The first bolt of lightning struck the ground by Andrew before Kimi and Bennu even managed to transform to their full forms. He gave a pained cry as the blast threw him sideways, the cloak Alayria had given him smoking and turning black where the lightning had caught it. As he struggled back to his feet, it shimmered again and the charring vanished.
Lydia blinked at his cloak but was immediately distracted by another of the Thunderbirds taking aim at her. She dived to the side a moment before it fired and began to crawl away. The lighting struck where sheâ€™d been a moment before and the blast was deflected by a glowing cone which appeared round her. She looked up and saw Karen holding her right hand over her head with the coneâ€™s apex at her fist.
â€œWoah!â€ Lydia scrambled to her feet.
â€œGet your shield up, Lyd,â€ Karen said. â€œThey only want me alive, not you. I hoped theyâ€™d be a bit more subtle, but obviously not.â€ Then she was gone in aÂ glowing blur towards Andrew.
Lydia ducked among the rocks as she tried to focus her inner fire into a shield like the one sheâ€™d used instinctively against Korrig and the dark rider.Â But what had seemed so natural then seemed to be fighting her now. She hunkered down among the dubious shelter of the bolders and tried to remember where sheâ€™d learned the trick. She knew someone had taught her, but whenever she reached for the memory it slipped through her fingers like a dream. Not surprising, since as far as she recalled she had only ever encountered her teacher in her dreams.
Another bolt shattered the rock above her head and as she flung herself prone, a brief snippet of memory surfaced. A silver eyed woman wreathed in silver flames standing in a palace of wood.
Calmness is the key to control. The memory whispered in her mind. Even in the heat of battle, endeavor to remain calm. Still your heart and draw your fire from it.
Calm? Calm was the last thing she felt with lightning bolts raining down round her. She looked up and saw Kimi and Bennu engaging two of their attackers. The third was the only one attacking her. Just as it released another bolt at her, Eyvindr jumped between them and blocked it with his own shield.
â€œThanks!â€ she gasped. She took a breath and forced her heart to stop racing so fast. Calmness overtook her as she did and her shield came up a moment later.
â€œWell, finally!â€ Karen yelled from the other side of the hollow where she was shielding Andrew.
â€œSorry, donâ€™t quite know what Iâ€™m doing,â€ Lydia called back. She gathered some of the fire into her hand and sent a stream of it at the thunderbird attacking her. It broke through its shield and singed its feathers but did no real damage.
â€œThatâ€™s obvious!â€ Karen replied. â€œI was going to say try not kill anyone, but not much chance of that if you donâ€™t learn to kick it up a level.â€ She turned and looked up at the three thunderbirds. â€œItâ€™s me you want. Let my siblings and their heart friends go and Iâ€™ll come with you. Thereâ€™s no need for anyone to get hurt.â€
None of their attackers responded. They just turned their attention to Kimi and Bennu. Where their heart friends had been able to handle two attackers, three seemed to be giving them problems.
Karen covered her eyes with her hand and shook her head. â€œIâ€™m surrounded by novices. They have no idea what theyâ€™re capable of yet,â€ she said softly.
â€œWhat do you mea-â€ Andrew broke off as two of the thunderbirds struck Kimi at once. He and his heart friend screamed simultaneously and he collapsed unconscious as Kimi plumetted towards the ground.
Karen threw out one hand and Kimiâ€™s plunge slowed and then stopped. She bit her lip and went white with effort and the unconscious leopard floated over and landed by Andrew. Lydia scrambled over to them without letting her shield drop and knelt down by her brother.
Karen flushed with anger and glared up at the thunderbirds furiously. â€œThat,â€ she said in soft, deadly tone, â€œwas unneeded. Be thankful theyâ€™re still breathing, or Iâ€™d be less inclined to be reasonable.â€ She flung out her hand again and deflected a bolt aimed Bennu. â€œEnough of this!â€
Light burst out from her in an expanding sphere. Lydia heard the three thunderbirds give startled screams as it engulfed them before it hit her as well and the world went white.
The crunch of a foot landing near his head woke Rai from his stupor and he looked up to see the Light warrior standing over him. Her right hand was clenched into a glowing fist.
â€œAre you inclined to be more reasonable yet?â€ she asked. â€œBecause Iâ€™m not going to let you hurt my brother and sister.â€
He flapped around and managed to get himself into a less undignified position. With some effort he was able to regain his full form, but he could see that his backup had not fared as well. They were both out cold and he suspected sheâ€™d cracked their heartstones.
The girl followed his gaze and gave a sad smile. â€œI really didnâ€™t want to do that,â€ she said.Â â€œBut you didnâ€™t leave me much choice. Donâ€™t worry, theyâ€™ll live. I made sure of that.â€ She turned back to him. â€œDo you concede?â€
â€œI have no choice,â€ he said. â€œWhat do you want?â€
â€œYou to agree to accept my surrender and let my siblings go,â€ she replied.
â€œMy queen wonâ€™t like that,â€ he said.
â€œSheâ€™ll like it even less if you fail to bring me back wonâ€™t she? I could crack your heartstone too, you know, and by the time you recovered weâ€™d be long gone.â€
That was true, and Valeria could send someone else after them once the Light Warrior was secured. Her poorly trained siblings should be easy to deal with without her.
â€œVery well.â€ He crouched down and let her climb onto his back. â€œHold on!â€ He scooped the two thunderbirds into his claws and took off for Valeriaâ€™s palace.