On the surface Darya hadn’t changed much since she last saw him. He’d grown a bit, of course, and his clothes – an azure silk tunic – looked goblin made. His hair looked like heâ€™d hacked it off with a knife, much shorter than merfolk ever wore it.
But it was his eyes that brought Mela up short. They were the same blue-green as always, but while before theyâ€™d been warm and full of gentle humour, now they were icy. They were still full of amusement, but now there was a cruel edge to them. And anger – so much anger. Heâ€™d never been angry, not even with the verbal abuse heâ€™d had to put up with from half the clan. Could it be some sort of trick? Was that why he was still concealing himself from her mind? Because he was a goblin or dragon in disguise and not really her cousin at all?
“You’re not really Darya!”
“Of course I am.â€ He gave her a half smile and dropped the concealment just long enough for her to be sure that not only was he a speaker, but that he was indeed her cousin. She tried to back away and he grabbed her shoulders again, not hard but with definite threat. “Satisfied?”
“B-but you’re dead, the Core said so!” Mela said plaintively.
Darya threw back his head and gave an icy laugh. “I’m sure it thinks so, Melusine. Ystelyan-miran went to a great deal of trouble to make sure it thought we were dead, so I’d be rather upset if it didn’t.” He lifted his hand from her shoulder and stroked her cheek with one finger. “But I assure you both of us are very much alive. Of course no one who’s worked that out in the last two years is currently alive to talk about it.”
Mela whimpered again and tried to swallow back her terror. â€œW-what do you want?â€
â€œCanâ€™t I catch up with my favourite cousin without wanting something?â€ he asked mockingly. â€œWe came here especially to find you, you know.â€ He span her back round and returned the knife to her throat. â€œWalk!â€ He forced her to turn and pushed her back towards the trail. â€œKyle is waiting for us.â€
â€œSomeone will see you!â€ she said as she obeyed. â€œYou wonâ€™t manage to kill everyone here. Thereâ€™s too many. Where will your secret be then?â€
He chuckled again. â€œThose are dragons back there if you hadnâ€™t noticed, Melusine. If Ystelyan-miran wanted them to, they could render this whole forest a lifeless waste. But he doesnâ€™t and they wonâ€™t. And thereâ€™s no need for us to hide any more. Soon everyone will know.â€
Daniel felt like Ebona had never galloped so slowly. The fleeing townsfolk parted before them in spite of their panic and the council must have used their power to clear the way because their path was devoid of the normal obstacles of the forest. He bent forward and shouted to Ebona over the wind.
â€Canâ€˜t you go any faster?â€
Stop panicking! Ebona replied mentally. She cut him off before he could protest. Yes, you are. You always forget to mindspeak when you panic. You have to keep your wits about you or youâ€™ll do her no good! The dragons could attack us at any time.
You’re right. I’m sorry. Daniel straightened up just in time to see bolts of water flying towards him. He hastily flung up his shield and managed to deflect most of the bolts, knocking them harmlessly to the ground. But one slipped through, slicing open his cheek. He clapped a hand to the wound as Ebona wheeled towards the source of the attack.
â€œWell, well, well.â€ A tall figure clad in azure mail emerged from among the trees. â€œIf it isnâ€™t the dragon lordâ€™s pet warrior.â€
Daniel groaned as the stranger said that. â€œYou had to mention him, didnâ€™t you? Heâ€™s probably watching us now.â€
The stranger raised an eyebrow. â€œOff a title? If heâ€™s that good youâ€™d need to avoid thinking about him completely.â€ He gave a smirk. â€œBut if he is thatâ€™s all to the good. Ystelyan-miran wants him to know that heâ€™s less than pleased with him for enslaving his children.â€
â€œWhat the hell are you talking about?â€ he asked. â€œAnd who the hell are you?â€
â€œMe? Iâ€™m Kyle Brightwell, of course,â€ the other replied.
Daniel suppressed a gasp. â€œYouâ€™re dead!â€
â€œRumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.â€ He seemed to study Daniel thoughtfully. â€œYou know in all the time I knew her Karen never mentioned she had a brother. Is it just the two of you or are there more of you hiding in the woodwork?â€
â€œFour, weâ€™re quads.â€ The reply slipped out before Daniel even realised he was speaking. Only then did he notice the gentle push against his mind compelling him to answer. Damn! This guy was gifted. He pushed extra power to his mental shields to block him out and hefted his spear. â€œYou know Karen?â€
â€œQuads? Well that explains why she never mentioned it.â€ Kyleâ€™s lips twitched.
â€œWhat?â€ Daniel said. Is he trying to confuse me?
Thereâ€™s an element of that, Ebona replied. But heâ€™s telling the truth as well.
Kyle ignored the question. â€œOf course I know her. Quite apart from the fact sheâ€™s the Light Warrior and we spent nearly a year fighting side by side we were classmates for a few years before that and we dated for several months.â€ He gave an amused smile. â€œI really should pop by and say hello to her. Iâ€™ve got a-â€
â€œYou keep away from my sister!â€ Daniel flung a furious bolt of darkness at Kyle, but the traitor laughed wildly and danced out of the way.
â€œMake me!â€ Kyle raised his hand and a thick jet of water shot at Daniel.
The water crashed against his shield with such force that it nearly knocked him from Ebonaâ€™s back. He growled to himself.
Go and find Mela! Heâ€™s probably sent her cousin after her. He leapt from her back and landed in a crouch, spear pointing at Kyle. Iâ€™ll handle the traitor!
Be careful, Daniel! The Water Warrior had a fearsome reputation even before he betrayed the Core. She galloped off into the woods.
â€œSo itâ€™s just you and me now.â€ Kyle looked and sounded amused. He reached over his shoulder and unsheathed his weapon. Instead of the sword Daniel had been expecting, however, he drew a bizarre multi-bladed hybrid of sword and whip. The flexible blades seemed to dance on their own and Daniel could see water reflected in them, even though there was none nearby.
The traitor smiled. â€œShall we dance?â€