“Andrew!” Lydia sat bolt upright in her bed and looked around in a panic. Her heart was pounding so hard she could hear her blood whooshing in her ears. Disjointed images of a sky shot through with impossible cracks and a sense that her brother was in danger haunted her mind, but she couldn’t ring enough coherence from the fragments of the damned dream to work out why.
And her skin felt like it was on fire, which made no sense at all. Fire didn’t burn her. She took a breath to calm herself, looked down and nearly panicked again. Her skin had silver flames ghosting underneath it and the moss mattress of her bed was beginning to smoulder from the heat she was giving off.
She leapt out of bed and the wood of the tree house singed where her feet touched the floor.
“What the crap!” she took more deep breathÂ as she tried to pull her powers in and stop setting fire things. She bolted out onto the landing, vaguely aware that Bennu had landed on her shoulder and whispering soothingly to her. “Mum! Dad!” she shouted. There was a faint pop of air behind her and then her mother’s arms wrapped around her shoulders.
“I’m here, Lyd. We’ve been keeping a close eye on you since Karen hit her maturity earlier. I have to admit that I didn’t expect this problem, though. This level of leakage isn’t common.” She didn’t sound too worried, though, which served to calm Lydia a little.
“I’m setting everything I touch on fire! That’s more than a problem!” Lydia said.
“It’ll be okay, Lyd,” he mother whispered soothingly. “It’s just a bit of singeing, not a major fire. Still, we want to stop it before it does get out of hand.” She must have been doing something because Lydia’s heartbeat slowly levelled off and the spontaneous combustion of things she was touching gradually stopped. “There. Now you need to let go. Trying to control it is why you’re leaking.”
“But we’re in the middle of a forest!” Lydia protested. “What if you’re wrong and I start a fire?”
Her mother gave a soft laugh. “I’m the wind warrior, remember? Nephele and I can manage to smother any fire you start, I think.”
“Oh!” Lydia blinked. “I didn’t think of that.”
“See, it’ll be okay. Now just let go.”
Lydia took a breath and tried to follow her mother’s advice, but it wasn’t easy. Karen had said it felt like she was going to shatter and while that wasn’t inaccurate, to Lydia it felt more like she was going to explode. Her skin felt like it was cracking and she was sure that she could smell her hair burning. She forced herself to keep breathing and tried to ignore the discomfort. Then a sudden sense of elation overwhelmed her and the world was wreathed in silver flames for a moment before everything faded to black.
When Daniel and Matthias arrived Sonia was wrapping a blanket around the unconscious Lydia. She looked up at them and smiled.
“We’ll need to ask the Council if they’ll provide her with some clothing. It’s lucky it happened at night – she’s completely incinerated the underwear she had on and I know how much she likes those trousers. If she’d destroyed them she’d be furious.”
Daniel stared at the singe marks on the floor. “Lyd did that?”
“Yes, it’s a good thing it’s all green, sap-filled wood or she might have done some serious damage with that leakage.”
“Grandmother should have taught her to handle that.” Halia was standing on the stairs behind them with Ema. Her eyes had returned to their normal green. “It would have been a lot easier on her if she’d already known how to transform. I’d guess she was worried about it attracting attention.”
“I’d guess she was right about that. I’m not sure how you’d teach it safely. That’s why we don’t,” Matthias said. “Your mother left?”
“For a while. She didn’t want to overstress me, which manifesting for too long in one go would do,” Halia said. “She had a long talk with Ema, which she hadn’t finished when it started to get too much for me. She wants to finish it later, if you don’t object.”
Matthias looked thoughtful for a moment then nodded. “I don’t mind. Do you need to feed?”
Halia closed her eyes for a moment and a look of concentration crossed her face. Then she shook her head. “No, but I could do with some physical food to eat. It’ll help repair the damage from having forcibly moved energy where it didn’t want to go.”
“Er? What?” he asked.
“When I was using my physical reserves to back up my psychic ones.” She scowled a little. “I’m not sure how to explain this. Energy doesn’t like to move that way for us. That’s why we’re psychevores in the first place. The – um – conduits between our physical and psychic selves don’t work right. So unlike you, we can’t gain our psychic energy from food. Even what I was doing took a ridiculous amount of effort and there was a lot of loss. It’s painful and inefficient but it’s all I could think of to do – losing the integrity of my psychic self would have been fatal.”
“That makes sense, Matt.” Sonia said. “When we overstress ourselves psychically we eat and sleep and our reserves recover. A breakdown in that system would force someone to be a psychevore.”
Daniel hummed to himself and then looked at Halia. “So that’s why you have to feed, but why are you hungry all the time?”
Halia shrugged. “We don’t know. Something to do with the blockage from what we can tell.” She looked back at Matthias. “Can I have something to eat, please?”
“Of course. We’ll hit the kitchen once we’ve got Lydia back to bed. And we’re going to have a talk about your physiology sometime. I don’t want to accidentally damage any of the others.”