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Felisa didn’t understand a great deal of Ambrose’s answer, but two things were abundantly clear. One–he could not restore her to her body. Two–he had every intention of continuing with his experiments. He would continue killing her Folk–probably starting with her sister Tealla. He would continue killing *his* folk, too.
‘No,’ she thought, her path suddenly clear before her. ‘I can’t let this happen.’ She began stalking behind Ambrose.
Felisa had come a long way since that day she’d found her sister, and fallen over her own legs when trying to get out quickly. She’d practiced walking and moving a great deal since then. Her cat and human instincts were no longer fighting each other, but had somehow melded together, allowing her human body to walk and move very nearly as silently as she had as a cat. It was certainly more than silent enough to keep Ambrose from hearing her.
As she passed another table, one laid out with a variety of instruments, she silently took up one of the metal claws lying there. A scalpel, her back-of-the-head instinct told her; it also corrected her grip on the handle. She silently came up right behind Ambrose, holding the scalpel behind her back.
“Now then,” he said, beginning to straighten and turn. “If you’ll just sit back up on the table–“
He never got any further. The moment his face came into clear view, she lashed out.
The blade of the scalpel cut into Ambrose’s right eye, bounced off the bridge of his nose, and sliced into the skin above his left eye. Ambrose cried out in agony, dropping the needle and pressing his hands to his face Right eye ruined, left eye blinded by blood, unable to see his assailant, he tried to retreat backwards, but ran into the table and stumbled. His hands instinctively came out to either side in an effort to keep his balance.
That opening was all Felisa needed. She lashed out again with the scalpel, this time at his throat. The blade sliced into his neck, cutting several blood vessels, including the jugular. Blood spurted from between his fingers as he clamped his hands to his neck in a vain attempt to staunch the bleeding. He tried to speak, but all that came was a gurgling sound. He sank to his knees, then over on his side. His body twitched for a few moments, and then lay still in the growing pool of blood.
Felisa watched it all impassively, not, as yet, heeding the blood that had spattered on her. She waited until she was sure he was dead, then knelt down to his body and took the ring of keys hanging from his belt. She got up and headed for the door that led to the room where Tealla was, looking back fearfully at the two mechanicals. But they simply stood there, as impassive as she had been. Neither moved toward her. Neither told her, “No.” Not questioning this miracle, she fumbled at the keys on the ring, trying one after another, until she finally found the one that unlocked the door. She entered and immediately went to Tealla’s cage.
“Felisa!” Tealla cried, shocked at her appearance. “What happened? Where’s the M’an?”
“He’s dead,” Felisa replied absently, chewing her lip as she struggled to open the cage. Finally, more by luck than anything else, she popped it open and helped Tealla down to the floor. Tealla dashed to the door, staring out, wrinkling her nose at the smell of fresh blood.
“You did this?” She glanced back at Felisa. “But why? Weren’t you going to ask him to restore you to yourself?”
Felisa shook her head. “He couldn’t. And I had to stop him…stop him from killing Folk and Big Ones alike. This was the only way.”
Tealla approached the body slowly and circled round it. She went in closer, then suddenly reached out and scratched one of the body’s arms viciously. “Take that, M’an!” she hissed.
Seeing that stirred something in Felisa’s mind. “Wait,” she said when Tealla made a move to leave the body. Felisa went to Tealla, knelt down, and gently took one of her front paws, guiding it to where she’d cut Ambrose across the face. “Put your claws out,” she said, and carefully maneuvered the exposed claws, putting one in the slice she’d made, with the others below that. “Now drive in, as deep as you can!” She slowly dragged Tealla’s paw across his face, creating deep scratches below the scalpel cut. Then she repositioned the paw on the neck cut, and repeated the process.
“Why did you do that?” Tealla asked.
Felisa had been wondering that herself, but the answer quickly came to her. “I mustn’t let the Big Ones know that this one succeeded in his plans with me. If they know, then others might try the same thing, and more Folk would die. This way, they will think that a cat simply turned on him and got in a lucky strike, then escaped.”
Tealla growled softly. “Just so long as they don’t come after all of us.”
“I don’t think they will. How many Folk are there here? How could they find one, and one whose appearance they don’t even know?”
“So what do we do now?”
Felisa looked down at herself. “I’d best wash. I certainly can’t wander the streets looking like this.” She got up and went into the washroom, where she carefully scrubbed herself from head to toe. She also changed into her other set of clothing, bundling together the bloodied items she had been wearing. She came back into the main room in time to see Tealla finishing her own ablutions, grimacing and complaining over the taste of the M’an’s blood. “Now what?” she asked.
The back of her head reminded Felisa about the journal she’s seen Ambrose using a few days ago. “There’s something I need to find,” she said. “After that, we can go.” She carefully searched the main room, but didn’t see it, so she went to the last door, the one leading to the room she’d never seen. She hesitated and looked back, but the mechanicals still didn’t move, so she approached with more confidence. Again, trial and error with the keys led her to the right one, and she opened the now-unlocked door.
There was a large desk at one wall, covered with papers and books. More books resided in the shelves along two of the other walls. Felisa looked around a moment, then let her back-of-the-head instinct guide her to the desk. It took only a few moments for her to find the journal that had her image on the first leaf–the one Ambrose had said was all about her. Satisfied, she turned to go, but stopped in her tracks, feeling like someone had kicked her in the gut.
On the wall by the door, there was a pelt hanging. A black-and-white cat pelt. *Her* pelt. With a shaking hand, she reached out, took it down from the wall, and put it to her cheek. A faint scent drifted into her nostrils, one her cat brain recognized as…hers. She suddenly collapsed to the floor, sobbing.
Tealla came galloping to the door. “Felisa! What’s wrong? What–” She stopped short, seeing the pelt lying in Felisa’s lap. Tealla came up to it, sniffed once, and yowled in dismay. Then she was up in Felisa’s lap, butting her with her head, babbling, “Oh, Felisa! I’m so sorry! This is all my fault–my fault! It isn’t fair–it just isn’t fair–“
That stopped Felisa’s sobs. She gently took Tealla up, and stroked her head. “No, Tealla. This isn’t your fault. This–” she gestured around, “this is what Oel-var’iz Shadoweye saw for me. This is why he named me M’anchild. It was the only warning he could give me of my fate.” They sat there a few moments longer, comforting each other. Then, wiping away tears, Felisa got up and went back to the main room, taking the pelt and journal with her.
Tealla watched Felisa as she opened one of the small windows high in the wall, and dragged a table over by it. “There,” she said. “That’s how you got out, or so the Big Ones will think.” She hid the pelt and journal in the bundle of bloodied clothing, then went to the exit door. It opened easily. She returned to Ambrose’s body, replaced the key ring on his belt, and returned to the exit, picking up her bundle on the way. She and Tealla walked through, and Felisa closed the door behind her.
For the first time in months, they were free.
((To be continued))