Andrew was only vaguely aware that the others had left. He was only vaguely aware of everything except for the voice pulling at him, telling him it was time. Part of him desperately wanted to go to them but Kimi was also in his head, yelling at him to ignore it. And the alarms his mother had set in her wards were screaming too. It wasn’t a good sign. He decided to follow his instincts and stay put, but resisting was making him feel dizzy and ill. And for the first time since they arrived in this world, he felt cold – cold enough that he was shivering. and His skin felt weird, like millions of needles were piercing it from the inside
He shook his head, trying to clear it, so he could figure out what was happening when he became aware that someone was shaking him and another voice was in his head. It took him a moment to realise it was Jason.
Pull yourself together, Andrew. It’ll be dangerous if you do this and you aren’t with it.
Do what? he asked.
Open your eyes and see.
Andrew took a breath and opened his eyes. The sight of countless fine needles of blood red ice sticking out of his skin like a hedgehog’s spines made him leap to his feet with a yell. No wonder it hurt! Adrenaline briefly washed all the other voices except Kimi’s out of his head. He looked at Jason frantically. “What the hell is this?”
“Your maturity,” Jason said.
“Oh,” he said, remembering the lights that had swum beneath Karen’s skin. “Really bad timing I guess.”
“Not as bad as your brother’s,” Caoilainn said. “There’s no time worse than the middle of a fight.”
“Now, you remember what Sonia told Karen?” Jason said. “You have to let this happen.”
“I remember.” Andrew chewed on his lip. “But if I let my guard down, I don’t think I’ll be able to resist Emms’ call.”
“Ah, so Daniel was right. He was behind you zoning out like that,” Jason said thoughtfully. “Well I’m not as good as Lucas or even Sonia, but I’m pretty sure I can keep him out of your head long enough for this.” As he spoke, Andrew felt something flick through his head and banish the tentacles of Emms’ attempted summons before wrapping around his mind in a gentle blanket. “See.”
“Thank you.” Andrew managed a smile, then closed his eyes and tried to relax. A burst of elation shot through him as the world briefly became wreathed in snow – no, he was the snow. Even though he was blanketing the hollow in red snow, he could sense everything within it.
As he focused on his surroundings, he sensed Emms moving silently towards them – and Jason and Caoilainn couldn’t see him because of Andrew’s snow. If he’d had a heart in this form, it would have stopped. He desperately tried to shout a warning. and
It must have worked; Jason spun around and raised his hand just in time to block Emms from coshing him over the head. Caoilainn let out a screaming wail as everything went black and he faded into unconsciousness.
They’d been galloping for several minutes when Salia heard an eerie wail from not far ahead. She hadn’t heard many banshees – and certainly not when they were on the attack – but from the descriptions, she was pretty sure that was what it was. The unicorn – who had introduced herself as Ebona – slowed to a walk.
“That doesn’t sound good,” she murmured.
“What’s wrong?” Mia asked.
“It sounds like there’s a fight going on at the rendezvous point. Quite apart from the fact I’m supposed to be taking you to safety, Daniel’s brother is there.”
“Ah.” Mia climbed down from her perch, resumed human form and looked around. “There!” She pointed to a rocky outcrop. “That seems to be above where the wail came from. If we climb up we should be able to see what’s going on. You’ll need to warn your heart friend if his brother is in danger.”
“Good idea.” Ebona picked her way carefully up the icy scree to the top, with the three girlsÂ clinging on for dear life. Mia, on the other hand, shifted in to the form of mountain goat and bounded up. When they reached the top, the girls slid from their mount’s back and all five of them snuck to the edge and looked over.
One boy, about the same age as Alban, was lying unconscious in the snow. An arctic gryphon lay nearby, looking winded. Judging from the shattered ice boulder by her she’d been thrown in to it hard. Another teenaged human boy who she recognised as the sound warrior – she’d met him when she was small – and his banshee heart friend were standing between the two fallen and another human, who looked older.
“Jayden Emms!” Ebona whispered sharply. “This is bad.”
“It looks it,” Mia agreed then slammed her hands over her ears as the banshee screamed again. The boy struck out at him with his whip, which made an extrordinarily loud crack when it it hit.
The man took a step back but seemed otherwise unaffected. He snarled something at them that Salia couldn’t make out then made a cutting gesture with his hand. The ground shook violently, throwing the banshee and her heart friend to the ground and forcing the five of them to scramble back from the edge to avoid being thrown over. Once the shaking stopped, they snuck back to the edge. The sound warrior was unconscious and the banshee was struggling to rise as the man Ebona had called Jayden stalked towards to the ice warrior, picked him up and slung him over one shoulder. Then, he turned and made a gesture at the winded gryphon. Bonds of rock appeared around her and she floated up in to the air.
Ebona made a snarling noise and leapt down from their vantage point, firing a blast of darkness as she did. The impact made the man stagger and he turned to face her, looking stunned.
“You’ve gotten strong,” he said. “I suppose that’s to be expected. Strong, but not experienced enough yet.” He fired several shards of rock at her. Her shield blocked them, but it was obviously an effort.
“Stay here,” Mia told them, then leapt down while shooting two fire balls at Jayden Emms, carefully aimed at the point where Ebona’s blast had hit. She came to a halt about a foot from the ground, hovering on a pillar of fire. The banshee struggled to her knees. She was obviously too winded to scream again but she grabbed her heart friend’s whip and struck out as well.
Emms swore and took a step back. He narrowed his eyes as he looked at those arrayed against him and obviously decided not to risk it. A look of concentration crossed his face then he swore.
“A teleportation barrier? I should have expected that. Oh, well. We do this the hard way.” He stamped his foot and the ground cracked open, swallowing him, the ice warrior and gryphon. Before anyone could react, the ground snapped shut after them.