“Are you sure that this was his meaning?”
“He said by any means necessary, you saw his order. It was signed in his true name and everything. They must want her up and about soon.”
Adelaide could hear the voices around her, although they sounded very distant. Slowly, she stirred into wakefulness, willing her tired limbs to move.
“Ah, good morning,” the first voice chirped happily, “how are we feeling this morning?” Adelaide opened her eyes and saw the smiling face of Melia, her long hair pulled back in a tight plait that draped over her shoulders as she leaned forward.
“Better, thank you.” She looked over at the other speaker and saw another woman, strikingly similar in looks to Melia but with long silver hair, similar in shade to McGordon’s but shinier.
“This is my sister, Daphne,” Melia advised, “she’s here to help me.” Daphne leaned forward and shook Adelaide’s hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said. Her accent was the same as Melia’s but her voice seemed softer, more airy, as though she were whispering rather than talking. “We’ve been tasked with helping you heal. Once our other sister, Melinoe, gets here then we can begin. It will hurt a little bit but you will heal much faster.” Adelaide nodded and took a look around her.
“Where’s Tristan?” she asked, realising his absence. Melia smiled softly and Addy could have sworn that her eyes actually twinkled.
“He has just gone to get something to eat. He was here all night and eventually we had to force him. We thought his growling stomach was going to wake you.” The sisters laughed and the sound was so pure and musical that Adelaide felt herself smiling along with them. A thought occurred to her and she decided to give it voice.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” she started timidly, “what are you?” Daphne’s grin widened and her face seemed to shine with happiness.
“Of course we don’t mind,” she chuckled, her voice like music, “we are Nymphs, guardians of the earth and everything in it.”
“Sometimes the stars too,” Melia added, “though that is a job for the more powerful of our kind. Many of our sisters live wild but we have chosen to help serve the Council. We belonged to the Peacemakers in Sparti, Greece but they were far too military for us so we moved here. We find it easier to heal than to harm.”
“What are you going to do to me?” Adelaide asked as Melia moved her blanket aside to look at her cast.
“We are tree nymphs, we help things to grow.” Melia explained as she tucked the blanket under the cast. “That is what we will do to you. We will encourage the bone to remodel faster around the wound. It will essentially be healed, though it will still be sore to walk on. You will have a limp for a while, though it is better than a cast.”
Adelaide slowly let this sink in. Her thoughts of this being simply a dream had been quashed quickly when she had seen Melia and, she thought, she was doing comparatively well at taking it all in. She ran back over the conversation that she had had with McGordon the night before as the sisters talked quietly over her. The image of his true face grinning at her was still quite unnerving, even now in the cold light of day, but when she thought of Tristan and his cheeky smile she relaxed a bit.
As if on cue, he came bounding through the door, carrying a half-eaten cheese sandwich. He grinned broadly as soon as he saw that Addy was awake and loped over to her side. He seemed to make a lot more sense to her, now that she knew. His movements and personality were dog-like, though she swore she would draw the line if she ever saw him panting. As he approached she pouted and he paused, cocking his head to one side as if unsure. It was everything Addy could do not to laugh as she again pictured her old Alsatian.
“You said you’d be here when I woke up,” she sulked, making her voice sound as put-out and moody as possible. Tristan looked really awkward for a moment and stood, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
“Sandwich?” he said, holding out what was left of it to her as though that would placate her. Finally, Addy couldn’t hold it in any longer and she laughed. A look of relief spread over his face.
“No thank you,” she said, waving away the food. “You finish it.” He grinned and shrugged as he popped the rest in his mouth in one go. Melia laughed and Daphne just shook her head in amused exasperation. Tristan turned to them as if noticing them for the first time.
“I saw your sister downstairs,” he said around a mouthful of bread and cheddar, “she should be up in a moment.” The women both nodded and looked at Addy.
“We need to remove your cast in order to get to the leg below. If we’re going to do this it requires direct contact with the wounded area. That is likely to be very painful for you, however, so we would prefer to put you under again.” She was wearing a long white lab coat and, as she spoke, she produced a syringe from the inside pocket. “I know it’s not preferable, but it will save you a lot of agony. Are you okay with this?” Adelaide nodded and Daphne walked to the far end of the room to fetch a small trolley with a collection of tubes and a strange saw-like implement on it. “You will wake up with another lump in your throat, but that’s just the tubing we use to hook you up to the respirator whilst you’re under. It passes quickly though.”
“Okay,” Addy consented, “I’m ready.”
Tristan leaned forward and took her hand as Melia moved around to the other side of the bed and swabbed something on her free hand to numb the skin. She still felt the sting as the needle went in but compared to the pain in her leg and last night’s headache, it wasn’t that bad.
“I promise I’ll be here this time,” Tristan whispered as her eyelids started to close.
It was several hours later when Adelaide woke up once more. The sun was still relatively high in the sky and she imagined the time to be somewhere around three in the afternoon. The now-familiar fogginess started to lift as she made to sit up.
“Welcome back,” Tristan called from the bed next door. He was sitting up on the bed, leaning back against the headboard with his ankles crossed, a book in his hand. She tried to croak a greeting back but her throat was far too dry. Placing the book face down on the bed, Tristan jumped up and poured her some water from the jug. “Slowly now,” he said as he perched on her bed and offered the straw up to her lips.
