Lydia leapt from Arattâ€™s back as soon as he landed andÂ ran over to Hreid. Her stomach lurched when she she saw the huge fire at the other end of the cave. It looked like a funeral pyre and she could see a figure lying at its heart. What if it was Karen?
â€œDid Karen arrive? Is she okay?â€ she asked frantically.
â€œQueen Valeria got her here in time,â€ he reassured her. â€œAmbassador Alaryia is tending to her. Sheâ€™s very sick, but the Ambassador seems confident sheâ€™ll survive.â€
Lydia sighed in relief and felt the tension drain from her shoulders as Andrew joined her.
â€œCan we see her?â€ she asked and then looked over at the fire. â€œDid somebody die?â€
Hreid shook his head. â€œNo, not yet. Hopefully she wonâ€™t, but it isnâ€™t looking positive.â€ He pointed to the figure. â€œThe dragon who nearly killed Karen drained that fire nymph to the point where she canâ€™t recover her own energy.â€
â€œSo the fireâ€™s to replenish her lost energy?â€ Lydia asked.
â€œYes, but I think sheâ€™s too far gone. Sheâ€™s been in the fire for a couple of hours and isnâ€™t warming up.â€ He shuddered violently. â€œEssence drain is a terrible, slow way to die. Dragons are horrible creatures, but at least most of them will finish off their prey rather than leave them in this state.â€
â€œAnd youâ€™ve no way to transfuse energy into her?â€ Lydia asked.
â€œTranfuse energy into her?â€ Hreid looked confused for a moment before shaking his head. â€œOh, no. We canâ€™t transfer energy that wa-â€ He broke off and hit his forehead with the heel of his hand. â€œBut goblins can.â€ He swore angrily. â€œWe canâ€™t do it, so it just never occured to us to ask. I donâ€™t think theyâ€™ve even been told.â€
â€œI see.â€ Lydia shrugged off her rucksack and handed it to Andrew. â€œLook after this.â€ She started towards the fire. Andrew grabbed her elbow and pulled her back.
â€œWhat the hell are you doing?â€
â€œIâ€™m going to help, of course,â€ Lydia replied calmly. â€œIf we wait to talk to the goblins it might be too late.â€ She pulled her arm loose and stepped forward into the flames before he could protest.
It felt for all the world like stepping into a bath of warm milk. Her shield came up without her thinking about it and deflected the burning logs which tried to fall on her and she clambered up to the nymph. She took the nymphâ€™s icy hand in her own and began to imagine her fire travelling through her hand into the nymph.
She jerked in response and mumbled something unintelligible.
Lydia chose to take that as a good sign. â€œCome on,â€ Lydia whispered. â€œYou can do this.â€ She looked towards Hreid. â€œWhatâ€™s her name?â€
â€œI think Queen Valeria said it was Ignifer,â€ he replied.
â€œThanks!â€ She summoned a globe of silver fire from within her. â€œCome on, Ignifer.â€ She pushed the fireball into Igniferâ€™s chest and saw it spread out under her skin.
Ignifer jerked again, her eyelids fluttered and her hand warmed a little in Lydiaâ€™s.
Lydia waited until she was sure the nymph really was starting to warm up and then climbed back down. Only then did she realise just how much energy sheâ€™d given to Ignifer. The cave spun a little and she sank to the floor wearily. â€œThat should help, I hope.â€ In spite of the fire at her back she was shivering and she pulled her cloak around her more firmly.
â€œYes, I think it will,â€ Hreid said. â€œLook.â€
Lydia looked back at the fire. It was swirling around Ignifer as the nymph drew it into herself. â€œAh!â€
â€œI think youâ€™ve saved her life,â€ Hreid said. â€œI just hope she appreciates it when she wakes up. Are you okay?â€
â€œI will be,â€ Lydia said. â€œI just need a moment.â€
â€œLet me help you.â€ He offered her his hand.
â€œThanks!â€ She took it gratefully and he pulled her to her feet.
â€œCome on then, Iâ€™ll take you to your sister.â€
Hreid continued to support Lydia as he led them through the corridors. Which was good, because her legs felt like jelly.
â€œAre you sure youâ€™re okay?â€ Andrew asked. â€œYou donâ€™t look okay.â€
â€œIâ€™m fine,â€ Lydia replied. â€œBut she needed a lot of energy to kickstart her recovery system.â€
â€œYes, she would have,â€ Hreid said. â€œYou need something to eat and a sleep after that I imagine.â€ He paused. â€œOne more thing before I forget. â€œQueen Valeria is there with Prince Alban as well. He knows that it will be hard given her attempts to kill you, but King Dariad asks that you at least try to treat her civilly.â€
Lydia nodded but Andrew ground to a halt.
â€œWhat!â€ he exploded. His face flushed and he looked like he wanted to say more, but couldnâ€™t articulate it. Lydia sighed to herself and let go of Hreid long enough to slap her brother sharply across the face. Hreid had to grab her again as even that efford made her dizzy. It wasnâ€™t as bad as the unnatural fatigue sheâ€™d felt before she found her bracelet, but it was bad enough.
â€œCalm down, Drew! Getting worked up wonâ€™t help anyone.â€
â€œB-but she hates us for no reason,â€ he spluttered. â€œItâ€™s not fair.â€
â€œOh I suspect she has reasons. Just not reasons that relate to us personally,â€ Lydia said. â€œIf you explode at her youâ€™ll just reinforce her prejudices.â€ She turned back to Hreid. â€œWeâ€™ll be polite as long as she is, wonâ€™t we, Drew?â€ When her brother didnâ€™t agree immediately she summoned up the energy to kick his ankle. â€œWonâ€™t we, Drew?â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™ll try,â€ he allowed finally. â€œBut I really do want to knock some sense into her.â€
â€œI know.â€ Lydia sagged against the tunnel wall. â€œCan we hurry up and get there? I want to sit down.â€
â€œOf course!â€ Hreid led them through a few more corridors to a carved wooden door and knocked on it.