((~sigh~ You gotta love it when your muse takes an extended vacation. I’m trying to rope her back in.))
For the past few nights, Lisa Fargazer had been searching the strange area between the Dreamfields, trying to find the one where she and Lilith had spoken to Janus. She was still learning about this strange place–and having to do it alone; she’d spoken with the Elders, and all of them had been amazed at her descriptions of the strange pathway that led to so many Dreamfields. None of them could even venture a guess about it all.
Finally, though, in the early morning hours, she found a path that felt right. She plunged down it, landing on all fours in a forest. It looked somewhat similar to the place she and Lilith had first found Janus, but it was a more open forest than before, bordered on one side with a tall cliff. She also heard the whish of breaking waves to one side, and glimpsed an expanse of ocean. Curious, she cautiously moved that way; after a moment, she ducked and crouched beside a tree, staring out at a familiar form standing by the shore.
The wolf in man’s clothing looked up suddenly, sniffing the air. He turned and stared in her direction, a grin on his face. “Is there a problem?” he asked.
Lisa hissed, and then yowled angrily, “Why did you not go to Dr. Sonnerstein?”
“I did go to Dr. Sonnerstein,” he replied, still grinning. “After all, I never said when I’d go, did I?”
“Beryl and Miss Bookworm intended for you to stay with him!”
“I had things to do first.”
Lisa growled, “Yes. Making others like yourself.”
“No!” Janus replied firmly. “I have been rounding them up, and formed Rasend a pack. What he’ll do with it will be up to him.”
“But what if that’s not what they wanted? After all, you didn’t give them a choice!”
“I did, actually. Accept me–well, Rasend–as pack leader, or die.”
“Some choice!” Lisa hissed.
“Really, what choice would you give them when they were transformed? I could have killed them while they were men or women. Instead, I waited until the full moon to recruit them. If I am guilty of murder, so is everyone who has ever killed a wolf because they were ‘dangerous.’”
“But you’ve taken them away from family, friends, work–”
“As did everyone else before me.” He shook his head. “How many of them do you think it will take before that church decides to hunt them down? You can blame me all you wish, but I’m saving their lives.”
“For how long? If they stay as they are, sooner or later, they will run afoul of humans, and be hunted down.”
“The plan is to move to the Fells, with Rasend as the pack leader. They joined the back while wolves, and the connection is binding.”
“But if they stay here, they can perhaps be helped, even restored!” Lisa had no idea if that were true, but surely it was better to try than to give up on them so soon.
Janus smirked, clearly amused. “You are welcome to try to go and convince them of that now. Their wolf side has won over them. I believe they would gobble you up rather quickly.”
Lisa moved forward, her eyes narrowed, her claws shooting out. “As you would gobble me, here and now?”
“Never.” Janus looked at her tensed lines, and shrugged. “You can even claw me if it will make you feel any better, but it won’t change anything. Swiftwater will move out without me.” He paused. “There was actually one other option I offered those people, but they all refused.”
“And that was?”
“That is my surprise.”
Lisa spat at his smug tone. “I think you’ll find I’ve a few surprises as well.”
“Why do you think I’m not telling you the other option? You clearly don’t seem to like what I offer, but mostly because I am the one saying it.”
“No!” She tried to sound firm, but had a stomach-sinking feeling that it was coming across as more desperate than anything else. “I know all about being forced into things with no choice, and I hate those who do it to others! Beings like Canergak–and you!”
Janus chuckled. “Well, what can I say? Pirate.”
“You’re just like him, and just like Ambrose,” she growled.
Janus shook his head. “You are very narrow minded; it’s going to get you killed one day. But then, that’s a cat for you.”
“Perhaps,” Lisa replied, baring her teeth. “But I’d rather die helping others than stand by and do nothing.” She suddenly let out a loud caterwaul, and leaped forward, claws ready to strike at him. Janus simply stood there, though, leaving his arm exposed to her attack. She tore at it, then jumped away, circling and snarling.
“I could tear you apart,” he said, with only a wince betraying any reaction to her attack.
“I’d like to see you try,” she growled. She had plenty of fighting tricks if she needed them…
“I don’t want to.” He paused. “I didn’t force Lil nor the boy named Snow to join the pack. I offered it to them, but it was their choice.”
