After travelling through the caves for hours, Lydia was certain they would never have been able to find their way without Ilona’s help. But only once they reached the exit did she realise that they’d walked though the night; the first hints of daylight were showing through the hole. Ilona held up her hand for a halt.
“I want to check if it’s all clear out there,” she said. “And you should probably put some warmer clothes on. It’s going to be very cold out there.” A blast of icy wind from outside emphasised her point. Lydia shivered violently and began rooting through the packs for the warm clothing her father had said was in them. Andrew, on the other hand, smiled at the breeze and reached out his hands to it.
“That’s pleasant,” he said.
Ilona gave him an amused look. “Well, maybe for you.”
“This is the ice affinity zone dad mentioned?” Lydia asked as she tossed thick arran sweaters and thermal socks and gloves to Karen, Daniel and Alban.
“It is,” Ilona replied. “It’s a good route: he won’t expect us to come this way, and it gets quite close to Gerian’s palace.”
“How close?” Daniel asked.
“Hmmm… close enough that you and your heart friend could make it from the closest part of the area to Gerian’s Palace in a few hours, without even going at your full speed. Just walking it’ll take a couple of days; more from here as we’re about half a day’s walk from the edge of it.” She paused. “I can probably speed us up a little but I’d have to be cautious about it, in case he sensed me. Now really, let me go and check we’re clear.” She disappeared out of the cave exit.
“What did she mean she could speed us up a little?” Andrew asked.
“I’m not sure.” Lydia pulled a thick woollen hat from a pack and put it on.
“Light travels fast,” Karen said. “Light affinity often goes hand in hand with spatial affinity. I can speed myself up so I wouldn’t be surprised if she can as well.” She pulled on her gloves. “But to do it for a group would be a neat trick.”
“It’s not that hard. I’ve just had a lot more practice than you.” Ilona returned from outside. “No one is around that I can see or sense. I’ve created a couple of imps to scout ahead of us, just in case. Are you ready? We should get moving again.”
Salia wasn’t sure how she’d managed to stay on Kenna’s back while dozing – especially since Mia was unable to hold her in place – but somehow she did. She was woken only when Kenna slowed to a walk not long after sunrise. She opened her eyes and saw that they were in a small wooded valley. It was warm where they were, but she could see snow in the distance. The unicorn said something to Lyrrekka about food. Salia thought she meant for herself, but then her stomach rumbled. She shook her head to clear it and tried to follow the conversation better.
“Yes, you’re right. We do need a break and we’ve put some good distance between us and the palace,” Lyrrekka said. She knelt for Coromel and Karilya to climb down, then resumed her human form.
“And there’s no sign of pursuit yet.” Mia frowned in the general direction they’d come from and made no move to dismount from Kenna’s back. “Something is wrong about this. Even if they missed my scream, they must know that we’re gone by now.”
Lyrrekka chewed on her lip. “It is a bit odd. They wouldn’t expect me to run this way but I’d have thought we’d have seen some search parties sweeping through the area at least. Well, it doesn’t change the fact that the girls need to rest and eat and you need that arm dealt with before we go any further.”
Mia sighed and nodded. “You’re right about that. I could do without being in pain anymore and I’m hungry as well.”
“I thought as much. We’ll fix your arm first.” Lyrrekka helped her and Salia down from Kenna’s back. “Come on. Kenna will numb the pain while I re-align the break, then she can heal it. It’s still not going to be pleasent.”
“I know. Just do it,” Mia gritted her teeth as Kenna dipped her horn and touched it to the skin above the break. After a moment her face relaxed and she gave a relieved sigh followed by a pained squeak as Lyrrekka pushed the bones back into position. Kenna touched her horn to the area again and a soft firey glow was visible through Mia’s skin as the break knitted together.
Once it was done Lyrrekka gave her a little nudge towards the packs. “Get some food for you and the girls. I need to send an imp to my contact to tell her I made my decision. I didn’t dare send it until we were clear.” She sat down under a tree and closed her eyes as Mia fetched meat rolls for Salia and Karilya
They finished their meal and Lyrrekka was just about to send the imp she had formed when Salia felt the presence of another dragon sweeping in low towards them.
“Mother!” Mia leapt to her feet.
“I know!” Lyrrekka released the imp,which shot off towards the snow ahead faster than Salia could see and turned to face whoever was approaching, a pair of firey swords in hands.