Author's Note: Well, I wasn't going to keep updating, but then I saw that I have new readers for this story. So here's another chapter, which I hope you enjoy! This one's a bit slow, but the next few are nearly finished so hopefully I'll have them up soon. Please review and tell me what you think!
PhoenixofPangea, your question is answered below!
Back in my room, we sat on the bed, staring at one another, trying to understand what we had just been told.
"So... we're in our world, but not exactly."
"And there are dinosaurs here."
"Somehow being in some other world would be easier to believe."
"Because of the dinosaurs."
"I just don't understand how this exists and no one's found it!"
"Dinosaurs existing would be such big news!"
Suddenly, Jill's eyes flashed and she shoved my shoulder none too gently.
"Shut up, Sue! This is serious!"
I blinked in surprise; Jill never snapped, especially not at me. But I knew that this wasn't really about me and that I'd likely have the same reaction if I wasn't distracting myself with denial and amazement. But she'd always been the factual one and I'd been the expert with distracting myself from what I didn't want to think about. So I took her hand and squeezed it, smiling warmly before the guilt on her face made it to an apology.
"Come on, it's exciting, let's enjoy it while we're here."
Jill didn't look any happier, but she didn't protest when I pulled her to her feet and tugged her along behind me. We spent the rest of the day playing with the children to distract ourselves from what had become an overwhelmingly strange reality.
The next day was somehow the worst for me. Perhaps I had been given some medication at the beginning and it was only now wearing off or perhaps it had been the physical exertion the day before, but my body protested every movement and I was in bad spirits because of it. By lunch, Jill had ordered me to my bed and I hadn't argued. No one disturbed me - undoubtedly Jill kept them away - which was good because while my body was in pain, my brain wouldn't let me sleep, and I would have regretted what I said to anyone who came in. I watched from my bed as the sun set and eventually the voices and noises of the house settled into silence. I tossed for a little longer, then got out and began to pace, slowly and painfully. The knock on the door didn't surprise me and when Jill slipped in I gave a tight smile.
"Feeling any better?"
"Here, thought this might help."
Despite my sour mood, my smile grew genuine as I stiffly pulled myself onto the bed and crossed my legs, knees touching hers. Handing me a sweet roll, she smiled tiredly and we both ate in silence for a few minutes.
"I'm sorry for today."
"Not your fault, I'd be in the same mood if I was in your place."
I gave a snort of laughter, knowing she's just being nice. "You wouldn't take it out on anyone else though."
"Just on you."
I did chuckle then, but it died in my throat as she froze, her eyes squeezing shut. I intertwined my fingers with hers and she gripped tight enough to make them crack. When she finally opened her eyes, breath unsteady and hands shaking, I forced a smile despite tears in both of our eyes. "We're a bit of a mess."
"How many times today?"
She nodded her head wearily and lay back on the bed, closing her eyes and going limp. Finishing off my sweet roll, I sighed and leaned back too, suddenly finding the sleep that I'd been craving all day.
I woke knowing exactly where I was, my hand still in Jill's. For a moment, I stared at the ceiling, finally feeling like I might be on-track with the twists that life had thrown at us. Gradually, I realized that Jill's iron grip on my hand was what had woken me and I turned to see her pale and grimacing in her sleep. Shaking her, I became increasingly scared when she didn't respond. Finally, I smacked her shoulder. "Jill! Wake up!"
Blearily, her eyes opened, but she looked at me with confusion. "Sue? What's wrong? Where are we?"
Terror raced through my body and I was through the door before I even realized I'd stood. "Magdelena!"
I whipped around the door to the kitchen and saw worry settle over her as I gave a sob. "Jill, please, the doctor!"
She nodded, and disappeared through the door as I made my way back to my room. Jill's eyes were closed again and I just sat gripping her hand, no idea what to do. I'd thought we'd gotten past this.
One step forward, two steps back.
After what seemed like hours, the doctor came hurrying in and I slipped off the bed as he began to shake her gently awake.
"Sue? Where is she?"
Gripping her hand again, I tried to keep my voice steady and encouraging. "I'm here, don't worry. The doctor's going to help you."
After tending to Jill, the doctor watched me walk and tested my range of motion as well as my response to light and sound, he nodded, appearing satisfied. I watched anxiously as he spoke with Magdelena, she thanked him, and he left. She turned to me and must have seen the panic in my face, because she pulled me into a hug. "Jill shall be well. She needs rest."
Fighting back a sob, I buried my face in her neck and clung tight. Patiently, she rubbed my back until I was ready to pull back, wiping tears from my cheeks, and she gripped my shoulder. "Breakfast for thee."
I almost protested, but her expression warned me against it. Following her into the kitchen, I ate as quickly as I could before returning to curl up by Jill's side with one of the books. However, my attention kept wandering and I made it only through half-a-dozen pages before setting it aside and staring at the ceiling.
Why did we need to go to Waterfall City? Maybe that was where the ships were that could take us home? But why did we need to register? And Rystrom had mentioned 'the last Dolphinbacks.' It still bothered me that no one in the wider world seemed to know about this place. How was that even possible? People could be sworn to secrecy, but still, once back in the wider world no one had ever mentioned anything? I was missing something, there was a piece out of place.
But no matter how exhaustively I thought through it, no answers came. Eventually I drifted to sleep again.
Magdelena shook my shoulder until I woke, whispering so as to not disturb Jill, who still slept beside me.
