing the cover back on as soon as he was clear.
Beryl picked himself up off the floor, breathing heavily. “Okay, it *can’t* fit through this one. That other pipe was much bigger.”
“What *was* that?!” Lisa was feeling rather shaky herself.
“I don’t know,” he replied, trying to catch his breath. “Probably a guard dog.”
“A metal one.”
Beryl nodded nervously. “That’s not the first clockwork I’ve seen around him. But it was certainly the biggest.”
“I wonder if that’s where he moved the box,” she mused. Beryl grimaced and replied, “It’s possible.”
Lisa eyed the pipe speculatively. “The coffin would have been too large. I… I wonder what else is in there.”
“I don’t want to find out today,” Beryl said fervently. “But I do want to find out!”
Lisa nodded. “This will take more planning than we have time for.”
“Canergak leaves on these trips often. We’ll get another chance,” he replied reassuringly. “And next time, we’ll be ready for that… thing. I’ll… get back to you on *how* we’ll get ready.” He shook his head. “Were you ever chased by growlers before?”
“I’ve never been chased by one–not one I couldn’t fight back against, at least.” He tried to hide the shiver that traveled down his spine and tail, and quickly moved to the door, waiting for Lisa to open it. Once they were outside, with the door firmly closed again, he relaxed a little.
Lisa shook herself all over, once, and said, “Well! That was interesting.”
“Yes… it was. And we know a lot more than we did.”
“Indeed. And more to learn ahead of us.” She looked down at herself. “I should change before Canergak returns.”
Beryl nodded. “Yes, that’s a bit small for you now.” Lisa chuckled as she hurried upstairs to reassume her uniform.