Lydia sat crosslegged on the floor of the cave. Her eyes were closed and a handful of small silver flames were dancing around her head.
Andrew watched enviously. She was so much better at this than him. With Kimiâ€™s help, Aratts had taught him how to freeze water that was already present in the air and even how to maintain it so it didnâ€™t melt or shatter. But he couldnâ€™t summon it out of thin air the way Lydia could her fire.
â€œYouâ€™ll get there, Drew. Youâ€™ve only just started. But could you think more quietly?â€ Lydia opened her eyes and scowled at him. â€œWhen did your thoughts get so noisy?â€ The flames danced around her head more vigorously, suggesting she was agitated. â€œNo, just a little irritated. Itâ€™s no wonder you canâ€™t control your ice; you canâ€™t even stop broadcasting.â€
â€œWell at least my ice is still ice-coloured,â€ he said sourly. â€œBut why are my thoughts flying around like this? They never used to.â€
â€œThey arenâ€™t,â€ Arrats said. â€œYour sister is picking up more as she approaches her maturity. You shouldnâ€™t be far behind her, so I suspect your ice willÂ change colour soon. At least some of the stories mention this colour change. Iâ€™m not sure why they match your goblin silk clothes, though.â€
â€œMaturity? Well, we are sixteen,â€ Andrew said.
â€œNo, Drew, I think he means something specific.â€ Her eyes narrowed and she cocked her head as if she was listening to something. â€œSomething like a second puberty, but relating to our powers?â€
â€œI canâ€™t really answer that,â€ Arrats replied. â€œI donâ€™t understand that word you used.â€
â€œPuberty?â€ Lydia asked.
â€œYes, that one. The best I can make of it is â€˜starting to lay eggsâ€™.â€
Lydia choked slightly at that. â€œItâ€™s the process of physical and sexual maturation for humans. Itâ€™s a bit drawn out and messy. What youâ€™re talking about seems similar, but shorter and for our powers?â€
â€œMagical Puberty?â€ Andrew asked. He saw Lydia scowl again and open her mouth so he continued before she could speak. â€œDonâ€™t say it, Lyd. Not unless youÂ have a better word for what we can do. I mean we have to call it something, but psychic doesnâ€™t do this justice and superpowers just sounds lame.â€
â€œNo argument on the latter,â€ Lydia agreed after a long pause. â€œAnd while I think that psychic may be the most technically accurate term, youâ€™re right that it seems inadequate.â€ She scowled atÂ the cave floor and prodded at some pebbles angrily. â€œIÂ guess ‘magicâ€™ will have to do, but I still donâ€™tÂ believe in it.Â Itâ€™s just aÂ placeholder word until I think of a better word.â€ She looked up at Arrats. â€œIâ€™m sorry, an old semantics debate. So you think Iâ€™m about to go through this maturity?â€
â€œSo I gathered.â€ The gryphon sounded amused. â€œAnd yes, theÂ evidence suggests you are. All I have to go on are the stories, but the fact that your flames have changed colour is suggestive. They also mention excessive mental sensitivity as a symptom.â€ He cocked his head at Lydia. â€œI wish I knew more, but while the stories explain the early symptoms they get very quiet about what happens next. Apparently humans donâ€™t like to talk about it. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s protracted, however.â€
â€œWonderful! Something is about to happen to me but you arenâ€™t quite sure what,â€ Lydia gave a sigh. â€œBut apparently it will send my powers haywire for a while. This is not good when half the world wants to kill you.â€
Aratts chuckled. At least Andrewâ€™s brain insisted the sound was a chuckle. â€œThatâ€™s true, but at least you should be stronger afterwards. Just try to avoid fighting when itâ€™s happening.â€ He looked back at Andrew and clacked his beak thoughtfully. â€œYouâ€™re a quick learner. Youâ€™ve picked up using diffuse water to make a weapon and few places youâ€™re likely to visit here are totally arid, so generation can wait.Â Iâ€™d say the next thing you need to learn is shielding.â€
â€œThat makes sense,â€Â Andrew said. â€œSo how do I make aÂ shield?â€
â€œI think youâ€™ll need to focus on drawing all the heat out of the air around you,â€ Lydia said. â€œAt least I know I put heat into it,Â and yours should work the opposite way.â€
â€œThat sounds cold,â€ Andrew said. â€œBut okay.â€ He closed his eyes and did as sheÂ suggested. Oddly, it didnâ€™t feel cold as heâ€™d expected it to but warn, very warm. Indeed, he realised, he was starting to sweat.
