Caracal in the Den

Busara took the Thames entrance to the Den. It was technically the back door, frowned upon for agents to use unless under certain circumstances. But Badger had a soft spot for her, his loyal stalking Caracal. She often got away with doing things that others wouldn’t.

It was dusk, her plane had touched down only a few hours before. She walked along the deserted south bank of the Thames, orange light reflecting off dark choppy waters. London City’s silhouette stood tall in the distance. Her trench coat was pulled tightly around her body, and as a lone stranger slipped out of the fog ahead, she beamed and gave him a slight gentle nod. He returned her sentiments.

Long after he had disappeared behind her, she reached the stairs and glided down to the muddy banks of the river. The rolling little waves lapped at her practical black boots as she carefully strode between the stone sheer embankment and the water and reached the dark archway. The River Gate.

It juddered as her grip pulled the steel gate open and she shimmied into the darkness. He fingers deftly extracted the small trusty torch from her pocket and pointed the light inwards. The man-made cavern beyond loomed before her.

She was standing on the top of a small Victorian-era dam. At this time of the tide, there was hardly any water seeping in from the Thames, just a small faint trickle echoing around the space. However, when the tide was high, the water would have been rushing past her ankles, down the steep brick dam, to be channelled into the underground rivers that bore through the London Earth like hungry fat worms.

She ambled down the stairs to the right that ran down the side of the ramp, the light casting eerie shadows to dance all around her. She followed the wall around to the entrance of the smaller chasm that was the underground river.

Her footsteps echoed in the silence. Under the mould and grime, the tunnel was red brick, curving on each side symmetrically to create an arched roof. Though there was hardly a trickle, the noise of the water reverberated down the shaft, which curved and slanted to follow the natural run of water.

Every so often, smaller tunnels would branch off, some hidden behind metal grates. Busara followed the main channel down. She was mechanical, her body knowing the way, her eyes blank, as her mind raced, unable to string together an inherent thought. She was so close to the end, so close to helping Catriona, she felt a raw anxious intense bubbling within her stomach. She didn’t trust Ronan in securing her break-out. She would try to make this clear to Badger.

The Victorian brick abruptly ended, to be replaced with natural stone and earth, and she hopped down onto the gravel next to the small channel. Busara would often think it was funny, thinking back to when it was constructed. Did they decide against going further? Did they run out of materials? Did they simply finish work one day, and forgot to come back?

She followed the natural tunnel, her shoulders grazing the rough stone and earth walls. She was grateful for the low tide; the water was just a shallow dark channel. Any other time, her knees would be wet. The price to pay to use the back door.

Suddenly, the tunnel gave way and the immense cavern broke before her eyes. No matter how often she came down here, the sight of the underwater lake and huge cave never disappointed her. Before her, expanding to her left was the dark, formidable blackness of the still lake. To her, it didn’t even look like water, rather a black void, threatening to consume anybody that dared to get close. On the banks of the lake, jutting out from the black were rectangular stone structures, steps and broken pillars. Roman baths long ago destroyed by the rising water and neglect. Busara found it intoxicating, how below the everyday chaotic mess of London, there were hidden secrets like this far below the earth. History, long forgotten.

She followed the lake to the right and turned off her torch. Spanning before her, cut into the cave wall was an immense aqueduct system spanning upwards into the roof, hundreds of arches on top of one another. Roman, of course, it would have channelled heated water down into the baths centuries ago. Currently, the aqueducts illuminated by yellow artificial lights, by bulbs lining it methodically. Agents rarely came down this far, but they always kept it lit. For emergencies.

Busara sauntered into underneath one of the lower arches, disappearing into the shadows. She climbed the metal stairs, her footsteps clanging in the darkness. The stairs rose behind the aqueducts so that every flight Busara would peer through the arches, down upon the lake, higher and higher. Eventually, the stairs rose to the roof of the cave.

Roman instantly transformed to English Gothic as Busara entered the lower bowels of the Den. Greyish stone of intricate creation billowed down in vaulted ceilings forming pillars in between. There was only one person who enjoyed working this far down, Mole. But she wasn’t there, her workstation was empty. Busara figured she was with Badger, already. She crossed the vast cathedral and strode towards the staircase to the numerous levels above. She stopped for a second, noticing a few bright floodlights swamping bright light into a passage that wasn’t there on her last visit, the wall had been hammered away. Mole liked exploring. The Den had various tunnels and channels that could end up in various places in the city. Busara wouldn’t be surprised if Badger himself didn’t know all of them. She almost went to investigate, then regathered herself. She was already late.

She climbed the steps. Her breath slowing as she prepared herself for her meeting with Badger. When she had first experienced the vast underground network of tunnels tens of feet below the earth she had been overwhelmed. Now, she was sad to say she knew the headquarters like the back of her hand. As she reached the top of the stairs her world went back to Victorian brick. That was one of the reasons she loved coming through the Den this way. It was like she was transported in time, and then slowly brought back to the present, the higher she got.

She walked past various alcoves that were used for offices. These levels were dedicated to administration, Sparrows mostly. Secretaries and clerks. The agents’ offices and sleeping quarters, including her own, were on the levels above. Her face was stony as she walked past bodies, come of who that looked her way in curiosity and in some cases fear. She had gained quite a reputation within the organisation over the months.

She rose two levels, past her own office, she would come back there later. The top floor, just underneath the main entrance of the Den housed the most important rooms. Badger’s quarters, Crow’s office, and the conference room. The conference room was really a 1940’s war-room bunker that had been constructed in the chaos of the Blitz. That’s where she was headed.

She knew this meeting would result in another job, and she resented that. She was tired, emotionally and wanted to rest.

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