At the ring of the bell, the wolf opponent leaped up and charged forward slightly, before starting to stalk Beryl, red eyes fixed on the cat with murderous intent. As Lisa watched, her tail thrashed back and forth. Then, when it was close enough and turned away from her, she crouched and leaped up for its head. She kept silent until she was right on the wolf, then let loose with her battle yowl.
The wolf let out a howl of surprise as she landed on its head, digging the claws of her back paws into its shoulders and back, and reaching around with one front paw to claw at its eyes. Beryl took advantage of the distraction and delivered a couple of punches, but then he suddenly stiffened and fell over with a shriek. The arena rumbled, and Lisa could feel shaking coming up through the wolf’s body.
“Way to go, Lisa!” shouted Tepic. Captain Hienrichs, though, took a different view. “That’s cheating! She’ll disqualify the match!”
Lisa called back, her voice somewhat muffled by a mouthful of furry ear, “Cats don’t know rules!” She bit harder into the ear, trying to do as much damage as possible. The wolf reared up, dragging its claws across her back, and finally dislodged her, throwing her off him. She landed on the floor, growling, watching the wolf. But she shot a quick glance at Beryl, who was still lying on the ground convulsing. The wolf growled angrily, and she saw that the wounds she’d inflicted were already healing. Not a good sign, but she wasn’t going to let that put her off.
As she watched, though, the wolf suddenly seemed to shrink a little. She lashed her tail again. “How about a fair fight now?” She leaped forward, striking out with her claws, and skittering away as quickly. This time, the wolf seemed to take her scratches more seriously. It dropped to all fours and stalked her, ignoring Beryl. Lisa let out a feral roar and leaped in again, claws flashing everywhere. The wolf made an attempt to bite her, but came in too low. It aimed a kick at her, and she latched on to the leg with all four paws, biting into it as deep as she could. The wolf tried to grab at her; she sensed the move and let go with her mouth, swinging her body around to the other side of the wolf’s leg. Before she could let go completely, through, its head darted forward, and its jaws clamped down on her left paw.
Lisa yowled with pain. With her right paw, she slashed at the sensitive nose until it finally opened its mouth, dropping her to the floor. She jumped backward, keeping an eye on it, but it suddenly vanished. Spitting out a mouthful of fur, Lisa looked around the arena, wondering if another wolf would appear.
It was more like a nightmare of a wolf, this one. Its form was feral, black, and covered in shadow… and covered with mouths, which hissed at her and dripped dark drool. Lisa shivered once and backed away, limping, until she reached Beryl’s prone body. She nudged it with her left paw, ignoring the pain that caused. “Strifeclaw?” She deliberately used the face name given to him by the cats.
Beryl stirred, looked around with unfocused eyes, and got shakily to his feet. His gaze slowly focused on her. “… is that you, Lisa?”
“It is, Strifeclaw.” She rather expected she was quite an unbelievable sight. She had blood on her claws, and blood was trickling through her fur from a number of scratches and cuts on her body. She held her left paw off the ground, letting it dangle, dripping blood from the bite wounds of the wolf. Her fur was straight out, her back hunched, but there was a ready look in her eyes. “Come. Let’s finish this together.”
Beryl tried to straighten up, and set his boxing gloves before him at the ready. They both had just enough time to notice that the gloves were shining when the wolf leaped at them both. Beryl punched out, connecting with its jaw and sending it reeling back with the jab from gloves that were now silver.
“What?!” Beryl seemed more surprised at this turn of events than the wolf.
Lisa remembered what Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Wright had been discussing. “Silver!” she cried. “They injected you with silver!” She roared out her battle cry, and leaped for this wolf’s head. It brought up its arms, trying to keep her away, and that distraction was enough for Beryl to move in and pummel it with his silver gloves.
The wolf cried out at the terrible onslaught. The arena, which had been trembling throughout, was now shaken violently, with bricks and debris crashing down. The spectators, even Tepic and Captain Hienrichs, fled, disappearing outside. Lisa looked at Beryl. The cat still looked exhausted and terribly wounded, but something about him seemed more… solid, defined. She could feel the dream becoming less substantial, crumbling around her. “I’ll see you there!” she cried, then yowled in triumph and leaped for the path back to her own body.
She landed, however, on the main Dreamfields path, at the place where she’d first set paws on the track to Beryl. Seated in front of her was Lord Firefoot, and she ducked her head respectfully. She could feel the warmth of his gaze. “Well done,” came his deep voice, and he licked her on the top of her head.
“Thank you,” she said quietly. “I don’t think I could have gotten to Strifeclaw without your help.” She turned her head, ready to start grooming her fur and licking her wounds, but Lord Firefoot had already begin to do that. “Let me take care of them,” he said. “It’s best that you not bring wounds like these with you to the waking world.”
Lisa made a dismayed sound in her throat. She hadn’t thought of that. She submitted gratefully to his attentions, and could feel the pain receding under the laving of his tongue. It did not completely disappear, though, and she looked at him curiously as he finished with her paw.
“You need to keep some measure of these,” he answered her unspoken question. “They’re badges of honor and victory, after all.” His whiskers arched forward with amusement. “And now, you’d best wake up.”
She ducked her head again, then leaped out of the Dreamfields and back into her waking body. She could feel her arms, legs, and back stinging. Pushing up the sleeves of her maid’s uniform, she saw the scratches on her arms, red but not bleeding, and guessed that the other scratches would be the same. Her left wrist was sore, but nothing she couldn’t live with.
Slipping off the bed, she padded to the door and listened carefully. There was no sound immediately outside, so she carefully pushed it open, glancing around it. No one was in the hallway, and she quietly went toward the door to Beryl’s room.
((To be continued…))