Dariad winced as they emerged from the portal. There was a subtle silvery glow permeating everything in the mountain valley. It wasn’t bright enough for this to be a true light affinity zone but it was enough to make a svart alf like him wince and squint. He glanced at Matthias and saw that he was cringing as well.
“I’m sorry.” Alaryia was sitting on the grass with her palms on the ground. She had her eyes closed and looked like she was meditating.Â After a moment the glow faded back to a comfortable level. “I was just checking that my defences were up to strength while I’m here, since I’ve been away for a while. Gerian is likely to attack me after this.” She rose to her feet and held her hands out to Halia. “Hal!”
“Mother!” Halia ran the few steps to her mother’s embrace. “I’ve missed you!”
“I’ve missed you as well.” Alaryia hugged her, then looked at Matthias over her daughter’s shoulder. “Can I take this damned thing off her now, or do you want to wait?”
“Do it now,” Matthias said. “I don’t know how long we have until that machine gets activated. I’m sure taking Andrew means Emms is about to to. I just wish I knew why he was so determined to have Drew there.”
“I have a suspicion about that,” Alaryia said. “I hope I’m wrong, but it seems the most likelyÂ thing. But you’re right. I do not want that man controlling my daughter.” Before anyone could ask what she meant she reached up and slipped the collar from Halia’s neck.
There was a sudden flare of ravenous hunger, then Halia gave a heartrending scream and tried to twist away from Alaryia towards them. Her eyes had gone blank, her teeth had lengthened and sharpened noticeably and claws erupted from her fingertips.
“No, Hal, no!” Alaryia held her fast and murmured soothingly to her. “Stop! You don’t want to do this.” She stroked Halia’s hair and continued talking softly to her until she stopped struggling and relaxed into her arms, sobbing. Alaryia continued soothing her as she lowered her to the ground and knelt beside her. “It’s okay, Hal. It’s okay.”
Eventually she stopped sobbing and sat up. Her face was pallid, her hair sweat drenched and her hunger was still tearing at Dariad’s skin but she was clearly in control of herself again. She looked up at Matthias with a tremulous smile. “Thank you for freeing me, Matthias-idan.”
“You’re welcome, Halia,” he said. “Are you okay?”
“I will be,” she said. She exchanged a glance with her mother then added. “I hope that we can still work together now I’m free.”
Matthias looked taken aback, but he smiled and nodded. “I would be grateful.”
“Do you need to go and feed, Hal?” Alaryia asked.
Halia shook her head. “I probably do, but not unless you’re there. I don’t think I could retain control at the moment.”
Sonia held out a hand to her. “Here.”
“Er…” Halia stared at her then shook her head. “You aren’t healed enough from the essence burn. If I feed on you even lightly it’ll cause a relapse.”
“Never mind that. I can get fixed again. I want you in a fit state to treat my brother when he arrives. You’re one of the best healer’s I’ve ever met.”
“He wouldn’t want you making yourself sick on his behalf, would he?” Halia said reasonably. “And mother is an excellent healer as well. She trained me.”
“That’s true,” Matthias said. “Her treatment of Arava proved that.” He squeezed Sonia’s hand. “Don’t worry. Jason will be in good hands.”
“Ilona is very good as well, actually,” Alaryia said. “She would have dealt with his injury there and then but after Ebona treated him he was in no immediate danger and she felt that it would be wisest to get clear of Gerian’s territory first.”
“She was right,” Matthias said. “And I suppose she would be a good healer, as well. She’s your heart friend, isn’t she?”
“She is indeed.” Alaryia smiled at him then looked over her shoulder towards the border.Â “Ah! I can feel them. They’re nearly here.”