Lydia woke up slowly. Her head felt like she had drunk herself into about twenty bottles the night before. This was somewhat more painful physically than the way she had been waking up the past few weeks. It almost masked the intense nausea she felt.
Lydia's higher thought processes were blocked by the effort to get out of the bed and find a toilet or something else suitable before she lost her cookies. She practically fell out of the cot, and, after dizzily climbing to unsteady feet, made a stuttering dash for the pot she saw in the corner.
It didn't take long for her body to empty her stomach, and then it was on to dry heaves. She was still trying, for all appearances, to disgorge her stomach itself when someone came into the room she had woken up in.
Julia Diggers saw the girl being sick and then faded back out of the room. She leaned against the door and listened, waiting for the heaves to cease before going in. There was no sense in humiliating the girl by making her aware that this scene had been witnessed.
It was a full minute before Julia hard a weary and confused "where the #$%# am I?" emanate from the room. She pushed away from the wall and walked into the room.
"This is the Observatory," Julia said. "On Jade, about fifty miles south and east of Main Guard." The girl's eyes turned toward her and a look of fear and then determination crossed her face. Julia nodded, the girl recognized her, that cinched it. This was one of her daughter's enemies.
"How the %&^# did I get here?" Lydia demanded, and she concentrated a moment.
"I'd like to know that too," Julia said, crossing her arms. "But I'm more concerned with why you're here."
"Wait a minute," Lydia said. "There was a fire, and then I was outside with that cat-boy..." That was about all she could clearly remember.
"You mean, Raphiel?" Julia asked, sitting on the bed. Lydia nodded, recovering her focus enough to watch Julia cautiously. "Don't bother, you couldn't move near fast enough to counter anything I decided to do."
"What the #%$$#@ do you @#$@#$ know about what I can @#$@$ do, @$@#$?" Lydia demanded angrily.
In the next instant Julia's fist was coming at her in a flash of movement that would have made Zero insane with jealousy. Lydia could barely track it, and her body refused to move at her call. She was expecting the impact when two fingers stopped about half an inch away from her eyes.
"Guh...guh...guh....guh...guh," a rather pale seeming Lydia blubbered.
"You saw it coming," Julia said, moderately impressed. "You've had seem decent training at least, but you're body's too weak to put up a fight right now."
"A dragon tried to eat me," Lydia said, growling and refusing to be intimidated by this woman. Well, she'd settle for refusing to appear intimidated. She dropped the profanity though.
"I'm not talking about your wounds," Julia said. "Those are almost gone." Lydia blinked.
"What did you say?" Lydia asked.
"Your wounds are almost gone," Julia said.
Lydia blinked and began to examine herself excitedly. Just as the woman said the crushed leg and great tears in her flesh were almost totally gone. She could feel just the barest trace of a raised scar in the places where the worst injuries had been.
"Well, Lord Gothwrain," Her mouth split into a grim, joyless smile as she tried to stand up again. "Looks like time for the staff to voice some complaints." At least she thought so until she found herself tired and dizzy just from the effort of standing.
"Whoah!" Julia said, moving to help support the rat. "Not too fast. I said your body was too weak and I meant it. It looks like you haven't been eating well and on top of that my husband said that you seem to have fought off a powerful enchantment. You're going to have to take it easy." Lydia felt too weary to complain.
"Damn it," she muttered.
"Maybe we should continue this discussion over breakfast," Julia suggested.
"Whatever," Lydia responded irritably.
"You're just bound and determined to piss me off to the point I kill," Julia complained as she helped Lydia out of the room. "Aren't you?" Lydia mumbled something incomprehensible.
"Lydia!" a familiar voice yelled. Lydia winced as she turned to see Raphiel. "Good morning!"
"...." Lydia grumbled wordlessly for several moments before begrudgingly muttering, "good morning" back to the werecheetah.
"Mesha and Tark are almost done with breakfast!" he said. "Come on or it won't be hot."
Julia was about to bring attention to the fact that she couldn't really move fast when the wererat was suddenly removed from her grasp and following the werecheetah in a blur down the stairs. She wasn't moving under her own power. A fact that was emphasized by the sounds erupting from Lydia's mouth.
Julia came down stairs to see a highly ruffled wererat shakily holding a kitchen knife over an oblivious werecheetah's head.
Lydia's face was a mask of barely contained rage as she held the knife, the steel knife, over her head and breathed heavily. Raphiel seemed to pay most of his attention to the food, though he was talking to the unresponsive wererat between mouthfuls.
Julia calmly walked around behind the distracted Lydia and turned her around to face the plate in front of her. She firmly forced the girl's hand down to he table, ignoring the wordless complaints she got from Lydia. Then she took the knife away, set a bowl of soup in front of Lydia. Finally, she put a spoon into Lydia's hand and directed her head to look down at the bowl.
