Lisa settled into her bunk above the Imperial Theatre, hugging the stuffed bunny she’d received at the Urchins’ Ball. She couldn’t help but feel a bit of anticipation fluttering in her stomach–after all, it was Christmas Eve. This was the night that Santa was supposed to deliver presents to those who had been good, whatever that meant. Still, the cats had indeed received treats the night of the Urchins’ Ball; Tepic speculated that it was because she’d specified that that night be the one. There’d been no time frame on the request for herself, so she wondered if anything would happen tonight.
It took a while, but she did finally fall asleep. And she dreamed…
Not that dreaming was anything new. But ever since her brain had been transplanted into his human body, her dreams had been confusing, mixing elements of her life as a cat with human memories that didn’t really seem to be her own. They were nothing like the dream-fields she had roamed as a cat, with their own special adventures and insights.
But tonight was different. She was standing inside the city wall by the sea, the place she’d made her own as a cat. As she stood there, a feline figure appeared out of the utter darkness. Its black body was still hidden, but its red legs and paws were nearly glowing, and its eyes held a wealth of wisdom. She recognized him immediately, of course–Tangaloor Firefoot, one of the Firstborn. She wanted to curl into a ball in his presence, but the best she could do was fall to her knees and bow her head down to the ground.
Firefoot raised a paw and placed it on her head. “Come, Felisa,” he said. “Hunt the dream-fields with me.”
When she’d lowered her head, she was undeniably a human. When she raised it, though, she was undeniably what she had been–a cat. She knew, of course, that this was a dream, but it felt so real, and so welcome. It was like a bowl of cream after a drought, like a fresh fish after famine! Her heart leapt within her, and she translated that into a capering leap that brought a sneeze of laughter from Firefoot. He beckoned her with his waving tail, and ran off down the corridor inside the wall. Felisa leapt after him, luxuriating in the feel of her stretching back and muscles as she ran.
They emerged into a dream-Babbage that looked identical to the real city, even down to being populated with M’an-folk. There were several cats waiting outside; she didn’t know them, but they evidently knew Firefoot. He introduced her to them, and then they all went off for a night of mischief. They hunted rats in the alleyways. They stole fish off the docks. They got into the pizzeria next to the Gangplank, sampled the pizza sauces, lapped up some milk left sitting out, and knocked around a bag of flour, coating the floor, until they were finally chased out. They settled down out of the wind on a rooftop and exchanged tales.
Finally, a couple of hours before dawn, Felisa found herself alone with Tangaloor back inside the city wall, listening to the crashing of the waves below. She glanced aside at him, and finally asked the question that had been on her mind since he first appeared. “Why have you come?”
“It was quite odd,” he replied. “A strange M’an, dressed all in red, found me and told me about your wish.”
“Can… can you fulfill it?” Felisa held her breath.
“I can,” Firefoot said. “The Allmother has given me a special dispensation to do so.” He flicked his tail up and thwaped it down on the floor, forestalling her exclamation of delight. “I can, but I think you need to ask yourself if I *should* fulfill your wish, or if there is more yet for you to do.”
“More to do?” Felisa asked incredulously. “I saved our folk from Ambrose, and helped them to help the M’an-folk against the Van Creed. What else is there for me to do?”
Firefoot sighed, and actually looked at her with a touch of sheepishness. “I’m no Far-senser, Felisa, and you certainly have learned how changeable the future can be. But you have gone through an extraordinary transformation, something unprecedented in all our history. I cannot help but think there must be more to it than even what has happened this year.”
Felisa thought about that a moment. “But you don’t know that for sure.”
“I do not.”
“Would you ever be able to restore me to myself?”
“Very probably not,” Firefoot replied after a few moments.
“But you don’t know that for sure, either.”
His whiskers arched forward in wry amusement. “I do not.”
Felisa stared out of the opening in the wall, looking over the small bay to the shoreline, with its small docks and storefronts, thinking about what Firefoot had said. She felt him at her side, a supportive presence, and knew that he would accept whatever her decision was with no further discussion.
The thought of leaving her true body for her human body was almost physically painful, especially after this night of freedom. And she knew now that humans usually lived far longer than cats; the thought of watching her family and friends grow old and die while she was still young was not at all pleasant. And how many generations of Folk would remember her and what she had done for them? Would she not be forgotten, and left truly alone and isolated?
Then again, was that not what the Master Old-singers were for? To keep the deeds of cats, and even her, alive in the memories of future generations? She herself could work to keep her contact with her Folk alive. And the way things went in this city, there would always be dangers to warn them about and help them to survive. There was also still the matter of Ambrose’s notebook; could she truly call her tasks finished when she still didn’t know what had happened to it, or what would happen because of it?
A very, very faint light of dawn was showing in the east when Felisa finally sighed and looked again at Firefoot. “I will stay as I am.”
Firefoot leaned over and licked her behind her ears. “I know that was a very difficult decision for you. And you will not be entirely uncompensated.” He looked at her solemnly. “From now on, you may run the dream-fields as a cat whenever you wish, and with whomever you wish.”
“Really?” Felisa’s ears perked up at that. “I could go see my sister Tealla right now?”
“If she’s in the dream-fields herself, yes. Just think of her, and if she’s dreaming, you’ll find her.” She felt his warm, kind regard as she leapt to her feet. “No need to thank me, Felisa–just go find her.”
Felisa closed her eyes, picturing Tealla in her mind. When she opened them again, she found herself outside the city in the fields, and Tealla standing nearby, looking at her in astonishment.
“Tealla!” Felisa ran to her, rubbing against her, inhaling her familiar scent.
“Felisa? How… who… “
Felisa hastened to explain that Tangaloor Firefoot had appeared to her and granted this boon. She did not, however, mention the chance she’d had to become one of the Folk again in the real world.
“Then we can see you like this in the dream-fields every night now?” Tealla asked, delighted.
“Yes,” Felisa replied, even as she felt a slight tug. “But not now–it’s too near morning. But tonight–“
“Tonight, we’ll have fun!” Tealla said.
Felisa gave her one last lick, and then the dream-fields disappeared as she opened her eyes to the urchins’ hideout. She heard the sounds of some of the other urchins snoring, or muttering in their sleep. She lay there silently, considering everything that had happened. She felt… not exactly happy, or satisfied, but as if she had truly made the right decision.
But only time would tell if that feeling was correct.