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Feb. 26 – The Nose Meet (Part 2)

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After the naming of Strifeclaw, the cats settled down to their Meeting.  Early on, a rangy hunter named Crableaper was called forward, to tell of something he’d seen the previous night.

“I was roofwalking in the center of the city when I saw three of… them.  The pale M’an-things from belowground.  They were carrying meat with them, but soon, two of them dropped their meat and began stalking two other M’an-folk who had walked by.  I followed, to see what would happen.”  He paused, his tail twitching in agitation.  “The pale M’an-things took those two, as easily as we catch baby mice trapped aboveground.  Hit them, stunned them, and took them below.”

Lisa looked over at Strifeclaw, wondering at how he’d react.  She’d seen one of the sewer-dwellers once, at a party in the Gangplank, and Tepic had warned her to stay away from them–a warning she’d passed on to her Folk.

Strifeclaw looked unhappy, but showed no surprise either.  He glanced at her, catching her eyes with his as he gripped his head.  He wanted to tell her something, she could tell, but it would have to wait.

The rest of the Meeting passed swiftly enough.  A few more reports were made, but nothing of great import.  Nightsinger was introduced, and gave them all a quick song.  But then he waved his tail at Lisa, indicating that he wanted her to follow him away from the gathering.  “I’ll be back soon,” she whispered to Strifeclaw, not bothering to stand up, but crawling on hands and knees after the black-and-white cat.

They had not gone far before Nightsinger stopped in the shelter of an evergreen shrub.  He looked at her appraisingly for a moment, then said bluntly, “Word of you, Fargazer, and what happened to you, has traveled far and wide.  Even to the Court of Harar, and the Queen of Cats.”

Lisa couldn’t keep back an exclamation of surprise at that.  “Truly?”

“Yes.  That is where I heard of you… and where my idea came to me.”

“Would that word have been given you, perchance, by a cat with four red feet?” Lisa asked, looking at him shrewdly.  Nightsinger’s whiskers arched forward in amusement.  “It did, actually.  I think he was afraid you might miss having a purpose with us during the quiet times here.”

“That hasn’t happened yet, but I suppose it might,” she replied wryly.  “So what was his idea, and yours?”

“It is the duty of any Oel-cir’va to pass on his knowledge to a student, or students, as soon as he can,” continued Nightshade soberly.  “But, as I’m sure you’re aware, things can happen.  The right candidate might not be available.  The Oel-cir’va might die before the teaching can be completed.  Stories and songs can be lost in that way.  But you…”  He looked at her intently.  “You will live for many cat generations, will you not?”

“If the city doesn’t find a way to kill me.”  Lisa bit back a laugh.  “I’ve already had a few close calls.”

“True.  But that can happen to any of us.  You, at least, have a better chance than do we.”  He paused.  “If you are willing, I would like you to become a… repository for us.  To learn as much as you can of our histories and songs.  I would teach you everything I know now.  Once that is done, I’d return to the Court, and send word out that every Oel-cir’va who can should come here and teach you what they know.  And you, in your turn, can teach them.  In this way, our heritage has a better chance of survival.  Who knows when something from our past will be needed in our future?”

Lisa looked at him, awe and uncertainty warring on her face.  “I… I am honored,” she finally managed to say.  “But are you sure I’m right for this?”

“I’m sure,” Nightsinger replied reassuringly.  “Fenceshadow was part of your Naming, remember.  He told me of it, of what they sensed about you.  You will do well.”

Lisa still wasn’t sure, but his assurance lodged in her heart, calming her.  “All right–I’ll do it.  Though…”  She frowned suddenly.  “I’m not sure *when* you could teach me.  I’m so busy during the days now.”

“Meet me in the Dreamfields,” he said.  “There will be plenty of time there.”  He got up, heading back to the clearing.  Lisa watched him go, still feeling rather stunned.  Then she shook herself all over, and followed him.

Back in the clearing, it was apparent that the Meeting was ending.  Cats were conversing among themselves, and some were already disappearing in the direction of the city.  Several had gathered around Strifeclaw, introducing themselves to him.  Lisa went to him, and smiled.  “How do you feel?” she asked.

Strifeclaw looked up at her; he looked happy to her, though there was a slight twinge to his eyes which suggested he was tired or hurting.  “Thank you.  For everything, Fargazer.”  

“You’re welcome.”  She tilted her head, seeing him grimace a little.  “Shall we go back?  You look like you could use some rest.”

“Yes, just give me a moment,” he agreed softly as he turned to the other cats and bid them farewell.  She waited patiently, and it was with some reluctance that he turned away.  The two were soon on their way back towards the city.  He looked at her curiously, wondering what Nightsinger had wanted with her.

Lisa could feel Strifeclaw’s eyes on her, and she guessed what he was curious about.  “It appears I am going to become a Master Old-Singer myself,” she told him as they trekked across the fields toward the city gate.  “Nightsinger feels this will be good because I’ll live so much longer than they.”

“Truly?” Arnold asked, with a surprised grin. “That is good news, isn’t it?”

“I… think so.  I *hope* so.  It was certainly surprising news.”  She smiled back at him.  “And this way, I can tell you the stories I learn, and help you regain some of your feline heritage.”

He seemed pleased to hear that as he gave a soft purr for a moment, and then added, “It will be good to learn it again.  I didn’t even remember the name for the moon… I don’t know why nothing has returned about that yet.  But at least you’ll have some practice as a Singer.”

She nodded.  They had entered the city by now, and she saw some late bar patrons coming down the street toward them.  “As I learn, so will you, Arnold,” she said.

He frowned at the switch back to his other name, but at seeing the others in the city moving about, he knew that he couldn’t always go by his cat name.  They wouldn’t understand.  Seeing them walking about reminded him, however, of Crableaper’s tale.  “The pale…men.”

“Yes…” Lisa said reflectively.  “It’s not good that they’re taking more people.”  She looked over at Arnold.  “They did get some of the Folk, too, before we realized the danger.  At least their scent is pungent enough that the Folkcan smell those sewer-dwellers coming, now they know what to be aware of.”

“I’ve never seen the sewer dwellers, not that I can remember anyways,” Arnold replied.  “But there have been…‘rats’ beneath the Gangplank.  ‘Rats’ with a very distinctive scent.”

“I saw one there once, during the Boxing Day party.”  She chewed her lip, bringing the sight to mind.  “He–I think it was a male–was indeed very pale, and very thin.  But he seemed strong despite that.  He had little clothing on, and long, stringy hair.”

“We’ll have to avoid the sewers, and these pale men then,” Arnold said as he gripped his head.  “Especially at the moment.  I’ve had…trouble waking up.”

((To be continued…))

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