"Eat," Julia commanded.
"Chicken soup?" she asked, after sniffing for a moment.
"It's the best thing there is," Julia said. "Eat it." Lydia was about to tell her that she didn't feel hungry, but realized that for once she did.
Julia sat and watched Lydia eat the bowl of soup, which was quickly replaced with another by Tark.
"Care to explain to me what you're doing on Jade, now?" Julia asked. "We'd heard you died months ago." Raphiel answered before Lydia could.
"Oh, the dragon brought her here," Raphiel said. Julia glanced to Raphiel in surprise, and remembered that Lydia had said something about a dragon earlier.
"That would explain the remnants of the curse I found about you," Dr. Diggers said as he came into the dining room.
"Excuse me," Lydia said irritably. "I can..." she almost dropped her spoon as she identified the mage that had come in.
"As long as you behave yourself," Theo said, recognizing the look. "Then you don't have anything to fear from us." Lydia shook her head out and smirked to herself.
"I should have known better than to not expect that you'd be here," Lydia said. "After all, so is she."
"Lydia always behaves fine," Raphiel said.
"I do not!" Lydia growled, then blinked as everyone stared at her after that outburst. "err...I do not need a werecheetah defending me."
"Sorry," Raphiel said. "Hey, wait a minute you're right. You don't talk a lot, when you do talk you swear, you complain at the healers and refuse to eat a lot. You really don't behave well!" It was hard to tell whether Raphiel was joking or serious.
Julia stood up and again repositioned Lydia to pay attention to her soup. Though Julia was just a little curious to know what Lydia had planned to do with that wooden spoon.
"Anyway," Lydia grumbled after fuming for a minute or so. "Britanny can go off herself for all I care. My problem's with my employer now."
"Gothwrain," Theo said grimmly. This time Lydia did drop her spoon.
"How did you...?"
"I've had run-ins with him before," Theo explained. Lydia swallowed nervously as she considered this new information.
"I've never had the pleasure myself," Julia said. "But I've certainly wanted to a few times."
"He's mine," Lydia snapped angrilly, clenching her fist around her spoon.
"You don't have to worry about him on Jade," Theo said. "And what's to gain in vengeance, whatever he did to you?"
"What's to lose?" Lydia asked, pointedly looking down into her soup.
"Finally," Romeo said. "We're out of there."
"Did you see the Thing?" Moisha asked.
"Which thing?" Romeo asked wearily. "I keep telling you there were a lot of 'things.'"
"Oh, like, come on!" Moisha said. "The Thing! You, like have to know the Thing! You know?"
"Uh, right," Romeo said. "You know, for a carnivorous apple tree, that was a pretty easy climb."
"Yeah," Moisha said, lifting an apple from her bag and starting to bring it to her mouth. "Weird they'd call it that, isn't it?"
"Umm, where did you get that apple?" Romeo asked nervously.
"From the tree," Moisha said. "I put a whole lot in this bag of holding I bought."
"Uh huh," Romeo sweated for an instant, before stepping forward and knocking the apple out of Moisha's hand.
"Hey," Moisha snapped angrily. "What did you do that...for?"
Romeo was pointing panickly at where the apple had landed. The little apple had somehow developed a mouth full of sharp, stick like teeth.
"AHHHHHHH!!!!" Both rats screeched before taking off, Moisha dumping the contents of her bag behind her.
"JUST DROP IT!! DROP IT!!!" Romeo shouted.
"Are you, like, KIDDING?!" Moisha asked. "This is, like, the ULTIMATE, shopping accessory!! You know?!"
Romeo glanced back at the growing horde of mobile and fanged apples. Given such a visual stimulant he found himself capable of adequately stating his opinion on the subject.
"There's really no telling where they ended up," Sheila said. "I suppose the Observatory is most likely, Raphiel does know that after all."
"This is my responsibility," Sheena sighed. "I should have known better than to try to push the poor girl."
"Don't worry," Sheila said. "We're the Edge Guard, we can track them down and..." Sheila was cut off by the sound of an arriving teleport. Suddenly the pair they were planning to search for was standing in the room with them, and the elder Diggers were there as well.
"I think you're looking for these two," Julia Diggers said with a smirk.
"Ohh, Hi Sheila!" Raphiel said. "Lydia's awake now!" An irritated wererat waved from her position in the middle of several people that she still figured wanted her dead.
"By the heavens," Sheena gasped, racing over to examine Lydia who was unwillingly being supported by Raphiel. "It is certainly a miracle."
"What's a miracle?" Lydia asked.
"You seem to have overcome the dragon curse," Sheena said. She glanced at the distrusting look in Lydia's eyes and ignored it. "How's your appetite?"