Adelaide tried to drink it slowly but the cold, clear liquid just tasted so good. It’s not until you’re truly thirsty, she mused, that you appreciate just how delicious plain water can be. Once she had finished that first glass he poured her another, which she drank much slower, savouring the feeling of the cold against the raw lump in her throat. When she was done with that too, he placed the glass back on the table next to the jug and sat back so that she could see her leg.
The skin was pale where the cast had covered it but it looked like somebody had moisturised it, so it wasn’t as dry as it should have been. There was some bruising on the surface but no other wounds seemed evident. Tentatively, Adelaide tried to wiggle her toes, bracing for the sharp pain of broken bone but all that came was a slight discomfort, as though she had simply been suffering from a trapped nerve. She looked at Tristan with a mix of shock and delight.
“It worked!” she said, elated.
“Of course, those sisters know what they’re doing. They’re not bad, if you like that kind of foreign hippy vibe.”
“Foreign?” she scoffed, “says the Irishman in America…” Tristan shrugged casually and got up.
“Do you feel like trying to stand?” he asked, looking back at her leg.
“Am I… can I… I mean, am I allowed to?” she glanced around for the sisters, looking for anyone who might tell her off.
“I don’t see why not,” he mused, “I’ll hold you up so you’re not putting your full weight on it.” Adelaide nodded and, with a little help, swung her legs over the side of the bed, careful not to let her gown fall open inappropriately. Tristan wound one of her arms around his shoulders and placed his own across her back for support. “On the count of three,” he warned. “One, two, three!” Together they lifted her weight and she stood putting pressure on her good foot first. Then, tentatively, she lowered her bruised leg to the ground. A sharp pain lanced through her leg and she lifted it quickly, using Tristan to keep her balance steady.
“Slowly,” he cautioned, “your brain is trying to convince you that it’s still broken.” She nodded and lowered her foot again, a lot slower this time, letting her toes touch the cold linoleum first and then gradually increasing pressure until her whole foot was on the floor. She braced for the same pain but instead a dull ache started, as though she had merely pulled a muscle rather than broken bone. Adelaide took an experimental step forward and, although the pain throbbed a little, it didn’t get as bad as before.
“I can walk on it,” she marvelled, looking with wonder down at her leg. “That’s amazing!” Carefully, she wriggled out of Tristan’s grasp and moved towards the other bed, her leg feeling stiff and awkward, but usable. Reaching out she picked up the book he had been reading. “White Fang?” she read aloud from the cover. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“It’s good. It’s about a wolf-dog and his trials in the wilds of Canada. From the same guy that wrote Call of the Wild, though I personally prefer this one…” he trailed off as he saw Adelaide’s face. “What?”
“A werewolf, reading about a wolf? Are you kidding me?”
“What?” he shrugged, “I’m a fan of irony.” She shook her head and laughed. “Hey Adelaide,” Tristan said, his voice a shade more serious, “if you’re up for it, I can walk you down the hall to see your dad?” It was almost as if she had forgotten all about him in the wake of what she had learned. At the mention of him, everything came flooding back and she had to sit down on the other bed to steady herself. Tristan rushed over to help her but she waved him off.
“I’m fine,” she said with a weak smile, “it’s just still a bit of a shock.”
“Hey, no worries. You’ve been through a lot. Here, let me get you some clothes sorted and we’ll go.” She nodded and he darted off and out of the door, returning a few minutes later with a bundle of clothes. “Daphne got these for you. They’re nothing special but they should do the trick.” He handed her the bundle and went to fetch a screen that was standing at the far end of the room so that she could have some privacy. When she was alone, Addy opened out the bundle and started to dress herself. “We had to guess at the size but Daphne’s a pretty judge at these things,” Tristan shouted over the screen. The underwear was a plain but practical black set that fit perfectly. She also had a pair of jeans and a small white camisole, both of which were a bit loose but were still comfortable. Ideally, she would have killed for a shower but she supposed that that would have to wait.
“Ready,” she shouted and Tristan moved aside the curtain, smiling when he saw her.
“Looking good,” he said with a wink. He handed her a pair of flat slip-on shoes which she donned quickly. “Ready to go?” he asked. She nodded and, with his arm around her again for support, she walked slowly away from the bed and towards the double doors.
They made their way slowly past the elevators, to the other side of the long corridor that separated one part of the building from the other. The view was no less spectacular but she wasn’t really paying attention. All Adelaide could think of was seeing her father.
The other side of the building was more enclosed than the ward and several small rooms branched off from one another. Daphne was seated at a large wooden desk that occupied an alcove. She stood up as soon as she saw them and moved to open a door to their left.
“I’m glad to see you up and about,” she said as gave Adelaide a quick once-over. “Please take as long as you need.” Tristan thanked her as he guided them in.
