Floating...warm water...so comfortable. But images flash: her Lady screaming, a woman burning cold blue flames...such pain! And an ugly, rage-filled face, a fist filling her world.
Doria gasps and her eyes fly open. She freezes. Above her is a startled face, almost like an inverted reflection of her own, but much darker skin, huge brown eyes, a halo of black curls...rabbit ears?
“Wow!” says the stranger. “You scared me, wakin’ up so sudden! Are you all right? Were you havin’ a bad dream?”
Doria feels her muscles unlock and she nearly bursts screaming out of the water, but she grabs control of herself and stays still. After a moment, she finds her voice. “Who...who are you?”
The...woman? girl? creature? looks like she’s about to start chattering rapidly again, but she seems to notice how on-edge Doria is and looks concerned. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” the bunny-eared girl says softly. “Did I scare you? I didn’t mean to. I’m Cherry.”
“Yeah...it’s short for, uh, Cheríse. Anyway, you’re in Three Rats Guardia Station. We’re takin’ care of you.”
Doria looks down. She is floating in a warm pool, her head supported on the edge. She touches the side of her head, feeling the tender spot that is now mostly healed. She sits up carefully, sudden movement making her head throb, looking around the room, taking in the tree, the statue holding a sphere that glows with natural-seeming sunlight, the bed and other furniture. Definitely a goddess’ room, she thinks. She blinks, and she remembers Sgt Alma healing her, talking with her...and that handsome fellow, Gwydion, who brought her here, and the Inspector, what was his name? His face was bruised, mauled about. He smelled of the sea, and when he gave her some of his power, she felt like she was diving into the ocean...
Others in the room, looking at her curiously, apparently just waking up. Seven altogether, all with long, erect ears perked forward as they look at her. Huh...takes all sorts, she thinks. Some are dressed, others not so much. One of them, with brilliant red hair, pops up and comes over eagerly, wearing a translucent green chemise that matches her eyes. She kneels at the edge of the pool. “Hello! I’m Merri. Rosemary. Whichever y’like! Are ye hungry, dear?” The reddish-brown fur on her forearms looks very soft.
Doria suddenly realizes that she’s famished. “Yes...thank you for asking.”
Another bunny-eared girl stands – big almond-shaped eyes, pale skin, black glossy hair, and thin black fur on her ears, forearms, and shins. And between her legs, Doria sees, as the girl is wearing nothing at all. This one says, “I’ll get breakfast,” and quickly pulls on a t-shirt and shorts, then runs out of the room.
Doria feels a weight on her shoulder and thick curls tickling the side of her face. Glancing sidelong, she sees Cherry has leaned forward to rest her chin on her shoulder, grinning. “That’s May. And that there is Sage, and that’s Kori, and those two, they don’t have names yet. We’re the Bunnies. And Kori, what are you doin’?”
Cherry’s voice sharpens as the light-brown-haired male Bunny shucks off his shorts and lowers himself into the water. He looks at Cherry and says, “Bath time.”
“Well, you should ask our guest if that’s all right, young man. Some humans think it’s weird when a boy just hops into a bath with ‘em.” She looks at Doria. “Please forgive him, he just woke up. So is it all right? And honey, I kind of rinsed your hair but didn’t really wash all the blood out of it – I’d love to clean it properly now that you’re awake.”
Doria blinks, then says, “Yes, of course it’s all right. And thank you.”
“Great!” Cherry stands and pulls her large green t-shirt off over her head. She has nothing on underneath. She slips into the pool and very gently starts shampooing Doria’s hair. “Funny how your hair never dried even though we kept your head outta the water all night.”
“That’s just how I am,” says Doria. She closes her eyes and relaxes into the strong but careful scalp massage she is receiving, resting against Cherry's body. Another shape enters the water – she opens her eyes and sees it is the redhead, Merri, tossing her chemise away from the pool.
“You should take this silly bathing suit off,” says Merri. “Whatever do people need t’be wearin’ clothes in the water for anyway? And ye have such a lovely, trim, muscular body.”
Cherry squeezes Doria’s shoulders. “Yeah, especially your shoulders. Wow!”
“Um, Cherry? Merri?” Doria says uncertainly. “I don’t want to jump to any conclusions here, but...are you hitting on me?”
“Absolutely!” “Yep!” they say simultaneously.
Doria fights the urge to laugh at their cheerful reply. “Oh...it’s just that...you’re both very pretty and all but...I prefer men. Sorry.” She smiles apologetically.
Both Bunnies look slightly disappointed, their ears dropping. “Aw, that’s too bad,” says Cherry, while Merri says, “It’s all right, dear...nobody’s perfect. Humans are funny that way, aren’t they, with preferences and all?”
“Well, I guess it’s not so much a preference as how I was born. But I’m not entirely human, you know. I’m half naiad.”
Cherry uses a bowl to ladle water carefully over Doria’s head, rinsing away the suds. “Does that mean you’re a goddess?”
“A demi-goddess,” Doria says. “A minor one, I guess. Of the river. And I’m a priestess too, for the Oracle.” She is suddenly stabbed with worry over her Lady’s fate.
Merri laughs, musically and infectiously, making Doria smile despite her worry. “So we’ve been flirtin’ with a priestess, have we? Ye’re not under a vow of celibacy, are ye?”
“Oh, no,” Doria says, amused.
“Oh in that case,” Merri says eagerly, “how about Kori here?” Kori looks at the trio across the pool like a rabbit suddenly noticed by a pack of wolves.
Doria almost bursts out laughing at his expression. “I think he’s a bit young for me. Sorry, Kori.” The teenaged Bunny looks both relieved and disappointed.
Cherry says, her chin on Doria’s shoulder again, “Well how about Sage?”
Sage looks over with a tolerant smile from where he is taking care of the other two nameless Bunnies, helping them brush their teeth. “Please forgive them, Priestess,” he says. “They think everyone should be like them.”
Cherry retorts, “You mean we think everyone should enjoy life?” Then her breath tickles Doria’s ear as she whispers, “I think he’s in love with someone anyway. Not that that’s ever stopped me from tryin’ someone new,” she finishes with a giggle and a wink at Merri.
Just then, Mayumi returns with two bowls full of rolls, pastries, and salad. “Here you go, Sister Doria! Constable Lamore sends her regards and is very happy to hear you’re recovering. She was on her way out when I saw her – things seem to be very busy. The night watch is still here, even though the dawn watch is on duty and I overheard the Inspector has called up the day watch early!”