Salia whimpered as Gerian landed in front of Lyrrekka and took his human form. There was a tightness to his jaw that suggested he was furious and trying not to show it. When he spoke, his voice was tense with repressed anger.
“I knew you were upset about something, my alra, but not that you were this upset. Come on back to the palace and we can discuss whatever it is.”
“I am not your alra, and there’s nothing to discuss,” Lyrrekka said. “We’re leaving and you’re not stopping us.”
His eyes tightened more and he took a deep breath. “Lyrrekka-ida, please, I need you. You have no idea what’s coming.” He seemed to be thinking. “Don’t you want to go home?”
Salia blinked in puzzlement. Why had he changed what he called her and why had his question caused such an obvious burst of sadness from Lyrrekka? The dragon woman shook her head.
“Of course I do, but not like this. I finally realised that, gratitude notwithstanding, I cannot stomach the things you do anymore.”
Anger flared in his eyes and claws eruped from his fingers. Salia cowered back, certain that he was about to attack them. Instead he clenched his fists, claws digging into his skin far enough to make him bleed.
“She won’t help you go home.” He looked meaningfully in the direction they’d been travelling.
“Oh, I know that!” Lyrrekka said with some asperity. “Alaryia-miria’s politics are no more secret than yours. But the more I think about it, the more I realise that I don’t see any way for going home to end well. Sometimes we can’t do what we want.”
“It certainly won’t end well for anyone if we don’t.” He held out one bleeding hand to her. “Please, Lyrrekka-ida, come back with me. We can work something out, I’m sure.”
“No.” She shook her head again. “It’s too late to work anything out again. I saw what you did to those kids’ heart friends!”
He jerked back at her yell and he swore viciously. “Did you see Elidyr as well?” he asked in a strained tone. “You did, didn’t you. You don’t understand, he argued too much! I had no choice!” He scowled again. “But I see that nothing I will say right now will convince you.” A strange sword of twisted metal appeared in his hand. “I’ll just have to drag you back and persuade you.” He flung himself at her with a howl.
Lydia was startled when a firey yellow imp appeared through the snow and ice clad trees and flew straight to Ilona. The latter, on the other hand, seemed only mildly surprised. Her eyebrows raised slightly but she gave a warm smile, held out a hand to it and absorbed it.
“Ah!” she said in a delighted tone. “That will make things easier.”
“What will?” Daniel asked.
“Lyrrekka has finally decided to defect. She doesn’t know we’re here but she’s heading in this direction with the girls because it’s the quickest way to the border. It’s about time! I’ve been working on her for months. She’s far too decent a person to work for Gerian. We’d better hurry up, though; her chances of getting clear without help are pretty remote.”
“Are you sure it’s not a trap?” Karen asked. “The timing is suspiciously convenient.”
“Highly unlikely,” Ilona replied. “I didn’t tell her about the rescue because I didn’t know which way she’d jump. The timing is because I made sure she found out something recently which was always liable to push her over the edge.” She formed another two imps as she spoke. “But it pays to be cautious. I’ll send these ones to scout as well.”
“I can scout ahead too, if you want,” Bennu said.
“That’s not a bad idea,” Ilona agreed and he took flight.
They continued on their way while waiting for the scouts to return. From the way the scenery was blurring, it seemed Ilona had decided to risk speeding their journey. They’d been walking for another hour or so when Jason and Caoilainn both stopped abruptly.
“Something’s happening ahead!” Jason said.
Lydia stared at him in surprise; he’d been so quiet that hear him speak up made her jump. “How do you know?”
“We can hear it,” he said. He caught her baffled look and grinned. “Sound affinity, remember? Cao and I both have excellent hearing.” He sombered again. “It sounds like there’s some sort of fight.”
“That doesn’t sound good.” Ilona looked at Lydia. “What does Bennu say?”
“I’ll ask.” Lydia reached out and discovered that Bennu was flying back towards them. In response to her question he flashed her an image of Lyrrekka involved in a fight and little Salia and her friends cowering behind the dubious shelter of a tree. Lydia winced and showed the images to the others.
“So much for subtlety,” Ilona said. “I’m going to shift us as fast as I can. We need to get there quickly. Lyrrekka might be able to take Gerian, but it’d be close. She needs help.”