“What happened?” Valeria asked as Sarah laid Lydia down. A grey-skinned dryad with green hair ran over to help her.
“She was trying to dodge one of Huldre’s attacks and landed badly,” Sarah replied. “She’s concussed and her arm is broken. I don’t think it’s too serious but we thought it was a good idea to evacuate her.”
“Agreed,” Valeria said. “How was it going?”
Sarah seesawed her hand uncertainly. “It’s touch and go, to be honest. Those two are obscenely strong. We were holding our own I guess but if they lose many more they’re going to be in trouble.” She looked around. “Where’s Hannah?”
“That’s worrying,” Valeria said. “Hannah’s at mother Sanctuary. The key was bound up with her essence in a way that was interfering with her healing and it wouldn’t let her release it a place where Emms could call it.”
“Ah.” Sarah nodded. “That makes sense.” She knelt down by Sarah and nodded to the dryad. “You deal with her arm, dear. Birke and I will sort out the head wound.”
“Of course.” The dryad nodded. “I am called Llwyfen.”
“Ah, your tree’s an elm. I should have realised.” She smiled gently. “I’m pleased to meet you.”
“The honour is mine.” The dryad smiled in return before kneeling down at Lydia’s other side and laying a hand on her arm. “Ah, she’s barely cracked it. It’s the soft tissue damage that’s the worst. This won’t take long.”
“And while she’s shaken her brain up it isn’t too bad either,” Birke said. “We’ll have her good as new in no time.”
Valeria watched them working for a while until Salia tugged on her sleeve. She looked down at her daughter and found her frowning.
“What is it, moppet?”
“Something is happening, mummy! I can feel it!”
“What do you mean?” Valeria asked.
“She probably means on Gaia,” Sarah said. “She’ll be picking it up from her heart friend.” She looked at Salia. “Is she in danger, sweetie?”
Salia shook her head. “Not danger. It’s not scary but the air feels strange and I can feel her better than before. Like a gate was opened.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Sarah said. “I hope the others get back soon.”
“Don’t be stupid.” Estara was still clutching Emms’ egg. “He’s in transition, which means you’re on your own on Taloa and back at child strength. You won’t even be able to hold your full form for much longer. If you fight us like this you’ll almost certainly end up dead – and if you die, he dies as well. Is that what you want?”
Huldre was shaking with effort, obviously trying to retain his full form without Emms’ support. All the same he glared at her. “Like you’ll let us out of this alive if I surrender.”
“We’re not in the habit of killing people who surrender,” Matthias said. “We’ll have to decide what to do to prevent the two of you causing trouble again but we’re not going to kill you in cold blood.”
Even as Matthias was speaking Lyrrekka was sneaking up behind Huldre. Daniel forced himself not to stare at her instead he reached out for Ebona.
We need to keep his attention on us, Eb, he said. So he doesn’t notice Lyrrekka. Is Dad telling the truth about not killing them?
He is, she said.
Then tell him that, Daniel said. That should distract him.
It should, she agreed before speaking aloud. “It’s true, we won’t.”
Huldre started when she spoke and turned to stare at her. “What?”
“No one is going to kill you in cold blood,” Ebona said. “Only if you force our hands.”
Huldre looked like he might say more but at that moment Lyrrekka leapt onto his back. The troll tried to shake her off at first but quickly staggered to his knees before collapsing facedown on the ground. Lyrrekka waited a moment longer before climbing off his back.
“He should be unconscious for quite a while,” she said. “Which gives us time to figure out what we’re doing with them and what we’re doing about that.” She looked up at the tear in the sky.
“That is the biggest problem,” Alaryia agreed. “We’d best get back to Waldhafen and check on Lydia and Hannah.”
“Yes,” Matthias agreed. “I’m going to send some messages and try to find out if it has had any effect yet.