“How are you feeling?” Lydia asked when Andrew woke.
“Tired. Is it time to get up already?” He groaned when she nodded.
“I’m afraid so. I’m fixing breakfast as best I can. It’ll be the remains of the stew with biscuits and fruit.”
“It’ll do,” he said. “I just hope I can keep up today.”
“We’ll manage.” She shook one on the canteens. “Hmm… I need to refill this. I wonder if it’s safe to go to the stream?”
“Not alone.” Bennu landed on her shoulder. “We should all stick together.”
“You’re right.” She looked over at Andrew. “Which way is your bracelet?”
Andrew seemed to concentrate and then pointed in much the same direction as the stranger had headed off in earlier. Lydia poked her head outside to check where the sun was.
“Assuming that’s east, we need to head northwest,” she said. “Since the compass doesn’t work we may as well call sunrise east.” A horrible thought came to her and she looked apprehensively over at Kimi and Bennu, “Um… the sun always rises in the same direction here, doesn’t it?”
“Pretty much,“ Bennu replied. “It varies a bit.”
“Good. I was taking it for granted that things work the same as at home. Not a good assumption.” She checked the food as Karen returned from relieving herself. “Breakfast’s nearly done.”
“Thank goodness! I’m starving.” Karen started rummaging through the holdall and then turned to them with a scowl. “You didn’t bring the coffee?”
“Er… it never occurred to me,” Andrew said. “I hate the stuff, sorry.”
“Damn, I need caffeine.”
“Have a Red Bull or a Coke.” Lydia pointed to the stack of cans. “But don’t drink too much. Who knows how long we’ll be here? Start weaning yourself off it before you’re forced to go cold turkey.”
“Ugh.” Karen shuddered. “The headaches will kill me.”
After breakfast, Karen packed while Lydia buried the rubbish and other waste and Andrew sat on the pillar drinking one of the Red Bulls. Lydia walked over and put a hand on his shoulder. “Did breakfast help?”
“A little bit,” he said. “I think I can walk without help now, but I’m not sure how far. Let’s hope this lives up to its hype.”
“Well, I’ve never sprouted wings,” Lydia said. “But it’s helped when I’m tired. I didn’t have chance to find out if it helped with this though, since I found my bracelet so quickly.”
“Hmm,” he said. “Lucky you.”
“Are we sure this is what we should do next?” Karen asked. “What if whoever wants us here had something else in mind?”
Lydia gave her a sour look. “Do you have to question everything? Drew needs his bracelet. Besides, his feeling’s the only lead we’ve got.”
“That’s true,” Karen said. “It’s just…”
The unhappy look on her sister’s face didn’t escape Lydia’s notice. “What’s wrong?”
“Last night, before everything blew up, I had a dream.” She was clenching her fists and biting her lip in a way Lydia had never seen her do before.
“Someone was calling for me. He was stuck somewhere and wanted me to come to him. I – I think it was my heart friend. Bloody hell, that sounds stupid doesn’t it?”
“Not at all,” Lydia said. “Too many weird things have happened around us to call that weird. And I used to dream about Bennu. Do you know where he is?”
Karen shook her head and swallowed visibly. “But I have to help him.”
“Look, Kaz,” Lydia said. “Drew’s in a right state, and you don’t know where your heart friend is. Best deal with the situation we can first. If he’s in trouble you’ll need me and Andrew at full power to help.”
“I – yes, that’s true. We should go after Drew’s bracelet,” Karen said.
“And next time you dream about him ask where he is,” Lydia said.
“Okay, let’s go get some water.”
Lydia intended to stay well clear of the merfolk’s pool and head well upstream, but an alarmed cry from Bennu caught her attention. She looked up at where he was flying above her.
“The pool. I can see bodies,” he replied.
“Bodies?” Lydia clambered up a nearby boulder and looked towards the pool. “He’s right! What the hell?” She leapt down and ran down the slight slope towards the pool.
“Lydia! Wait!” Karen called. “It might be a trap!”
Lydia ignored her and ran right up to the pool. There were several bodies lying around and a great deal of blood. She ground to a halt and stared down at the nearest one. Something had speared the merman right through the heart and the stench of shit and urine was overwhelming. She covered her mouth and pinched her nose as she backed up and looked back at the others who had nearly caught up with her.
“Guys, I think you should stay back,” she said.
It was too late.
Karen took in the sight and smell, and gagged. She gasped in a few breaths, obviously trying to swallow back a wave of nausea, then she dropped to her knees and retched up her breakfast on the grass.
Lydia walked over and rubbed her shoulders until she finished. “We can’t do anything here. Let’s go back up the hill.”
“B-but shouldn’t we see if anyone’s still alive?” Karen asked.
“I don’t think so,” Lydia pointed to several sets of footprints in the mud. “The survivors have fled, and it looks like they checked everyone before they did. They’ll have taken the injured.” She scowled down at the hoofprints heading towards the Flame Palace. “I think whoever did it was the same one who spooked us last night.” She looked over at Andrew who was leaning against a tree looking pale and shaky. “Are you okay, Drew?”
“I-I don’t know. Why do I care? They tried to kill me.”
“Because you’re a good person.” Kimi rubbed her head against his hand. “There’s nothing we can do here. Let’s go back.”