December 26th, 2011 | Published in Dragon Wars
Chapter Twenty One
The edge of the mabain sea was much closer than Hannah had expected, but the initial land was a hostile, lifeless plain of sand. It was more stable than the shifting sands which occasionally emerged from the silver sea, but it was still ultimately unstable and prone to upwellings of mabain. Even though the land stabilised around Hannah, it wouldn’t do to stop there for more than a few minutes at a time. So they paused briefly for Hannah to give Tara another boost, then marched until they reached the first signs of life – scrubby trees and a few blades of grass – which indicated that the area was stable enough to need little or no reinforcement. Even then, Hannah insisted on going a bit further inwards until they found a sheltered hollow, surrounded by boulders and trees, where they could stop for the night without being too exposed.
Hannah was glad of her secondary fire affinity as the sun set behind them. There was a prickle in the air which suggested it would be a cold night and she had no other way to light a fire. She set Collette to gathering wood while she extended her Earth affinity through the rocks and persuaded them to rise and move to make the hollow an even better shelter. There was a spring nearby which had good water as well, but it looked like they were going to go to sleep hungry.
Not that Hannah was feeling especially hungry with the sick ball of repressed grief in her stomach, but walking to safety and supporting Tara was going to overstress her reserves as it was. They would have to find some food somehow.
“Here!” Collette shoved a chocolate bar under Hannah’s nose. “It was in my pocket and you need it more than I do. I know it’s not much but it might help.”
Hannah took it gratefully. “Thanks. But was I really leaking that much?”
“You were,” Tara confirmed from where she sat on a boulder staring into the flames of their camp fire. “It’s not surprising, really. You’ve had a really rough day.”
“We all have,” Hannah agreed. She sat down on the boulder next to Tara and nibbled on the chocolate bar. She only managed to swallow a couple of squares before she had to put it down on the rock next to her. The lump in her throat and stomach made eating impossible. She pulled her knees up to her chest and began to sob. A moment later Collette’s arms closed around her, followed by Tara’s, and the three of them wept together while Martin slept nearby on the bed of lichen Collette had made for him, oblivious to the events of the day.
“Martin!” Tara’s shout woke Hannah from her doze. “Martin, where are you?”
She sat up and immediately saw the empty space where he’d been.
“Damn it!” Hannah climbed to her feet and began scanning the area with her mind, searching for the toddler. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have dozed off.” She located the boy a short distance away just as a yell reached their ears.
“Martin!” Tara wailed.
“Don’t worry,” Hannah said soothingly. “He’s just fallen over and skinned his knee. Collette and I will go and fetch him.”
Hannah grabbed the other girl and headed into the trees. They found him sitting at the base of one, crying and clutching his bleeding knee. When he saw his sister coming, he climbed to his feet and toddled towards her. Collette swept him into her arms and they headed back to camp.
“Oh, thank God!” Tara said when they reappeared. “That was… I’m just not used to not being able to sense where he is.” She gave a little shudder then snatched Martin from Collette and hugged him. “How do non-astrals cope?”
“Because they have to, I suppose,” Hannah said. “Would you like me to nudge him so he won’t go out of sight until we reach safety?”
“Oh, that’s a good idea!” Tara nodded. “Because you can’t not sleep. You’re pushing yourself far too hard as it is.”
“I’ll be fine,” Hannah murmured. “Keeping busy takes my mind off the situation.” She held out her hand to Martin. “Come here, kiddo.”
Martin glanced at his mother who nodded slightly then grabbed Hannah’s hand. Hannah used the contact to slide inside the toddler’s mind. She nearly grabbed her hand back in shock at the contact. While his mind was unformed and innocent as one would expect in a young child, his mental signature felt staggeringly like Sean’s. The similarity made her stomach clench again.
“It’s uncanny, isn’t it,” Tara said, obviously realising what had shocked Hannah. “I nearly fell over the first time I touched his mind. I don’t know how to explain it.”
“It is,” Hannah agreed and turned her attention towards Martin’s mind again, setting the nudge that would make sure he didn’t wander off again. “There we go. I hope I did that right.”
“He isn’t crying and he hasn’t fallen over, so I’m sure you did,” Tara said and looked over at Collette. “Any news from your friend?”
Collette closed her eyes and cocked her head as if listening. “She’s much closer than she was. She thinks that she’ll meet up with us later today.” Collette frowned at Hannah. “She wants me to make sure Hannah knows not to kill her step-brother.”
“Not to kill her-” Hannah broke off. “Oh! She’s with a dragon…” She trailed off thoughtfully. “I think I can manage that as long as he doesn’t attack us.”
Collette closed her eyes again then laughed. “She says that he says that’s a fair trade. She also says that your heart friend is on her way to Ystelyan’s fortress… who’s Ystelyan?”
“The first blue dragon, apparently,” Hannah said as she reached for Ema. Her heart friend was indeed much closer than she had been, though still somewhere in the Heartlands. She was travelling fast as well. Hannah tapped her mind â€“ not easy given the range – and received an impression of land far below, purple scaled skin and leathery bat-like wings. Ema’s exhilaration was dizzying compared to her own grief.
You’re riding a dragon? she asked, not even certain it would reach Ema properly.
Yes, Ema replied. Her mental voice was faint but clear at the distance involved. He’s one of Estara’s who has a sister in Ystelyan’s fortress, Ema replied. He wanted to visit her. I wanted to get to you. It seemed sensible to travel together since dragons are so fast. The Core is messing with teleportation around Waldhafen and this is the next best thing.
I see. I guess that does make sense. Hannah opened her eyes and looked around. The sky behind the mountains was beginning to lighten with the first light of dawn. “Does you heart friend want us to wait here or keep moving?” she asked.
“She wants us to stay here,” Collette said after a moment. “We’ll be easier to find if we’re not moving, apparently.”
“Yes,” Hannah said. “I thought she might say that. I’ll go and fetch some more wood for the fire.”