The first thing I noticed was that I felt warm.
My head was cloudy and my thoughts were slow, but I still had enough presence of mind when I woke up to realize I wasn't still lying in the snow. The chill of being dunked in a frozen creek was still there, deep in my bones, and I couldn't stop myself from shivering, but I could still feel the warmth around me trying to seep into my skin. I could tell I was lying on something soft too, but that was it. I was still so numb from the cold that I couldn't even tell if I was in my wolf or human form.
My body might have been comfortable, or at least as comfortable as it could be after the punishment it had just taken, but my brain was screaming at me to figure out what was going on. What had happened after Becky left us there in the snow, and how had we gotten here? I fought to open my eyes, but my body was still too weak. Despite myself, I began to drift back to sleep...
"Fascinating," someone said.
Immediately, my mind jolted awake again. Wherever I was, I wasn't alone. I still couldn't move, but I breathed in through my nose, searching for a scent. Yes, there it was. There was something strange about it, though. It felt... weak. As if whoever was here with me was only halfway there, and I was only getting half his scent.
"And here I thought we'd run into a brick wall," the voice spoke up again. It was an oily voice, perfect for crooning. I was sure I'd heard it before somewhere. Was it Hendricks? No, it couldn't be. It definitely sounded slimy enough, but it wasn't Hendricks' voice.
"I know you're awake, Amber."
My heart began to pound harder inside my chest.
"This is quite the exhilarating discovery you've made," he went on. "And just when I was about ready to give up, too. This warrants further investigation, I think."
I know this voice... I KNOW THIS VOICE!
"You may be hearing from us again very soon, Amber."
Then there was a flash of light bright enough for me to see behind my eyelids, and the half-scent vanished entirely. I still couldn't move, but I couldn't tell if I was shivering because I was cold now, or because of how scared I was.
And then I lost consciousness again.
The next thing I knew, I was waking up a second time, and somebody was stroking my hair. My human hair, meaning I'd shifted back after passing out. There was a gentle murmuring in the air, and I found it soothing as I lay there on my back.
It was my mom's voice.
"M... M..." I said, struggling to speak through lips that wouldn't obey. "Muuuuh..."
"Shhh," she whispered, and I felt her hand caress my cheek. "You're all right now. You're safe."
It wasn't that I didn't believe her. If she was here, and calm, then that meant I must be back at Stark's cabin. I couldn't make myself relax, though, no matter how much she stroked my hair. Stark and Kimberly had been out there too. I needed to know what had happened to them! I forced my eyes open, but had to close them when the blinding lights above me and the world spinning around me threatened to make me sick. I could feel the blankets on top of me now, but I was still cold.
"Wuh... wuuuh... where..." I stammered. "Where... is... Kiiiii..."
My head began to swim again, and I shut my mouth. I couldn't have formed words right then anyway. Did I say I was cold? Because that was bogus. I was actually hot. So hot that I felt like I was going to burn straight through the blankets Mom had piled on me.
"Shhhh," Mom said again. "Take it easy, Amber. You have a fever, so just rest, all right?"
A fever? Yeah, that made sense. Fevers were what happened when you... drank an entire... volcano... right?
Needless to say, I passed out again.
The next time I woke up, everything was spinning faster than ever. My body was going from blazing hot to freezing cold in the space of a few seconds, and that combined with the constant sense of motion made me want to throw up.
What's worse, I think I started to hallucinate.
"She's only getting worse," I think I heard my mom said. "Make the horse kick her again."
"Can't," said somebody else. "Too many hyenas."
Mom said something I couldn't make out, and I began to wonder if she really was going to throw me into the Grand Canyon. Wasn't there water in there? I'd already been drowned once, so I didn't need to do that again. Then again, maybe it would be warmer in Arizona.
"No..." I mumbled, sweat breaking out on my skin. I felt somebody dab my forehead, and I squirmed away from their touch. "Don't. Please."
"Amber, be still."
That was Stark. Or, at least I think it was. Either way, I obeyed and stopped moving. Mom finished mopping up my sweat, then I felt something cold touch my forehead.
"... going to make it?" I heard her ask. I was fading in and out of consciousness again.
"Of course. She's a..."
"Amber." a new voice said, and I could have sworn I felt somebody else sit down beside me on my bed. "You'll be okay."
I went completely still. I even stopped breathing.
"Dad?" I asked.
I heard my mom gasp, and her hand touched my head. Or was it Dad's hand?
"Be strong for me," he said.
"You're dead," I moaned. "Am... am I?"
"No," he said. "You're a—"
I turned my head toward him, and the world flipped upside down.
"— a turtle," he finished. "A lazy little turtle living by a pond in the park."
I vaguely recognized that as a verse from an old book he and Mom used to read me when I was little, but I didn't care because I could feel him drifting away again. Or was I the one drifting away? I couldn't tell. Salty tears ran down my cheeks, and I hiccupped in my efforts to cry.
"Shh, shh," Mom whispered into my ear. Did she even know Dad had been right beside her? The thought made me cry even more. Still sobbing, wishing I could summon the strength to tell her, I fell back asleep.
NEXT TIME: Amber’s sick and on a one way trip to LaLaLand! All aboard the candy train! I hear it’s made of chocolate that wolves can eat. Next stop, Abraham Lincoln! Choo choo! Where was I going with this? I don’t remember. Here, have a crumpet.