Bookworm, summoned by Mrs. Pritchard, came into the entryway and saw Dr. Sonnerstein there. “Good afternoon, Ms. Book,” he said.
“Dr. Sonnerstein. Please, come into the library.” She led the way inside and gestured to the couch. “Have a seat.” Dr. Sonnerstein sat down, while Bookworm perched on the chair next to it.
Dr. Sonnerstein smiled a little. “I’m sorry to intrude, but I’ve just been by to see Tepic. He’s still going to the factory.”
Bookworm nodded. “I know. I saw him yesterday.”
“He doesn’t have a choice in the matter, Ms. Book,” Dr. Sonnerstein continued intently. “Canergak may have seemed to have released him from his promise, but he didn’t word it clearly enough. Tepic is there, in his head–I saw him in there. But he’s trapped by that promise. I don’t know if Canergak doesn’t understand or just doesn’t care.”
“Canergak keeps saying that the promise is fulfilled, but Tepic can continue to work if he wishes,” mused Bookworm. “Perhaps it’s that caveat that’s doing it.”
“It could be. I seem to remember more to it too–that he still included Ms. Rouse in his wording, at least, while I was present.” He leaned forward. “Ms. Book, if we can’t get him to speak it right to Tepic, I fear Mr. Canergak will be responsible for Tepic’s death, and we will not have any proof of it. Not in a city like this.”
Bookworm sighed, distressed to hear her own half-formed thoughts given expression. “But what can we do?”
“I’m afraid I can do nothing. Canergak doesn’t like to even acknowledge my existence, let alone speak with me. It is up to you to get him to say the right words, whatever they may be, that will fully release Tepic.”
Bookworm rubbed her face, feeling frustrated. “I tried that yesterday.”
The doctor smiled wryly. “He tried to tell you he’d already released him, didn’t he?”
She nodded. “He says it’s Tepic’s choice at this point.”
“Unfortunately, it is not. I wonder if Canergak even realizes it?”
Bookworm thought back over her past few conversations with Canergak, and finally said grimly, “I think he does.”
“I, too, worry he does. But I couldn’t imagine even one like him would be so callous as to let the boy die. Perhaps I have too much faith in mankind’s heart.” He frowned, evidently thinking deeply.
“I did ask Tepic if he would stop working if I paid the remainder of the debt,” she offered, “and he specifically said no.”
“He cannot. I’m afraid only Canergak’s correct words will allow him to stop.”
“There’s no way to… transfer the debt? So that he owes me instead of Canergak?”
“That would still likely require precise wording from Canergak.” Dr. Sonnerstein shook his head, and Bookworm sighed. “Ms. Book,” he continued, “may I ask if you understand Tepic’s nature that is causing this?”
She shook her head. “Though when I asked him to explain, he mentioned Mr. Tenk, and Maggie, and Pocket.” She knew there was something… different about them, but she didn’t really understand what the difference meant.
Dr. Sonnerstein nodded. “Beryl even may half fall into the same, but I doubt he would be held as strictly by the laws as they would.”
“Yes, Tepic said that Beryl would understand.” She leaned in, ready to listen.
He drew in a breath. “It isn’t really my place to tell you this, but I fear it’s vital that you understand what is holding Tepic to this. Foxes like Tepic, that can become human–they are fae things. He’s not simply a moreau, not some experiment. He is bound by laws not belonging to this side of reality. I’ve had friends in the past, patients as well, that are of the same nature. That’s why I worried when Canergak left the hospital like that with Tepic still intent on work. I had suspected before that he might be of such a nature, but that confirmed it for me.”
Bookworm still felt somewhat confused, but tried to follow as he continued. “A true promise for one of them, is completely unbreakable and is very precise. Wording can be as difficult and as convoluted as trying to word a wish from a djinn that won’t go wrong. He is a slave to his promise… potentially to death.”
She hissed in a distressed breath at the thought of losing Tepic like that. “It was his choice to enter the agreement,” Dr. Sonnerstein said. “It is not his choice to continue.” He looked at her intently. “I hope you understand, this is information that should not be shared. I am not bound as they are, but I try to respect their own natures. But these are rather extenuating circumstances.”
“Canergak’s words will have to be precise, with no loopholes or caveats,” he said, returning to their problem, “and it may be necessary for him to bind it in the way he did the promise before.”
“But how can we get him to do that?” Her frustration and helplessness boiled over into her voice.
“Do you think there’s any chance that he would listen to you? If there’s some way to explain it to him without revealing Tepic’s secret?”
She snorted. “He hasn’t listened much to me so far…” She trailed off, as an idea suddenly welled up. “Unless…”
“Hmm?” Dr. Sonnerstein looked at her inquiringly.
“I may have an idea. I have no idea if it would work, but it might be worth trying. I’m hoping Canergak will be willing to make a bargain with me, for something he’s been wanting.”
The doctor frowned a little. “Do be very careful with him, Ms. Book. You may not be beholden to the same rules and laws as Tepic, but Canergak is conniving. If he is intentionally holding Tepic still, I worry what he might try to pry from you.”
“I don’t know what he would have to gain from holding Tepic like this, so I’m hoping what I can offer will be worth more.” She shrugged. “We shall see. But yes, I’ll be careful.”
He nodded. “I should be going, then,” he said as he stood up. “Ms. Book, thank you for your services and care for this city and all it’s citizens, regardless of what we are. I sincerely mean that.”
“Of course,” she replied with a smile. “You are all citizens here, to my mind.” She escorted him to the front door. “Good day, doctor.”
“Good day.” He bowed and went on his way. Bookworm stood in the door for a moment, watching and thinking. She knew that what she had in mind could be very risky indeed, and the risk was not her own. There was someone she would have to talk to first, before she decided whether or not to proceed.