Lisa’s eyes widened. Was he actually still trying to justify himself to her? Still, she was curious… “Why give them a choice, and not the others?”
“Because they aren’t Rasend’s. He didn’t make them.”
“Then who did?” Lisa already knew, from Lilith herself, the basics of her story, but she didn’t know anything about Snow.
“I have no idea.” Janus shrugged. “I can tell the ones Swiftwater touched by scent and feel. But those who aren’t my responsibility.”
Lisa spat angrily. “You know nothing of responsibility.”
“Would you rather I gave them back their choice?” asked Janus impatiently. “You wouldn’t.”
“Let me be the judge of that.”
“No. This is not your decision.”
“And not yours!” yowled Lisa.
Janus shook his head. “They are Swiftwater’s pack now. They will decide. If they did go their own way, they would spread. They would make more of themselves, and in the end, there would be hundreds of wolves. That they would be hunted down and eliminated is without question.”
“And keeping them on the Fells is better?” asked Lisa incredulously. “In a place that already has a difficult balance between predator and prey? What impact will two dozen new hunters have?” Though she’d only lived on the fringes of the Fells for a few months as a cat, she’d heard enough from other feral cats to understand what life was like there. “They will either starve, or have to move off the Fells–to more settled areas.
“Probably.” Janus sounded unconcerned, even bored, with this argument from her. “Except for the fact there is more than enough food right now.”
“That won’t last past the first winter,” she warned.
“The wolves cannot die from the cold. Nor can they starve, nor be eaten and digested. That will come in handy when they meet what they’ll be eating for a few months.”
“What?” Lisa looked up at him, puzzled. Her fur prickled, standing on end, as she showed her his arm, the one she’d attacked only minutes before. There were no claw marks anywhere.
“We don’t die easily,” he continued. “The Church men know how to kill us, but animals out on the Fells cannot.”
“So perhaps you cannot die,” Lisa replied. ‘Though I wonder how you would survive having your throat ripped out, or your head taken off,’ she thought, rather regretting she was too small to try that herself. “But you will kill everything else that lives on the Fells–prey and predator alike. How can that be good?”
“How would it be any different than what they would do here?”
“In the city, they can be contained, and helped.”
Janus let out a loud bark of laughter. “By Canergak? By the Church?”
“By others,” Lisa insisted. “Dr. Sonnerstein, for one.”
“He can’t keep us all.” Janus rolled his eyes.
“I’m sure others would help, too,” she said desperately, kneading her claws in the ground, sensing that their argument was drawing to an end–and that she was losing it.
“And how many of them can be trusted? If enough people find out what they are… Do you remember when the asylum had to close its doors and lock everyone out? People were lining up to go in there and kill all the zombies.”
“Miss Hienrichs would help, I’m sure of that. And she has some authority in the city.”
“And if the rest of the militia, the captains, decided the people were right?” Lisa dropped her eyes, unable to answer. “You don’t like what I did,” Janus continued, “but I really did think it through before I did it, kitten. Or are you a kitten in this form?”
Lisa looked back up at Janus, anger clear in her eyes. “I am no kitten,” she growled slowly. “Would you like another demonstration?”
“No, I don’t need one,” he replied, laughing. “Your other self seems younger than you are here.”
She stayed silent, not willing to trust this man with one iota of knowledge about her past. After a moment or two, Janus continued. “I will tell you this–soon, you will not see me again outside of the Dreamfields.”
“Why?” Lisa looked at him suspiciously.
“You’ll know why.” His mocking laughter echoed and grew quieter. Lisa sensed that he was retreating from the Dreamfields, and sent one last angry yowl after his disappearing form. Then she was alone on the shore, the quiet, ceaseless sound of the small waves breaking doing nothing to calm her down. She took the time to race around in the forest for a while, leaping up to rake her claws through the park of several trees, before she finally sent herself back to wakefulness.
She opened her eyes to the small corner of the asylum she’d taken as her own. Her eyes were heavy, her muscles tensed, her stomach churning with anger. This would be a hard day to get through, and harder still to tell Strifeclaw what she’d learned.