“Are we going the right way?” Lydia asked Andrew quietly a couple of hours after they had set off.
Andrew opened his eyes and looked at her. “Hmm?” He seemed to think about it. “Roughly… it’s a little more that way.” He gestured to the right. “But I think that’s because the road winds so much. It was a little more that way earlier.” He pointed to the left.
“My people made your bracelets, you know.” Korrig said suddenly from where he sat up front.
“Really?” Lydia asked.
Karen nodded. “That’s what dwarves are known for,” she said. “They make things… especially powerful things.” She cocked her head when Lydia stared at her. “Norse mythology.”
“When did you read Norse myths?” Lydia asked.
“At Brierthorne last term. I took a world mythology class.”
“A world mythology class?” Andrew sat up and glared at her. “You lucky sod. Why couldn’t I get the damned scholarship?”
Karen just shrugged, the way she always did when her scholarship came up. She looked towards the front of the cart. “Did your people make Lyd’s sword as well?”
“No,” he said. “That looks like goblin manufacture. The essence of heat is worked into it in a way we could never manage. Where did you get it?”
“It was in the Flame Palace with the bracelet. They both sort of flew to me,” she replied.
The dwarf glanced back at them with a frown. “Hmm… So it was made for you? Why would the Core bring the goblins into this? I’ve never heard of humans bearing goblin weapons before except…” He paused thoughtfully. “Does this mean his spear isn’t stolen?”
“Who?” Lydia asked.
Korrig gave her a surprised look. “You don’t know? Far be it from me to carry tales, but there are reasons many speakers lump you Warriors in with the rest of your kind – and he’s one of them.”
Lydia looked over at Kimi. “This has something to do with what happened last night, doesn’t it?” she said.
Kimi looked at her blandly for a moment, then nodded reluctantly. “I’m not convinced he’s human. If the stories I’ve heard are true anyway. He has a lot of power.”
“I don’t know,” Korrig said. “It was before our time, but I’ve heard King Indirian’s human was damned scary when he wanted to be.”
“But humans don’t have glowing red eyes,” Lydia said.
Korrig chuckled. “No, but the shadow kin unicorns do. And the Dark Rider travels with one of them.”
“The Dark Rider?” she asked.
Kimi looked down. “We call him that because he has power over darkness. A hell of a lot of power. That’s why I don’t think he’s human. A svart-alf maybe… I can imagine one of them posing as a human. They trade with goblins, and anyone with a wrist can wear a bracelet.”
“And it’s hard to tell if a unicorn is heart friend or a normal speaker,” Korrig said. “It’s possible, I suppose. But after what happened two years ago, his being a Warrior wouldn’t be unprecedented.”
“What happened two years ago?” Lydia asked.
Korrig turned in his seat and looked at her. “No one knows, except possibly the heart friends of the Warriors who were called then. But the Core let it be known that the Water Warrior betrayed us.”
Kimi twitched her ears and made a growling noise. “And if anything but the Core had said it, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
“Lovely,” Lydia said. “So everyone is trying to kill us because of a couple of bad apples?” She looked over at Karen rummaging through the backpack. “What are you doing?”
“Looking for a mirror. My hair’s a mess.” She looked up at Lydia. “What?”
Lydia stared at her sister incredulously. “We’re finally getting some answers and you’re looking for a mirror?”
An odd expression flitted across Karen’s face. “I’m listening. Aha!” She pulled out a small folding mirror from the backpack, opened it and began to comb her hair.
“Hey! That’s one of my signal mirrors! Put it back!” Lydia said.
“Who were you planning on signalling?” Karen asked.
“Exactly, and you’ve got another anyway. I may as well get some use out of it since you aren’t.” Karen carried on combing her hair.
Lydia opened her mouth to argue, but was interrupted by Korrig.
“As I was saying… After what happened, the Core had my people hide the Heart Bracelets from those who would destroy them. The Ice Bracelet’s around two days travel from here.” He paused as Andrew’s stomach made an audible grumble. “There’s also a nice lake with good fishing up ahead where we can stop for lunch.”
“She doesn’t realise the danger she’s in, does she?” The Dark Rider’s low comment to Ebona had an amused tone. Mela swam to the edge of the lake and saw a human girl with light red hair collecting edible leaves. She thought it was one of the girls who’d been with the blond boy her clan had tried to kill. She looked about the same age as the Rider and was talking to what Mela thought might be a phoenix in resting form. “I could overpower her and take her bracelet before she realised what was happening. Even before her heart friend could transform.”
“You could.” Ebona sounded just as amused. “Though that dwarf might prove troublesome. But you won’t. You want to prove him wrong – and she’s as good as a test case as any.”
“Better than most. Lyd’ll prove him wrong.”
The Rider froze as the girl rubbed her neck and frowned in his general direction. “She can sense me! But how?”
“She sensed your attention more than anything,” Ebona said. “If you’d ignored her, she’d have been oblivious, I think. But it’s suggestive, isn’t it?”
“It is,” he said. “Good, she’s going back to the others. I want to hear what they’re saying.” He followed her silently.
Mela cautiously followed him until the steam became too shallow. She lay there and waited for him to return.
She could make out enough to know she’d been right. This was the group her clan had seen yesterday. And they were after the Ice Heart Bracelet as well, which made sense. The boy had frozen the clan’s pool when his heart friend rescued him. She wished she could get closer, but she doubted the Rider’s concealment would hold if she drew attention to herself.
A loud splash made her jump, and she scrambled back towards the lake to avoid the Ice Warrior’s heart friend. The snow leopard paused for a second and looked around. For one heart-stopping moment Mela thought she’d sensed her, but then the leopard plunged into the stream and came out with a struggling trout in her mouth. She dropped it on the bank and then repeated the performance several times.
Mela watched the leopard devour several of the trout herself before calling the others over to collect the rest.
A shadow fell over her. She looked up to find the Dark Rider standing there.
“They’ve gone back to the dwarf’s cart to eat, and I’ve heard what I needed,” he said. “We’re in a race. Not surprising, but I wasn’t expecting them to find transport. We’d better move out soon. How are you feeling?”
“Hmm?” she said. Only the ghost of her headache remained, but her mouth was still parched and her stomach grumbled in spite of the fish she’d eaten. She started to say she’d be okay, but Ebona interrupted.
“We’re not leaving until you’ve finished your meal. You promised you’d eat. And she needs a bit more rest for all she was about to say otherwise.” She pointed at Mela with her horn.
“All right, Eb.” He sighed. “You’re probably right.”
“Of course I am.”
Mela dove down and found some more trout. Ebona was right; she needed more than one. She surfaced and tossed one to Ebona who devoured it as the Rider turned back to his meal.