The room was open and spacious, three large windows letting in a steady stream of sunlight. One of the windows was open to let in the cool summer breeze and ventilate the room, giving it a fresh and peaceful atmosphere. George West lay on a large bed in the middle of the room, various tubes and wires connecting to a series of monitors and drips around his bed. Adelaide moved forward slowly, her own fear holding her back now more than the pain in her leg. She wasn’t sure what she had expected to see, but this wasn’t it. He had visible wounds across his face, arms and upper body, but aside from that it simply looked as though her dad were asleep. His chest rose and fell in a steady pattern and his heart monitor continued to bleep out a continuous rhythm that she found oddly comforting.
Seating herself on the side of his bed, Adelaide took her father’s hand, faintly surprised to find that it was warm as she passed her thumb lightly over the skin, taking care not to dislodge the drip that was there.
“I’ll give you some time,” Tristan said and he turned to leave.
“No, please stay,” Addy asked. She didn’t want to be left alone with him, strange as that seemed to her. What would she say to him? “Can he hear me if I talk to him?” she thought aloud.
“I believe so,” Tristan responded, standing a respectful distance back, but close enough should she need him.
“I don’t know what to say…” she realised.
“Just say whatever comes to mind,” he advised. She nodded but it was another few moments before she actually spoke again.
“Hey dad it’s me, Addy,” she said, the words sounding silly to her even as she said them. Of course he would know it was her, he was her father, wasn’t he? “I wish I knew what to do to make this better, to make you better but I know you’re in good hands. They fixed my broken leg like it was nothing, they should be able to sort a coma out. I still haven’t heard from Josh but I’ll bet he’s worried about us. As soon as I talk to him I’ll get him here, I know you’ll want to see him.” She looked at Tristan as if for permission and he nodded. Taking a deep breath, she continued.
“Look, dad, some things have been explained to me here, things that don’t make any sense, but they’re about mum and if there’s anything I can do to find out about her, about who she was and why she died, I’ll do it. The guy who runs this place, Chancellor McGordon, has told me I can work for them, but I’ve probably got a lot to learn. The thing is, if I can get him to trust me enough, then I can learn about my family, about mum’s family. I know you hate them but this is important to me because I don’t really remember her at all and I want to know, I have a right to know.” She could feel her voice starting to rise a little bit so she took a deep breath to steady herself. “I’m going to be working with Tristan here. He’s a werewolf but that’s okay because he’s a nice guy and he’s going to take me to see somebody called Dekker, whoever that is. But I don’t want you to worry, okay? I trust him and it’s all going to be alright. You’ll wake up soon and Josh will be here and we can all sort through this together. I promise.” Adelaide lifted her father’s hand and kissed it gently. “I love you dad,” she whispered, fighting hard against the tears that were welling up in her eyes, “please wake up soon.”
She placed his hand back tenderly onto the bed and made to stand up. Without hesitation, Tristan moved to her side to support her. As they walked outside, Melia was waiting there with a pair of crutches which she handed silently to Adelaide.
“Thank you for taking such good care of him,” Adelaide said as she took the crutches and used them to lean on. Tristan stood back for a moment as she moved forward tentatively, testing them out, ready to catch her if she stumbled. “I’ll be fine,” she reassured him. “It’s not the first time I’ve used these. Broke my ankle in high-school during cheer practice, had to quit the team. Ended up graduating in crutches.” She smiled weakly at Tristan who returned it fully.
“Try and put more weight on it gradually,” Melia advised Adelaide as she watched her moving. “If the pain gets too bad, let me know and I’ll get you some painkillers.”
“Can we actually get some to go?” Tristan asked, turning to look at her. “I’ve got to take her to see Dekker, Chancellor’s orders.” Melia seemed momentarily taken aback by this, but she recovered quickly and, going to a small storage unit behind the desk, pulled out a blister pack of tablets.
“If the pain gets too bad, take two of these with water and food. DO NOT,” she emphasised, “take them on an empty stomach.” Adelaide nodded that she understood and, taking the pack, shoved them into the back pocket of her jeans.
“You wouldn’t happen to know where Dekker is, by any chance?” Tristan asked casually. Melia frowned and folded her arms.
“I’m not Dekker’s guardian you know,” she stated. Tristan pouted and folded his hands together in a silent plea. “Fine,” she sighed, rolling her eyes, “try the warehouse off the I20, between here and Bolton. There’s a cage today.”
“Thank you,” Tristan said, giving her a quick hug before motioning to Adelaide to head to the elevator. As they travelled down to the basement car park, he fished around in the pocket of his jeans for car keys, pulling them out with a triumphant grin as the doors pinged open. He strode out across the open parking lot, making a beeline towards a deep red Dodge Charger, parked haphazardly across two bays.
Opening the door for her he took the crutches as he waited for Adelaide to climb in. The seats were comfortable and there was plenty of leg room. Taking back the crutches she laid them down and buckled herself in. That unmistakeable new car smell still hung in the air and the inside of the vehicle was impeccably clean. The only thing out of place was a small Star Wars Lego Stormtrooper that dangled from the rear-view mirror, swinging violently when Tristan knocked it as he climbed in.
“Ready?” he asked and she nodded at him. He turned the key and the engine roared into life. “Let’s go then.” She held on tight as he reversed and turned, the power of the acceleration throwing her back when he shot out towards the exit and onto the main road.