"I'm not hungry," Lydia said. Sheena appeared disappointed for a moment.
"She just ate about ten bowls of chicken soup," Dr. Diggers said.
"Well," Sheena said cheerfully. "It seems you are feeling better." She frowned as she further examined Lydia. "But perhaps you should go back to bed for now. Tomorrow we'll start getting you back to your prime."
"Whatever," Lydia grumbled again. Sheena started to take hold of Lydia, but the rat shook her off. "I'm fine."
"Well." Sheena said, with an arched eyebrow. She watched Lydia watching the rest of them.
She didn't seem to be paying attention as much to Raphiel. There was a distinct lack of distrust in her expression when she glanced past him. Though that was perhaps because it must become quite obvious to her that Raphiel probably couldn't lie to save his life.
Sheila blinked, finally recovering her wits, and then smirked.
"And hey, the four of you are just in time," she said.
"In time for what?" Julia asked as Sheila smiled wickedly.
Lydia looked down at the deck in her hand. Just where had Sheila come up with five more bicycle decks anyway? Lydia's mouth twitched as she played her card.
"This is still weird," Britanny said.
"I agree," her mother said. "Though she doesn't appear to be an immediate danger to anybody, and if she tries anything, I'm watching her."
"Thanks, Mom," Britanny said. "Do you need me to..."
"This is your vacation time, Brit," Julia said. "Enjoy vacation. Besides, best to get in the habit of just lying around right now."
"Huh?" Britanny asked, confused. Julia winked at her, but that only confused her more. "Okay, Mom, whatever you say. And thanks again." She spared the odd image of Raphiel helping Lydia do situps one more glance before leaving.
"That's enough for today," Sheena said. Lydia glanced at her and continued her efforts. "That's enough, Lydia."
"I can get another pull-up in," Lydia insisted, glancing at Sheena from the corner of her eyes.
Sheena frowned, the girl had gone from catatonic to obssessive over getting better as soon as possible in what amounted to an eyeblink. Perhaps she was not as recovered mentally as had first seemed.
"You'll only slow yourself down if you push to hard," Sheena said. Lydia seemed to consider it for a moment before dropping to the ground.
"Fine," Lydia said before shuffling away from the small room that had been set up for Lydia.
She was getting around on her own now, walking normally most of the time. But she almost always left the workout room looking like she was on the verge of death by exhaustion.
"She still doesn't care about herself," Sheena decided. She considered the problem for a moment, and thought of something. "Lydia, I thought of something you could do to help further your recovery."
Lydia shuffled back to the room and looked at her expectantly, waiting for the catch.
"What's that?" she asked.
"Let me just call someone to help you get around," Sheena said. "Do you have any preferences?" Lydia frowned and her mouth twitched.
"I don't see what this has to do with getting better," Lydia muttered as she sat down in the small auditorium next to Raphiel.
"It's fun though," Raphiel said. "They play great music, I sometimes hear when I'm passing by. There's good food too, but I've never been able to afford a ticket before."
"I think this one's on my tab," Lydia said blandly. She looked down at the dress she was wearing, presumably to encourage her not to do anything too athletic.
"Oh yeah," Raphiel said. "That's a nice dress. It looks good on you."
"Uh huh," Lydia said deadpan. "Which one told you to say that?"
"Nobody," Raphiel said. Lydia stared at him in surprise. "Britanny told me to tell you your hair looked nice, but at the time you were just waking up, so I think she was trying to tease you." Lydia worked her mind around that comment for a few seconds.
"What is wrong with my hair when I wake up?" she asked in a growl.
"Well, it's all sort of...everywhere," Raphiel said. "It looks cute, but I didn't think you'd want me saying it looks nice."
"I look 'cute'?" Lydia repeated, mind sent reeling again.
"Hey, ssshh," Raphiel said. "The music's starting."
Raphiel didn't seem to notice Lydia reaching her hands up towards his neck, her eyes twitching. Then she jerked her hands down and growled through gritted teeth.
"OOOhhh!!" Lydia snapped. ~He does that on purpose, I know he does.~ Which was about when the cannon went off about twenty feet behind them, and Lydia found herself clutching Raphiel in a death grip.
"Yeah," Raphiel said, apparently not unhappy about having the girl cling to him. "Neat way to start a song eh?"
Lydia returned indignantly to her seat and convinced herself again not to strangle the werecheetah. The music was kind of enjoyable...like an orchestra version of heavy metal or something.
(Lydia has never heard any of the heavier symphonies, like "In the Hall of the Mountain King" or "Ride of the Valkyries")
"Ahhh," Gar said looking out from the boat as the docks of Main Guard appeared on the horizon. "Almost there."