After telling Purrdita her cover-story – with plenty of dramatic pauses and emotion-inducers put in along the way – the small tabby agreed to introduce her.
"Bu’ I can’t do i’ personally, you un’erstand. I’d ‘ave one o’ the others do i’."
"No problem. Is there anything I need to know?"
"Well… if ‘e talks to you… don’t look at ‘im. Bow your ‘ead all ‘umble-like to show y’ respect."
Soon, they were again at the cardboard box entrance, and Purrdita lead her through the hole in one and into a tunnel that spiraled down underground. At the other end was a dead-stop made of some kind of sheet metal. Purrdita rapped on it three times quickly and twice slow, then growled low in her throat and hissed a moment later. Although it was obviously some sort of coded password, the whole ritual kept Caro dangerously perched on the edge of laughter; whapwhapwhap… thud… thud… grrrrrrr… kha-gggggghhh!
The blockade vanished and they stepped through into a small intermediate chamber. They were greeted by a slim black-and-chestnut patched tom.
"You’re clear. Purrdita; who’s this?" his voice was low and husky.
"Um… Carocatalla, Johalis, sir. She wants to join us."
"Does she now?" Johalis looked Caro over. "You’re a pretty piece of meat. What do you want with us?"
"Revenge," she replied, putting the utmost intensity and rage into the word.
"Revenge, eh? On who?"
"Humans," she spat.
"Ah, I see," he nodded. " We get a lot of your type here. Don’t worry, you should fit in just fine if you’re accepted. Anyone out to scar a human is a friend of ours." He stood between Caro and Purrdita. "Okay, runt, I’ll take it from here. Be off with you."
Purrdy slunk into the shadows, "Yessir."
Dear me, thought Caro, I hope I get a chance to speak to her later, poor thing.
"So," said Johalis, "follow me. I’ll take you to meet Her Ladyship Griddlebone; she handles all new queen arrivals." She paced alongside him. Well… if I thought Munkustrap was a stately guard, then Johalis is the reluctant soldier who does his job and then fools about after-hours.
Johalis lead her down a labyrinth of dark and deserted tunnels – she wondered where everyone else was. When she asked Johalis, his response was: "I’m not at liberty to say. You’ll have to wait and see." Down one passage there were markings on the wall, apparently put there purposefully. Looking closely, Caro could make out crudely drawn figures, probably meant to depict the feline form, all gathered in a revering circle around one large form, done in fiery red and on a scale which suggested magnificence. Some of the subservient figures appeared to be involved in some kind of ritual dance, while others bowed, and still others seemed to be leaving tokens of some sort at the grand red figure’s feet. On the far left of the mural, a small collection of forms lay horizontal, in a position similar to sleep, yet not.
"I don’t suppose you’re ‘at liberty’ to tell me what this is?"
Johalis regarded the depiction. "It was done by one of the Master’s early recruits. It shows a meeting in the grand hall. That," he gestured to the red figure, "is the Master."
"And what’s that all about?" asked Caro of the resting figures.
"They’re dead," he replied, not missing a beat. "They must have initiated some kind of treachery and the Master had to punish them."
Caro swallowed. "Does that happen often?" she faltered.
Johalis shrugged. "What’s often?"
After a moment, Caro queried, "Do you know the artist’s name? He who drew this?"
"No. Sorry. Probably before my time."
"You mean… he’s dead?"
"Maybe. What does it matter?"
"I… ah…" She sighed. "It doesn’t. Just curious."
"Yeah, well," Johalis pulled a wry grin, "you know what they say about curiosity."
Nearing the end of an exceptionally long corridor, Caro could see the faint glow of firelight coming out of a side room, somewhere in the distance. Johalis stopped just before the room.
"This is it. Her Ladyship will meet you now. Remember, she’s above you, so let it show."
Caro nodded. She was about to reply in a customary ‘Righto’, but it seemed inappropriate. Instead, she locked eyes with Johalis. "Yes Sir."
Johalis leered. "That sounds really nice coming from you. Listen, once you’re all settled in, we might see each other again."
"Quite likely," replied Caro, meaning the literal and nothing more. Johalis was not an unattractive cat, far from it, but she had to remember not to confuse herself and her character. This was no life of hers and she would do well to keep it that way. Phase One was complete; she was within the performance area. Now she had to implement Phase Two: Infiltration. Remember, she told herself, you’re a stray. Humans disgust you; they treated you with shameless cruelty. All you want is a family, a place to belong. Will they have you? Johalis lead her into the room.