â€œHow are you feeling?â€ Lydia asked when Andrew woke.
â€œTired. Is it time to get up already?â€ He groaned when she nodded.
â€œIâ€™m afraid so. Iâ€™m fixing breakfast as best I can. Itâ€™ll be the remains of the stew with biscuits and fruit.â€
â€œItâ€™ll do,â€ he said. â€œI just hope I can keep up today.â€
â€œWeâ€™ll manage.â€ She shook one on the canteens. â€œHmmâ€¦ I need to refill this. I wonder if itâ€™s safe to go to the stream?â€
â€œNot alone.â€ Bennu landed on her shoulder. â€œWe should all stick together.â€
â€œYouâ€™re right.â€ She looked over at Andrew. â€œWhich way is your bracelet?â€
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.
â€œAssuming thatâ€™s east, we need to head northwest,â€ she said. â€œSince the compass doesnâ€™t work we may as well call sunrise east.â€ A horrible thought came to her and she looked apprehensively over at Kimi and Bennu, â€œUmâ€¦ the sun always rises in the same direction here, doesnâ€™t it?â€
â€œPretty much,â€œ Bennu replied. â€œIt varies a bit.â€
â€œGood. I was taking it for granted that things work the same as at home. Not a good assumption.â€ She checked the food as Karen returned from relieving herself. â€œBreakfastâ€™s nearly done.â€
â€œThank goodness! Iâ€™m starving.â€ Karen started rummaging through the holdall and then turned to them with a scowl. â€œYou didnâ€™t bring the coffee?â€
â€œErâ€¦ it never occurred to me,â€ Andrew said. â€œI hate the stuff, sorry.â€
â€œDamn, I need caffeine.â€
â€œHave a Red Bull or a Coke.â€ Lydia pointed to the stack of cans. â€œBut donâ€™t drink too much. Who knows how long weâ€™ll be here? Start weaning yourself off it before youâ€™re forced to go cold turkey.â€
â€œUgh.â€ Karen shuddered. â€œThe headaches will kill me.â€
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. â€œDid breakfast help?â€
â€œA little bit,â€ he said. â€œI think I can walk without help now, but Iâ€™m not sure how far. Letâ€™s hope this lives up to its hype.â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™ve never sprouted wings,â€ Lydia said. â€œBut itâ€™s helped when Iâ€™m tired. I didnâ€™t have chance to find out if it helped with this though, since I found my bracelet so quickly.â€
â€œHmm,â€ he said. â€œLucky you.â€
â€œAre we sure this is what we should do next?â€ Karen asked. â€œWhat if whoever wants us here had something else in mind?â€
Lydia gave her a sour look. â€œDo you have to question everything? Drew needs his bracelet. Besides, his feelingâ€™s the only lead weâ€™ve got.â€
â€œThatâ€™s true,â€ Karen said. â€œItâ€™s justâ€¦â€
The unhappy look on her sisterâ€™s face didnâ€™t escape Lydiaâ€™s notice. â€œWhatâ€™s wrong?â€
â€œLast night, before everything blew up, I had a dream.â€ She was clenching her fists and biting her lip in a way Lydia had never seen her do before.
â€œSomeone was calling for me. He was stuck somewhere and wanted me to come to him. I â€“ I think it was my heart friend. Bloody hell, that sounds stupid doesnâ€™t it?â€
â€œNot at all,â€ Lydia said. â€œToo many weird things have happened around us to call that weird. And I used to dream about Bennu. Do you know where he is?â€
Karen shook her head and swallowed visibly. â€œBut I have to help him.â€
â€œLook, Kaz,â€ Lydia said. â€œDrewâ€™s in a right state, and you donâ€™t know where your heart friend is. Best deal with the situation we can first. If heâ€™s in trouble youâ€™ll need me and Andrew at full power to help.â€
â€œI â€“ yes, thatâ€™s true. We should go after Drewâ€™s bracelet,â€ Karen said.
â€œAnd next time you dream about him ask where he is,â€ Lydia said.
â€œOkay, letâ€™s go get some water.â€
Lydia intended to stay well clear of the merfolkâ€™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.
â€œThe pool. I can see bodies,â€ he replied.
â€œBodies?â€ Lydia clambered up a nearby boulder and looked towards the pool. â€œHeâ€™s right! What the hell?â€ She leapt down and ran down the slight slope towards the pool.
â€œLydia! Wait!â€ Karen called. â€œIt might be a trap!â€
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.
â€œGuys, I think you should stay back,â€ 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. â€œWe canâ€™t do anything here. Letâ€™s go back up the hill.â€
â€œB-but shouldnâ€™t we see if anyoneâ€™s still alive?â€ Karen asked.
â€œI donâ€™t think so,â€ Lydia pointed to several sets of footprints in the mud. â€œThe survivors have fled, and it looks like they checked everyone before they did. Theyâ€™ll have taken the injured.â€ She scowled down at the hoofprints heading towards the Flame Palace. â€œI think whoever did it was the same one who spooked us last night.â€ She looked over at Andrew who was leaning against a tree looking pale and shaky. â€œAre you okay, Drew?â€
â€œI-I donâ€™t know. Why do I care? They tried to kill me.â€
â€œBecause youâ€™re a good person.â€ Kimi rubbed her head against his hand. â€œThereâ€™s nothing we can do here. Letâ€™s go back.â€