"Thou hast a meeting with Rystrom."
Nodding, I stretched and swung my legs over the side of the bed, pushing myself to my feet. Staring at Jill for a long moment, I determined she was just sleeping now and that there was nothing I could do that would help her more than the rest she was getting, so I changed into my clothes - which had been washed and folded - and grabbed my cane before wandering into the kitchen. Shouts of excitement greeted me and I couldn't help the grin that spread over my face as Reatha clambered into my lap and Dinsoth dropped himself onto my feet almost possessively. I ate as they chattered to me, not caring at all that I couldn't understand them so long as I nodded and made faces of shock or excitement. As I finished, Magdelena shooed all of us out of the house, giving stern commands to the children who bounced around me and continued their chatter as we walked toward the Academy.
The wind hadn't been bad the last time, only a gentle breeze, but this time it felt like it might pick me up and dump me into the canyon even without a bad leg. I nervously kept a firm grip on Reatha's hand, who didn't seem to even notice the wind, and kept myself between both children and the edge. When we finally reached our destination, I let out a relieved sigh as we crossed the threshold. Just like last time, the two children settled themselves in the corner of the big room as I continued toward Rystrom's office door, which was open. When I knocked, he looked up and stood quickly, smiling as he nodded for me to come in. "Susan, 'tis good to see you again."
Gesturing to the seat facing his, he waited until I'd eased myself into it before sitting in his own chair, folding his hands on the desk and meeting my eyes. "I am sorry to hear about Jill. The doctor as been reporting to me as well, I hope that does not bother you."
I managed a tight smile. "Thank you. It doesn't bother me."
He nodded. "Now, I thought we would talk about the logistics of your trip. I'm sure you feel disoriented and some more information might help to change that."
Profound relief washed over me; I'd feared that we would just be led about without any idea of what we were heading into. My smile more genuine now, I nodded and opened my mouth to speak as a knock sounded on his door and he looked toward it. "Come."
"You called for me, Master Rystrom?"
I recognized that voice. I turned and studied the source, frowning.
"You were the one who found us in the desert."
Rystrom nodded as he motioned the young man forward. "This is Skybax Captain Destos. He has just returned from Waterfall City and next week will escort you and Jill there along with three of our Cadets."
My focus returned to Rystrom. "So many?"
He hesitated for a moment before I cleared my throat. "If you're worried about frightening us by mentioning any dangers on the route, I'll remind you that we've already been well-acquainted with one of those."
Chuckling, he inclined his head in agreement. "This is true. Very well then, it is true that along your path there is a chance of attack, so the Riders will be there to protect you. Captain Destos and one Cadet will ride with you on land, the other two will keep pace on their Skybax whilst keeping lookout from above for any threats."
"How often are travellers attacked?"
"About one in a dozen."
I nodded, grinning wryly. "There is a nine in ten chance that ours will be one of those. We tend to attract such odds."
Both chuckled and I allowed a smile before eying the roll of parchment in the young Captain's hand. "Do I get to see the map of the trip?"
He nodded and gestured to the table in the corner where he spread it out. Bracing my fists on the table, I studied the unfamiliar outline. It wasn't until Rystrom's hand closed on my fist that I realized that my muscles were tense enough that I was shaking, still staring at the map. I pulled back, clearing my throat. "Are we going through the Forbidden Mountains?"
Rystrom stepped past me, nodding his head as he indicated a point in the mountain range. "Yes, there's a pass here - "
Uncurling my fists, I glanced at the blood on my palms and curled them up again. As I returned to my attention to the map, my eyes caught those of Captain Destos. He wore a neutral expression, betraying nothing of his thoughts as he regarded me, and I felt my chin rise and my jaw tighten. Neither of us looked away for a long moment, until Rystrom gestured and we both turned our attention to him.
"It should be a near two-week journey, if there are no complications."
I restrained myself from repeating my earlier sentiment - that there would almost certainly be complications - and focused to the area of the map that he was indicating.
"The greatest threats come from this stretch here, through the heart of the Rainy Basin. Yet there will be ample cover from herds of larger herbivores for a good deal of the way."
Nodding, I studied the map again, but soon looked up at the two men, all of my questions from the night before clamouring in my head for answers.
"Why are we required to travel to Waterfall City?"
"The Registry is kept in Waterfall City and 'tis where the last Dolphinbacks have settled, who will be best able to explain to you these new circumstances. Also, our largest library and most studied historians, who will be eager for updates regarding the outside world."
Blood drained from my face as I thought of being the one responsible for updating historical annals. I was certainly not qualified for such a task. Both men's attention had turned to me, so I nodded and pushed down the swelling panic.
"The last Dolphinbacks, when did they arrive?"
"Some half-a-century back."
My eyebrows shot up and he inclined his head at my surprise. "New arrivals are rare."
Suddenly, my mind grew blank and I could remember no more of my questions. Pushing back from the strange map, I clasped my hands behind my back. Perhaps I looked as lost as I felt, because Rystrom straightened as well and moved toward the door.
"Enough for today, we shall meet again before your departure, when Jill is feeling well enough to accompany you. Please convey my wishes for recovery to her."
"Thank you, we'll see you soon."
Attempting to imitate the small bow that everyone here seemed to make in formal situations, I gathered the children and returned home, where I collapsed on the bed beside Jill - who was still asleep - with more questions than I'd had before running through my head.