Lisa looked up from sweeping the dining room floor at the sound of the opening door. “Lisa?” called a voice.
“Hello, Strifeclaw,” she called back. He entered the large room and gestured for her to follow him, leading her through the connecting door to the hospital. He looked around, making sure no one was nearby, then sat on a bench in the front reception area. Lisa sat down by him, leaning close.
“I have much to tell you,” Beryl said quietly. He looked at her solemnly. “I have some rather… bad news. Lilith will never walk without her crutches again.”
Lisa’s face fell at that. “Oh, no…”
Beryl nodded. “We found out early Sunday. Viper used that machine in there.” He pointed toward the aetheric scan room. “We had known her spine had taken damage, but we didn’t know the full extent until then.” Lisa signed, and he laid a paw on her arm. “I do have a glimmer of hope to add. As a test, she transformed after Viper left us. She was able to stand on her own in that form.”
Lisa’s face cleared a little. “That’s something, at least.”
“Later that day, Janus approached both her and Snow.”
“What did he have to say for himself?” Lisa growled.
“He offered to take Snow into his pack.” Lisa snorted at that. “He also admitted,” Beryl continued, “that he did not give the others the choice between joining and not.”
She frowned. “Is it time for me to try tracking him down in the Dreamlands?”
“Yes, it might be time.”
“If I find him, is there anything you’d like me to ask him? Beyond the obvious, of course–what he thinks he’s up to.”
“I think that is all we need ask for now.”
Lisa nodded. “I’ll ask the cats to try to find out where he’s lairing.”
“Well, I know they’ve smelled him around the northern exits. I asked them when he bounded off after… the ceremony.” Beryl looked at her sourly. “You could have warned me about that.” Lisa returned his stare innocently, as only a cat could, and his gaze softened.
“By the way, I received this letter after that ceremony.” He fished in his pockets, and finally pulled out a sheet of paper and read out the threatening missive he’d already shown Miss Hienrichs. “If it was just threatening me,” he said, “I wouldn’t even have told Bookworm. But she and Emerson, and the Emperor, were threatened, so I thought I should mention it.”
Lisa nodded, silently resolving to ask her friends to keep an eye on them all.
“I will not, however, mention that her boss is building a Beryl Strifeclaw Extermination Device. He’ll probably see something shiny and forget what he was doing.”
“A… what?” Lisa looked at him, confused.
“That’s what Chess called it. Apparently, I’m not allowed to have more friends than him. Or more medals.” He paused. “I’m sure he’s just joking.”
“I hope so,” she growled.
“Lisa…” Beryl shifted his eyes, looking uncomfortable, then brought his eyes back to her. “I’m going to be quitting soon.”
“Quitting? Do you mean… leaving?” She felt a sinking in her stomach, a growing panic at the thought of being left alone in the asylum.
“In an official capacity, I’ll be leaving the asylum and the hospital. I will remain on as a volunteer,” he hastened to add. Lisa’s face showed her relief at that. “I will have no authority,” he continued. “But that really won’t change much of anything.”
Lisa nodded, rising from her seat. “I should get back to work,” she said.
Beryl laid a forestalling hand on her arm, worried about the panic he’d seen cross her face at the thought that he was leaving. “Lisa… remember that you do have other friends. Tepic, the other urchins, Dr. Maddox, Dr. Solen, even Miss Bookworm–they’d all help you if you needed it.”
“Perhaps,” she said a bit reluctantly. She looked down at him, her face briefly naked, showing a wealth of uncertainty and fear, before she brought it back to its usual impassive mask. “But you’re the only one who truly understands.”
Beryl nodded, feeling a little shaken. “Don’t worry. I’ll see you soon.” Lisa nodded back, and hurried to the asylum.