The building was more intact than it had looked from a distance. A few pillars and blocks of stone had fallen, but the main structure looked intact. A pair of sturdy wooden doors blocked them from just walking in. Lydia sank down onto one of the fallen pillars while Andrew strode over and tried to open them.
“Damn, I need to sleep.“ She rubbed her eyes.
Karen rifled around in the holdall and produced a can of Red Bull. “Here, this might help.” She looked at Bennu. “Is this going to happen every time you change? I’m glad you saved us, but I don’t know how much Lyd can take.”
“I don’t know,” Bennu said. “I’ve never transformed before. I didn’t think it took so much, but it felt like more was being lost than I was receiving.”
“That’s not good.” Lydia took a swig of the drink and looked over at Andrew who was rattling the doors and swearing under his breath. “What’s wrong?”
“Are you sure about this? It’s locked.”
“Yes.” She took another large mouthful of the energy drink and struggled to her feet. Her vision blurred and faded and she had to grab Karen’s shoulder. “Help me.”
“But Drew can’t open the door –” Karen wrapped an arm around her waist as Lydia clung to her, and they began to walk slowly towards the doorway.
“Just do it!” Lydia snapped.
Karen stopped and scowled at her. “Don’t yell at me. I’m not the one who got us into this.”
“Sorry, Kaz, I feel like crap. You’re right, I shouldn’t be taking it out on you.”
Karen continued scowling at her, and for a moment, Lydia thought she might refuse to help her any farther, but then she sighed. “No, you shouldn’t. But come on, we’re almost there.” She helped Lydia stagger the final few feet. “What now?”
“I’m not sure,” she said. “I just know we’ve got to get in.” She brushed the rough wood lightly with her fingertips. It responded by beginning to creak open. “That, I guess.”
“It really was waiting for you,” Andrew said as Karen helped her inside.
“Yeah.” Lydia looked round. “Something here belongs to me.”
“Er… Right.” Karen helped her down the aisle. Yellow flames leapt up on either side of them and kept pace with them as they walked. The flickering light they provided granted them a better view of the place.
It was larger than it appeared from the outside because it was dug back into the hill. Tapestries hung on the walls and the carpet was woven with a golden flame design mimicked by the carvings on the dark wooden pillars. On the dais before them, a throne stood illumed by the flames. A tapestry of a phoenix adorned the wall behind it.
“That’s not a coincidence,” Andrew said dryly.
“No.” Lydia’s eyes were drawn to what was lying on the throne. A slender sword lay across its arms and a golden bracelet set with a large, round, red stone sat on the cushion. “Those are mine… Oh!” She began glowing again as they flew towards her. She snatched them from the air and slipped the bracelet onto her wrist. Only then did she realise she was standing unaided. She stared at the bracelet and turned to Karen and Andrew. “I feel better. I think this did it.” She held up the bracelet. “But I’m starving. Can we eat?
“The sun’s beginning to set.” Andrew said. “And it’s getting chilly.”
Lydia looked up from where she was kneeling and laying out the snack foods and emergency rations by type. “Let’s stay here, then. It’s a good place.” She selected a packet of crisps and tucked into it to ease the worst of her hunger pangs before joining him by the door. “So if the sun is setting there it should be west.” She pulled out her compass and looked at it. “What?” She turned in a long, slow circle.
“What’s wrong?” Andrew asked.
“The compass isn’t working.” She glanced at her wrist. “Neither is my watch.”
Andrew blinked and checked his own watch. “Mine too. That’s weird. How about yours, Kaz?”
Karen checked and shook her head. “It’s fine. I wound it this morning.”
“Woun… Oh, of course,” Lydia said. “It’s the old one dad gave her. I hope my camping stove works. I don’t want to cook over an open fire.”
“Not that there’s anything to cook,” Andrew said. “Unless digestive and crisp stew is on your menu.”
“I’ll be able to scrounge up something.” Lydia knelt down and tested the camping stove. “Phew, it works! Where did Bennu go? I haven’t seen him since we got here.”
“He flew off when you said you were hungry,” Andrew said. “Perhaps he thought you were going to eat him.”
“I doubt it.” Lydia scanned the sky with her binoculars and spotted him flying back towards the building with something grasped in his claws. “Oh, he’s caught something.”
“Caught something?” Andrew asked and took the binoculars when she offered. “Is that a rabbit?”
“Looks like it,” she said.
“I hope it’s not a magical talking rabbit.”
“There’s no such thing as magic,” she replied absently. “No matter what Dad says. I’m with you on the not talking thing though.”
Andrew handed the binoculars back to her with an incredulous scowl. “How can you say that?”
“Blatantly paranormal doesn’t mean magical.” Lydia gave him a lopsided smile. “It just means we don’t understand it yet. Unless you agree with Dad of course. You don’t, do you?”
“Hum… well…” he said but stopped as Bennu dropped the dead rabbit.
“Food!” Bennu said.
“Thank you!” Lydia picked up the offering. “But – hum – it’s not a talking rabbit, is it?”
“Of course not! It’s just a rabbit. Speakers can sense each other. I couldn’t feel this one.”
“Ah! Okay.” Lydia fetched her Swiss army knife and began to gut the rabbit.
Karen made a retching sound and turned away. “Oh, that’s gross. What do they teach you on those courses?”
“Survival,” Lydia said blandly. “You aren’t going to refuse to eat it, are you?”
“No,” Karen said. “But it’s still gross. And the smell is…” She pulled a face.
“Yeah, I was nearly sick the first time.” Lydia spent about quarter of an hour preparing the rabbit, then fetched some water from a stream she’d spotted nearby. “I’m going to make a stew with it. Keep an eye on it while I see what else I can find.” She pulled off her cardigan to use as a carrier and grabbed her trowel from the rucksack. “Don’t let it boil dry.”
“Wait, for me!” Bennu said. “You might be attacked again.”
“Good idea.” Lydia turned back to her siblings. “If anyone attacks you, close the doors. Only Bennu or I can open them from outside.”
Lydia was kneeling down and digging up some edible roots when the back of her neck prickled and a wave of nausea swept over her. She took a breath and turned, certain someone was behind her, but saw no one.
“Am I going mad or is someone watching us?” she asked.
“No,” Bennu said. “But they’re hiding somehow.”
“That’s creepy,” she said. “Keep an eye out. But what are you going to eat? I doubt you’ll want stew.”
“I ate the first rabbit I caught,” he said. “I thought you might be weird about food.”
“Well you look like you would be.”
“We look like we would be?” she asked, then spun around because she thought she heard a choked-off laugh from behind her. Once again no one was there. She looked around but saw no obvious hiding places. “Okay, this is too creepy. Let’s go back.”