There was a knock at the workshop door.
"U-Um, I don't mean to... to bother you, but..." Lionela continued to stammer her way over her words, hands clasped together tightly in front of her as though she needed them there to ground herself. She wanted to reach up and tug at the white, poofy hat on her head, and one hand did flinch that way a few times, but she knew it needed to stay put. It was for the best.
"Oh! Liona!" She smiled as she waved the other girl inside, puppets and all, and gently closed the door behind her. Her eyes flicked upward and she gave a cheerful clap of her hands. "That hat is so pretty! Where did you get it?"
That was when Horoholo began to snicker. Rorona blinked at him, puzzled, but Aranya only shushed him before guiding everyone's attention back to Lionela herself.
"I-It doesn't matter. I mean..." Lionela trailed off, her voice growing tiny and squeaky as her cheeks began to glow red with embarrassment. She took a deep breath - twice - and then, with all of her courage, she quickly tugged off that hat and began wringing it between her hands.
There, on top of her head, sat a pair of fuzzy, brown, cat-like ears.
Horoholo went right back to his snickering. Lionela was mortified.
Rorona could only stare. "Your ears!"
"I know!!" the dancer cried, buried her face into the hat in her hands as though maybe if she couldn't see the world, the world couldn't see her. Her ears drooped, too, just like those of a cat whose been backed into a corner. They really were hers, somehow. "I-I don't know where they came from or why they're here, but... but they won't go back to normal and I... I... Wh-what should I do?"
She peered up at Rorona from behind her hands, eyes turning pink with the threat of tears welling up in the corners. Rorona started to reach out and take her hand, but a flicking motion caught her eye and--
"Ummh, Liona? What's... what's that behind you?"
Lionela muttered something.
"Huh? I can't hear you."
"A tail," Lionela all but squeaked, dejected, as she dropped her hands to her side and turned her back to Rorona. Sure enough, there it was: a real, actual tail, thin and feline with a tuft of hair at the tip, like that of a lion. She turned back around, scrubbing at her eyes with the sides of her hands, hat all scrunched up and forgotten about at this point. "This is embarrassing..."
"What is going on down here?"
Astrid sighed as she trudged down the workshop stairs, arms folded and eyes narrowed. "I was trying to sleep. Can't you go outside?"
"Master! Look! Liona is..."
"I can see that," Astrid briskly cut Rorona off. She glanced the blonde's way, eyes flicking her over a few times, slowly. A smirk spread across her face. "It suits you, you know. I think you match your name now."
"But I... But this isn't..." Lionela's gaze hit the floor as she squirmed under Astrid's. Her tail was winding itself around her leg. She rather wanted to crawl into a hole and hide. "I don't even know what happened. Isn't there something to make it go away?"
"Well, if you don't know how it happened, I think that would make it harder to find a way to fix it," Rorona mused aloud, tapping her chin thoughtfully. "But there should be something, right? There has to be an answer!" She turned to Astrid, hopeful. "Master, don't you know of anything?"
"Ehh." She waved a hand, dismissive. "I'm sure there's something in a book somewhere."
"But you don't know where?" Rorona frowned. She turned, glancing over toward the rows upon rows of books on the shelves. Honestly, that was only the beginning - there were archives elsewhere, she was sure, and of course, Astrid had her own books that surely contained even more alchemical secrets than Rorona would probably ever be privy to. It was intimidating, to say the least, and Rorona heaved a heavy sigh. "Ohh, it could take us forever if we tried to go through all of the books."
"You mean, I could be stuck like this?" Lionela's voice shook, an ear twitched and her tail flicked to the side (which made Astrid grin - she counted herself fortunate that no one was looking her way.)
"No, of course not! We'll find it. Everything will be okay! But where should we start?"
"Actually, I have an idea," Astrid spoke up, though she sounded completely disinterested in the problem at hand. Still, she grabbed a piece of parchment from the table, scribbled down a note of some sort as the two young ladies watched, wide-eyed and hopeful. When she finished, she passed it to Rorona. "It's a list, and a recipe. Gather all of those ingredients - as many of each of them as you can. Some of them will be used for that recipe, and the rest will be important later, especially if this doesn't work."
"D-Doesn't work?" Lionela's ears stood straight upward.
Astrid rolled her eyes. "You'll be fine. It's not like it's going to hurt you."
Rorona was excited enough for both of them. With renewed determination and a smile, she nodded to her master and then to her friend. "Okay. Let's go get everything, and then we'll come back here and turn you back to normal!" Seeing Rorona's spirit raised Lionela's, and she returned the young alchemist's nod with one of her own. The two headed out the door, puppets and a basket in tow, ready to get to work.
Astrid grinned again. With a self-satisfied chuckle and a shake of her head, she turned to ascend the stairs again. This was the best way to get her shopping done for the week: turn it into a job for Rorona and her friends, and make a few small promises along the way. She was only going to have to fix what she'd done in the first place, with the help of a few carefully dosed potions slipped into the street performer's tea the past few times she had come to visit Rorona. No one ever had to know the truth, and in the meanwhile, she got to enjoy the sight of Lionela as a cat-girl. It was definitely one of her better ideas lately, and she was pretty proud of the result. Now, she could go back to sleep for a little while longer.