Kimi flew overhead, leading the way to her mentor’s home. The trail was steep, and Andrew kept falling back while his sister scampered ahead like a mountain goat. Eyvindr was climbing more slowly, but still faster than him. Andrew swore to himself and tried to speed up, but the scree gave way beneath his feet and sent him sliding nearly a hundred meters back down the slope. He flailed around in an attempt to stop himself and his hand closed on a tree root, jerking him to a stop. He landed on his side and lay there, gasping for breath.
â€œAre you okay, Drew?â€ Lydia slid down towards him.
â€œNot really.” He sat up and looked down at his jeans. They were ripped and his knees were bleeding. That wasnâ€™t what worried him though – his painful and rapidly swelling ankle did. â€œMy ankle hurts.â€
â€œStay there!â€ Lydia said. â€œI want to be sure itâ€™s not broken.â€
Kimi landed beside him and shifted down into her resting form. She sniffed at his ankle and then nuzzled it. â€œYouâ€™ll be okay.â€
â€œOf course he will.â€ Lydia knelt down and examined his injury. â€œHmm… I think itâ€™s just sprained, but I canâ€™t be sure.â€ She looked at Kimi. â€œHe wonâ€™t be able to walk. Can you carry him?â€
â€œOf course!â€ Kimi nuzzled his ankle once more andÂ then returned to her full form. â€œYouâ€™ll have to help him climb on.â€
He got to his feet slowly with Lydiaâ€™s help.
â€œLean on me and try not to put any weight on your ankle,â€ she said.
â€œIâ€™ll try.â€ He half-hopped, half-hobbled over to Kimi and struggled on to her back.
Kimi cocked her head at Lydia. â€œI can carry both of you. Itâ€™ll be quicker.â€ She looked up at Eyvindr who was climbing back down to them. â€œIâ€™ll come back for you as soon as Iâ€™ve dropped them off.â€
He waved in acknowledgement and she turned to Lydia, who nodded and climbed onto her back behind Andrew. Kimi took off again, flying close to the ground and seeming less graceful than usual.
â€œAre you okay?â€ Andrew asked.
â€œItâ€™s hard flying with two passengers,â€ she replied. â€œIâ€™m glad itâ€™s not far.â€
In fact they were already approaching a ledge by a cave. A midnight-blue skinned slender young woman with purplish black hair and eyes that shone like stars was waiting at the entrance.Â Andrew thought her one of the most exquisite people heâ€™d ever seen.
â€œKaguya!â€ Kimi said as he and Lydia dismounted. â€œHave you told Aratts weâ€™re here?â€ She turned to him and Lydia. â€œThis is Kaguya, another student of my mentor Aratts. Sheâ€™s a-â€ The next thing she said was an unintelligble squawk rather than a word.
â€œA what?” he asked.
Kimi looked from him to Lydia. â€œOh, dear. That didnâ€™t come through at all did it? Sheâ€™s a night nymph. The same species as Brita but with an affinity for darkness rather than rock. Apparently humans donâ€™t have a specific name for them.â€ She looked back at Kaguya. â€œThis is my heart friend Andrew and his sister Lydia.â€
The nymph bowed. â€œWelcome. I have prepared rooms for you.â€ She noticed his injury or at least that Lydia was supporting him – and concern flitted across her face. â€œAre you hurt?â€
â€œI slipped and hurt my ankle,â€ he said.
â€œLet me help.” Kaguya slipped under his free arm and with her and Lydiaâ€™s help he hopped into the cave.
â€œI need to go back and fetch Eyvindr,â€ Kimi said. â€œIâ€™ll be right back.â€
Valeria blinked as two imps flew into her chambers simultaneously. One was Raiâ€™s again, which was not really unexpected. The other was a small creature of darkness which she stared at perplexedly. Why was Dariad sending her an Imp? It must be important. She held her palm out to it first and absorbed its message.
She stared blankly at the crystal wall of her study as she tried to digest the full horror of what had been happening in Elapyron. Rai’s imp flitted around her head, trying in vain to attract her attention. Dariad was right; this required some sort of response.
Her reverie was broken by a loud knock at her door, followed by Alban rushing in. He looked frantic.
â€Alban? Whatâ€˜s wrong?â€
â€œKaren and Rai are in danger!â€ he blurted out.
â€œWhat?â€ She finally put her hand out gain to let Raiâ€™s imp land. She absorbed what it was telling her and swore feelingly. â€œCome on!â€ She grabbed his bow and quiver from the corner and took hold of his hand.
â€Huh?â€ he said. â€You intend to go and save them?â€
â€œThem andÂ Salia.” She pulled him out of the door towards the courtyard mentally calling for two of the other thunderbirds to attend her.
â€œTheyâ€™re near the thunderbirdâ€™s eyrie and I sent Salia there for safety. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s a coincidence.â€ She turned as the two guards landed in front of them. â€œWe need to get to your eyrie, with a short detour to grab Rai and the Light Warrior.â€ She quickly explained what sheâ€™d learned from the Imp.
The two thunderbirds crouched down to allow them to mount, but Valeria turned and walked to the moat. Sirinâ€™s head appeared above the water. â€œYour majesty?â€
Valeria ignored her and looked out over the water. â€œLorelei, attend me!â€
The deputy songstress of the merfolk emerged from the water and joined her by the gate. Valeria lead her back into the courtyard, out of earshot of the other merfolk.
â€œHow may I serve you, my queen?â€ Lorelei asked.
â€œI suspect Sirin is plotting against me. What do you think?â€
â€œIâ€™m sure of it my queen. She really hates you.â€
â€œI thought so. I need your help – and it may not be safe.”
â€œWhat do you need?”
â€œI have to go to the eyrie.â€ Valeria took her pendant from round her neck and held it out to her. â€œIâ€™m leaving you as regent. Youâ€™re one of the few people I trust at the moment. Gather a group you trust around you and be careful. Weâ€™ll sort this mess out when I get back.â€ If I get back, she appended mentally.
â€œMy queen.â€ Lorelei bowed. â€œI will do my best and I will send an imp directly if anything goes wrong here.â€ She took the pendant and headed to the stairs to Valeriaâ€™s study.
Valeria turned back to the thunderbirds to see Alban was already mounted. She climbed up onto the otherâ€™s back and they took off towards the eyrie.