“How are you doing, anyway?” Daniel asked as they headed back to the Great Hall. “You look pale. Um, paler than usual.”
“I’m fine,” Karen began, then sighed. “No, I’m not fine, but I’ll be okay, I think. If I’d just killed him I think I would be fine with it. I’ve killed before-”
“You have?” he asked, startled.
“Well, I wasn’t at a tea party two years ago, you know,” she said. “I’ve killed at least one dragon. Possibly as many as four, but that’s doubtful.”
“You don’t know?” he asked.
She shook her head and the ghost of a smile touched her lips. “Dragons are really hard to kill permanently. Dad says that you can hack a dragon to pieces and it might still turn up again in a couple of decades. The only way to be sure it’s dead is if it leaves a body. Usually they don’t, and destroying their body just seems to inconvenience them.” She narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. It was good to have something to distract herself from what she’d done. “I think that’s what Halia meant when she said she could always make herself a new body.”
“She said what?!” Daniel stopped and stared at her.
“Oh, right! You weren’t there. It was when Aunt Sarah realised she’d been supporting her energy levels by cannibalising her own body. Dad said she could have killed herself and she replied with that. Said that it would just inconvenience her for a few years.”
Daniel shook his head. “That’s pretty freaky.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, then frowned. “Not the freakiest bit though. I think she insinuated that we could do it as well.”
“Well this energy form thing we have is a lot like the one they have,” he said. “I wonder if we can shapeshift as well.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Though I have heard of resonants who get distracted while consciously reforming their body ending up with problems that might suggest it’s possible. No one has tried it, though. Not that I know of. I think we’ve been too busy keeping our heads down and too rare to organise until recently.” She pulled a face. “I’m not sure I want us to have anything else. It would be useful for evading the Lavernes if we could. I think I might mention it to Dad and Aunt Sarah. But we should get back; there’s planning and inventory checking to do before we leave to meet this renegade Irisad.”
“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” he asked.
She hesitated and then nodded. “I just wish I hadn’t lost it so completely. I don’t even remember exactly what happened. Just a rush of anger, then standing over the Leshy’s mangled corpse and Kyle trying to calm me. I think he knows what happened to me and when we get back-” She would not say if – “I’m going to ask him about it.”
When Karen and Daniel got back to the main hall, Lydia was rooting through the packs their parents had brought and making approving noises. Kyle was still sat in the alcove watching her. He seemed a touch more relaxed until he noticed Daniel’s return then his shoulders tensed up again.
Karen left Daniel to return to his seat and headed over to him.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hey.” He gave her a strained smile. “Your sister is funny. So happy over equipment.”
“We got co-opted,” Karen said. “So we didn’t have much in the way of supplies. I think that’s why she’s so pleased-”
“Hot packs!” Lydia waved a foil pouch around. “Brilliant! We won’t need a cooking fire.” She paused and frowned. “But what about the Speakers. I don’t think they can eat this stuff.”
“No,” Matthias said. “We’ve packed some Pemmican for them.” He pointed to one of the packs she hadn’t checked yet. “We’ve also packed you a better tent, and some thermal gear. Halia says your best route will take you through an ice affinity zone and you do not want to need a fire when trying to avoid detection.” He grinned at her. “We’ve been arranging these things for a while and always go for the best. I wish this sort of equipment had been available when we were your age.” He gave a brief shudder. “Dehydrated ration packs are not good.”
“I know,” Lydia said. “I’ve had them.” She sat back on her heels. “I think everything we need is here. Makes things less stressful if I don’t have to forage. And I think we have the plan straight. When do we leave?”
“When Jay arrives. Halia will open a gate for you to where this Ilona will be waiting for you,” Matthias said. “Speak of the devil,” he added as a slight popping indicated Jason Keefe’s arrival.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said. “Was finding this.” He produced a whip from somewhere and cracked it. The noise echoed around the room unnaturally. “And these are yours.” He tossed a pair of fighting fans to Sonia. “You’re probably going to need them, sis.”
“Probably.” She eyed the fans thoughtfully. “I don’t actually know how to use these though. I always used chains and staffs.” She tested the points of the fan with her thumb and stared at the welling blood. “They’re pretty formidable.”
“You’ll figure it out,” he grinned then turned to Darya. “You should visit with your mother and cousin on Earth once this situation is sorted out. They want explanations and Sal won’t mind as long as you promise to behave yourselves.”
Darya didn’t reply but his smile spoke volumes.
“So we’re ready?” Halia asked.
“Just let us load this stuff onto Ebona,” Matthias said. He looked at Ebona seriously. “You’re sure you don’t mind being used as a pack animal? We can get a pony easily enough.”
“I don’t mind. We need to keep the party small,” Ebona said. “I can carry more than a pony and one would slow us down with its need for rest and forage. Just make sure the harness fits properly.”
“Of course,” he said.
Once they’d loaded most of the packs on to Ebona’s back and the kids had hefted the rest themselves, Matthias turned to Halia.
“If you please, Halia,” he said.
“Of course, Matthias-idan,” she said and a gate opened in front of them. “Good luck!”