Now that they were alone, Strifeclaw returned to the meeting Lisa had had with Canergak. “What else, if anything, did he say? He didn’t threaten you, did he?”
Lisa shook her head. “Though if he knew what I truly was, he’d probably feel toward me what he does toward you.” She smiled wryly, and Strifeclaw nodded, knowing how right she was.
“But the other thing he wants me to do,” she continued, “is to keep a watch on something in his office whenever he’s away.”
Strifeclaw stared at her. “Wait. He’s giving you the key to his office?” At her nod, he continued, “That’s… great news! Right?”
“I’m not sure,” she replied, shrugging. “We’ll see. He did say he was going to take out everything of value, so I wouldn’t be ‘tempted.’”
“Tempted to steal it, probably,” mused the larger cat. “Or break it. Then again, maybe he thinks you’d use it.”
Lisa snorted. “It will be interesting to see what he leaves, and what he considers of value.”
“You got a good look at his room?”
She nodded. “What he wants me to watch is something he said shows the health of the aether in this area. If it… fluctuates, he wants me to contact him as soon as possible.”
“Fluctuates?” Strifeclaw pondered that a moment. “I think–though I’m not sure–that’s science-speak for does something. Anything.”
“Ahh, thank you. He didn’t explain.” She was going to say more, but then they both heard Dr. Maddox call out, “Arnold! Lisa! The food is ready! I’ll bring it to you!” A moment later, she walked into the office, carrying two plates filled with fish and vegetables. “Please, eat,” she said. “I get to cook so rarely since Helio left with the baby.”
Lisa took one of the plates and smiled at Dr. Maddox. “Thank you,” she said, and gingerly perched on one of the rocking chairs, balancing her plate on her lap. Strifeclaw took his plate and began eating with gusto.
Dr. Maddox looked at Lisa. “If you find you don’t like it, I can make something else…”
Lisa shook her head, swallowed her mouthful, and replied, “It’s delicious, doctor. Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome.” Dr. Lionheart now directed her gaze impartially at them both. “Have the urchins been eating like they should? Very few have taken me up on my offer.” When Strifeclaw shook his head, she continued a bit impatiently. “Will I have to force them to eat? Tepic promised he would send a few children…”
“You would be cooking in an asylum… and there’s other reasons to avoid it.” Strifeclaw said, and then repeated one of Tepic’s most fervent warning, “If a deal is too good, then it usually is.”
She sighed. “If only Helio and I hadn’t had to sell our house…”
Strifeclaw shook his head again, but evidently decided further attempts at explanations were useless now. After a moment, she said, “Perhaps I should go and get ready for the party. Lisa, you and Arnold will clean up for me, won’t you? We’ll start your lessons soon.”
“I will,” replied Lisa. “Thank you again.”
Dr. Maddox smiled happily. “You’re very welcome, my dear girl. You let me know anytime you need something. Goodnight, you two.” She waved, and left the office with Lisa’s “Good night” and Strifeclaw’s wave following her.
“Will you need any help with cleaning up, Lisa?” Strifeclaw asked. The intent look she turned to him, though, showed she had something else on her mind.
“I looked for you in the Dreamfields.”
“You did?” He had completely forgotten that she had intended to reach him after the Meeting, “What happened?”
“I could sense you, but I couldn’t reach you. It was as if something was blocking–no. That’s not the right image.” Lisa fell silent, still eating, but frowning as she thought. Strifeclaw waited patiently, but it wasn’t until she’d finished her dinner, and set the empty plate carefully on the floor, that she began talking again.
“It’s as if there was a river between us, a river with no bridge. I could sense you, but I don’t think you could sense me. You kept entering the river. I tried to reach out to grab you, but the current would sweep you away.” She looked across at him. “But now that you know yourself, perhaps the bridge is there now.”
“I don’t know,” Strifeclaw mused. “The past two nights I have… It has been different.”
Lisa asked curiously, “How?”
“I have been dreaming, and walking my own mind. I don’t know if it’s the Dreamfields; I certainly haven’t talked to anyone within them yet.”
Lisa shrugged. “I don’t know either. I’ll try again tonight.”
“I hope to see you there.” Strifeclaw grinned, and Lisa smiled back. “If you do,” she said, “you’ll see me as I was.”
“Who you really are, without the skin here.” He smiled. “I’ll look different as well, so there may be some surprises for us both.”
Chuckling, Lisa picked up the empty plates and took them to the kitchen, ready to clean them, and then look in on Dr. Solsen before finally going to her own bed.