As Lisa drifted off, she wondered how she would accomplish… well, what they needed to accomplish. In her experience, the transition between dreamless sleep and the Dreamlands was immediate. But, apparently, the Feline Dreamlands wasn’t where she needed to go. Was it possible there was an intermediate stage, one that went by too fast to experience? Could she somehow slow the transition down?
‘Slow it down. Slow it down.’ She kept that thought repeating in her mind, even as she drifted off to sleep.
Much to her surprise, her litany and mental effort worked. Instead of snapping into view, the Dreamfields she knew were fading into her vision. Lisa held herself back, fought against the pull, trying to keep herself in this intermediate stage, whatever it was. She devoutly hoped it was *something.*
Suddenly, she stumbled as her feet–her human feet, she noticed–encountered something that felt solid. After regaining her footing, she looked up and around, her jaw hanging open a little. A path ran before her, with side paths branching off every few feet. Above them was a blue-black expanse, unbroken by stars or moon. The side path next to her, she realized, must lead to the Dreamfields she knew. The main path stretched out as far as she could see. Turning around, she saw it stretching *back* as far as she could see, with more side paths than she could count.
‘So many,’ she thought, first with awe, then with dismay. How would she find Lilith in all of this? She stood, irresolute, looking back and forth, until finally, a thread of faint music reached her ears. Flute music. Tepic’s music. She smiled, and followed the sound carefully until she reached the side path from which the music came. She could feel Lilith there, straining to reach the path.
Lisa reached out with her mind, knowing that to step onto that side path would mean entering wherever Lilith was now–most probably, Lilith’s own mind. “Lilith!” she called, reaching out a ghostly hand. “Here!” She seemed to feel a hand grasping hers, and with a pull, Lilith’s form appeared on the path beside her–still in her wolf form, Lisa noted with interest.
Lilith looked around, seeming rather dazed and unsteady. Lisa laid a hand on her head, and she steadied. “What now?” she asked.
“I know how to walk the path,” Lisa replied, “but you know what to look for.” She looked back and forth, and finally chose to continue on away from the direction she’d come from. They walked side by side, Lisa keeping a hand on Lilith’s head at all times.
How long they walked, she had no way of knowing. Though they had bodies, they did not grow tired or hungry, and the sky never changed. Lilith kept her ears swiveling and her nose working, testing each side path. And finally, they were rewarded. At one side path, exactly like all the others, she suddenly checked, sniffing down it carefully. “Here,” she said with satisfaction. “This is where we go.” She plunged down the path, Lisa following at her heels.
The path, and the dark sky around her, melted into a vision of a dark grove of conifers, with thin grass underfoot. The sky above, what she could see of it, was again a dark, starless expanse. Glancing to the side, she saw the wolf form of Lilith there, staring at her. That was when she realized she was, finally, in her old Feline form, as she always was in the Dreamfields.
“It’s me, Lilith,” she said, not really sure what tongue she was speaking at that point. “It’s Farga–err, Lisa.”
Lilith bobbed her head in acknowledgement, and said softly, “I see movement up ahead.” Peering through the trees, Lisa saw a small cliff up ahead, with a cave entrance. And sure enough, something, or someone, was there. They looked at each other, and stalked forward carefully.
As they neared the small clearing in front of the cave, they saw another wolf. Also black-furred, also standing on his hind legs, and with rags of clothing about his waist. “Well, don’t be shy,” he said. “Come in!” He looked at Lisa. “You, too, little one.”
Lisa pinned her ears back. “Who are you?”
“Are you the one who wanted me to come?” Lilith asked.
“Yes, I am.” The wolf scratched himself lightly. “My name in life was Janus Wellington.”
“I am Lilith,” she replied. Lisa, though, crouched nervously down, as the name struck a chord. “Didn’t… didn’t you work at the asylum for a little while?” she asked.
“Yes, I was a cook. I worked for Cortman.”
Lisa hissed, arching her back. Janus, though, only looked amused. “Yes, I can understand that.”
Lilith looked back and forth between them. Lisa looked up at her. “Cortman’s men were the ones who attacked the asylum.”
Lilith’s tail swayed slowly back and forth. “I see,” she replied. “I heard of that attack from Beryl.”
“I wasn’t among their number at the time,”’ objected Janus.
“No,” growled Lisa. “But only because you’d already changed into this and were attacking other people.”
“I didn’t have control in life of my new… self.” Janus gestured to his wolf form.
“Or in your old self,” Lisa muttered. She had little doubt that had Janus not been changed, he would have participated in the attack on the asylum.
Lilith, though, nodded. “It is something that happens. Many do not have control of the wolf. I saw it in Snow, when he came to the hospital.”
“My old self was changing even before I died. I was already acting noticeably different to my comrades.” He gestured to the bright shreds of clothing hanging around his waist.
Lisa narrowed her eyes, trying to discern his intentions. Lilith asked, “What did you want to show me?”
“Tenderpaws–or Rasend, or Swiftwater, take your pick–isn’t here now.
“Swiftwater?” Lisa’s ears pricked up at that.
“That was his real birth name. Tenderpaws was a cute name his mother gave him when he was young.”
“I’ll have to tell Tepic that,” she murmured. Lilith, though, brought them back on track. “If he’s not here, where is he?”
Janus shook his head, smiling a little. “He is trying to discover himself. I could not follow.”
“He doesn’t have time to discover that now.” Lisa growled in exasperation.
“I have been listening, though, when you’ve spoken outside the cell,” Janus continued. “I’m going to be the one to come out, so to speak. I just need a little help doing it.”
Lisa stared at him. “What?”
“It’s called possession. I am, after all, something of a ghost.”
“Why do you want to take his body?” Lilith asked.
“To get him out of here,” Janus exclaimed. “I have sniffed both Canergak and Vartanian in this form. Neither smell right.”
Lilith looked uncertainly at Lisa, and back at Janus. After a moment of thought, Lisa finally said, “That could work. But can we trust you to return his body to him?”
“I don’t want Swiftwater’s body,” Janus replied curtly. “I was rather partial to my own, thank you.”
“I don’t know,” mused Lilith. “Canergak saw me for what I was. What if he sees you in Rasend’s body?”
Janus paused for a moment before he answered, “I don’t know much of that man, but I do know we don’t have to convince him. Dr. Solsen has the authority to sign Rasend’s release, right?”
“For now, yes,” replied Lisa.
“Then here’s hoping we can do that quickly.”
“But how do we know we can trust you?” Lilith asked.
Janus rocked forward on his feet. “Do you really have a choice?”
“I don’t think we do,” Lisa said, looking up at Lilith. “If we’re going to get Swiftwater out of there…” Lilith thought a moment, and nodded. “I have to agree there.”
Lisa turned her gaze back on Janus, letting it harden and sharpen. “Know this, though, Janus–if you betray us, I will hunt you down–in the real world and here in the Dreamfields. Just so we’re clear.”
“My name might mean two-faced, but really…” Janus grinned, and she wasn’t sure that he took her threat credibly.
“So this is the Bad you were talking about?” Lilith asked.
“Well, that and the fact that Swiftwater has been gone for almost three weeks. I don’t know if his journey has taken a turn for the worst.”
((To be continued…))