Andrew still felt dizzy as he emerged through the gate into a quiet section of the forest. Jayden had insisted on placing blocks on him and Kimi to stop them talking – or even thinking in public – about what they’d seen, especially since the excuse they’d come up with for his absence was pretty anaemic. He’d said that when he was talking about where he’d been he’d believe it, since that was the only way to fool Ebona and Shadavar. Worse, that strange throne thing had left Andrew with a killer headache. From the way Kimi’s ears and tail were drooping, she felt ill as well. Hopefully they could get help in Waldhafen without having to explain why they needed it. He knelt down and gave his heart friend a quick, reassuring hug, took a breath, got his bearings and headed back towards the town.
He’d only been walking for five minutes when Bennu flew down from a nearby tree and landed in front of him.
“Where have you been!” he asked. “Everyone is worried about you.”
Andrew opened his mouth to give his excuse and the events of earlier slipped out of his head. “I needed to think about things, so I went for a walk and lost track of time. I was just on my way back.”
Bennu cocked his head at him and then nodded. “You don’t look well.” He sounded strained. “Let’s get back quickly.”
“My head aches,” Andrew admitted. “It came on suddenly.”
“Mine does too,” Kimi said.
“The healers will be able to fix it,” Bennu said confidently. “Let’s go back. I’ll call Lydia and tell her I’ve found you.”
Lucas Keefe and Ishleen met them near the gates. Andrew managed not to scowl at the man who was apparently one of Matthias Morgan’s friends but he certainly couldn’t muster a smile for him. The young man gave him a thoughtful look.
“You’re a bit messed up in there, aren’t you? Well, we knew that was a risk. Let’s get inside.”
“What do you mean, messed up?” Andrew asked suspiciously.
Lucas shook his head and chuckled. “You’ll see. Come on, your parents are frantic even though Lydia told them Bennu found you.”
Andrew almost stopped and demanded an explanation but Ishleen flapped her wings slightly to get his attention.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s nothing dangerous to you, kid,” the nightmare said and the apprehension slid from Andrew’s stomach.
“Come on,” Lucas said and they went inside.
“Andrew!” His mother was waiting just outside the treehouse and pulled him into a hug. Then she looked into his eyes and frowned. “Come back to us, Drew,” she said softly and he felt something equally soft brush his mind.
“What?” he asked in confusion then gasped as a door at the back of his mind flew open and his real self flew out of the box she had made for it to hide in. He staggered sideways and nearly fell to his knees – it had been a lot smoother when his true self hid away. Beside him, Kimi made a pained sound as his wards collapsing signalled hers to do the same.
“Sorry about that,” Sonia said. “The controls he put in to ensure your silence will make it a bit rough coming back to yourself.”
Andrew clung on to the tree trunk in order to stay upright and gasped for breath. “Dad!” he said finally. “I need to talk to Dad!”
“First you need to let Sarah or one of the healers to look at you both,” Sonia said. “I don’t like that headache. It’s not caused by Emm’s wards, but it’s not a normal headache either.”
“But-” he began.
“It won’t take long, Drew,” she said. “And it will make me feel better.”
He looked at her for a moment and then sighed. “Okay, mum, but I have to talk to Dad tonight. It’s important.”
“Of course, dear,” his mother said. “You and Kimi wait in the study and I’ll fetch Sarah.”
“Yes, Mum,” he said. He went into the room his father was using as a study and flopped down in one of the chairs to wait. Kimi sat beside him and put her chin on his lap but didn’t speak. He was grateful for that. His pounding head liked the quiet.
A few minutes later the door opened and Sarah came in.
“Sonia says she’s worried about you and now that I see you I can’t say I disagree. Let’s have a look,” she said. There was a pause before she swore softly. “What were you doing to mess yourself up this badly?” Sarah was frowning and her tone was so stern that Andrew almost flinched back.
“Nothing!” He protested defensively. “There was this thing and it made me feel ill just being around it. That’s what caused this. It’s what I need to talk to Dad about.”
“A thing?” She hmm’d thoughtfully. “That’s bad feedback to cause symptoms like this. Does he even know what he’s doing?” She laid a hand on his forehead. “I’ll sort this out and then we can go and talk to Matt.”