â€œDrew, openÂ your eyes,â€ Lydia said softly. He did as she asked and gasped. The cave floor where he was sitting was frosted and a strange mist swirled around him. Except mist should obscure his vision shouldnâ€™t it? So why could he see perfectly?
â€œWell, that looks like a shield to me,â€ Kimi said.
â€œIt does,â€ Lydia agreed. â€œSo letâ€™s test it.â€ A tiny flame appeared in her palm. She tossed it at the mist and it snuffed out.
â€œIt works!â€ Andrew made a whooping noise.
â€œWell, itâ€™s a start,â€ Lydia said. â€œBut people donâ€™t fight with candle flames. Did you feel anything when it snuffed out?â€
He shook his head. â€œNo, should I have?â€
â€œIf it was straining the shield youâ€™d have noticed. Itâ€™s a good sign.â€ She summoned a slightly larger flame and tossed it. Again it snuffed out as soon as it touched the mist. â€œNot bad!â€ She kept tossing larger flames at him until she threw one about the size of large coffee mug.
â€œOoof!â€ It felt like an invisible fist struck him in the solar plexus and pushed him backwards into the cave wall. The flame penetrated several inches into the mist before guttering out andÂ he noticed the mist seemed thinner afterwards.
â€œHmm. Not bad,â€ Aratts said. â€œA bit of practice and youâ€™ll have a good shield. But I think we should pause there. You donâ€™t want to overdo it.â€
â€œSir?â€ Kaguyaâ€™s voice sounded in the cavern even though she wasnâ€™t present.
â€œYes?â€ he said.
â€œThereâ€™s a dark imp hovering just outside the wards. It keeps trying to pass them. Should I admit it?â€
â€œOf course.â€ He sounded exasperated. â€œImps are harmless. You donâ€™t need to ask about messages, girl.â€
A few minutes later a tiny, vaguely humanoid creature made of darkness flew into the cave and began fluttering back and forth between Lydia and Andrew.
â€œHmm, it seems itâ€™s looking for you two,â€ Aratts said. â€œItâ€™s a message. Looks like it was made by the mountain king.â€
â€œMade?â€ Andrew asked.
â€œImps are … well you break off a piece of your own essence and imbue it with a message. One of you will need to absorb it to get it.â€
â€œHow do we doÂ that?â€ Lydia held out her palm and the imp landed on it and became quiescent.
â€œJust imagine youâ€™re drawing it into yourself,â€ he replied.
â€œOkay.â€ Lydia closed her eyes and the Imp became diffuse and seemed to sink into her skin. Lydia let out a distressed gasp and leapt to her feet. â€œWe have to go back to Caerdu! Karenâ€™s been hurt!â€
â€œWhat?!â€ Andrew also leapt up ignoring the pain inÂ his ankle. â€œKarenâ€™s not in Caerdu!â€
â€œShe will be. Valeriaâ€™s taking her there. We have to go!â€
Andrew shook her by the shoulders. â€œCalm down and tell me whatâ€™s happened.â€
Lydia gasped in a couple of breaths and then nodded. She was still very pale and her eyes looked suspiciously wet. By the time she finished relaying what the imp had shown, he suspected he looked much the same.
â€œKimi and I can fly you to Caerdu in a couple of hours. That should get us there a little afterÂ your sister if theyâ€™re bringing her from the Eyrie. Iâ€™ll call a friend to bring Eyvindr,â€ Aratts said. â€œKaguya, canÂ you explain the situation to Eyvindr? I think heâ€™s in the library.â€
â€œGo and get your things, warriors. Weâ€™ll leave immediately.â€