“You’re right. We should get going.” Hannah rose to her feet and took Tara’s hand. “Don’t let go, and when you feel you need a boost or you’ll collapse, squeeze it.” She glanced at Collette. “Can you carry Martin? And for heaven’s sake don’t use your powers until we find your bracelet.” She paused and frowned. “If you even have one. I don’t know that there’s been a death warrior before. I’m sure the dwarves will be able to make you one if there isn’t.”
“Why shouldn’t I-” Collette began as she took Martin from her mother.
“Because you’ll collapse if you do,â€ Tara explained. â€œThe bracelet, like the one Hannah is wearing, will protect you from that.”
“That’s it exactly.” Hannah hefted the makeshift bag Simon had given her and led them down from the rocks to the edge of the Mabain. “I wish I had a stick or something to test the depth. It may not burn us, but I still don’t fancy swimming in this stuff. Ah well, we’ll just have to go slowly.” She stepped off the firm ground into the silvery fluid, then jerked back as pale yellow sand rose up from the mabain to meet her foot. As she did, the sand disappeared back beneath the surface. Experimentally she prodded the surface of the fluid and once again a tiny scrap of land grew up, only to be dissolved slowly when she removed her foot. “What the hell?”
“It looks like you’re having a stabilising effect of your immediate area,” Tara said. “Which is good. At least we can walk out on dry land.”
Hannah frowned at her and then hesitantly put one foot into the Mabain yet again. A scrap of land grew up around it.
“Er…” she said. “How am I doing that?” Her other foot joined it and the scrap of land quickly grew to be large enough for the other two. “Admittedly I only encountered raw mabain once two years ago but I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen then.”
“Really?” Tara narrowed her eyes and looked down at Collette’s shoes. No extra land was forming around them. She prodded at the ground beneath Collette’s feet and then that beneath her own. “Ah! Perhaps not visibly, but the ground beneath Coll’s feet feels harder than that under mine. I think, perhaps, it’s because you hadn’t hit maturity last time you were here.”
“That makes a crazy kind of sense,” Hannah admitted. “I can go with that.” She looked back towards the edge of the lake. “Let’s get moving. We have a very long way to go.”
“How far is it?” Tara asked after they’d been walking a while.
Hannah stared at the jagged grey peaks in the distance and tried to recall how the geography of the other world related to Earth. Eventually she shook her head.
“A very long way. If I’m right about those mountains, they’re in the blue dragons’ territory. So even once we reach them we’ll be a ways from the heart lands. And to reach the foot hills is going to be like walking from Lands End to Exeter without any food or water â€“ well, we should be able to find water once we get into the reaches proper. This is the very edge of them. I just hope we don’t encounter any outlanders.”
“The blue dragons? That’s who Kyle has been working for, isn’t it?” Tara said. “Matthias said that they seem almost friendly. Maybe they’ll help us.”
“I’m still struggling with the idea of dragons not being entirely evil,” Hannah said. “But Ema seems cool with it and I trust her opinion. She says she’s talking to them in the hope of reaching us faster.”
“The other person who’s coming is coming from those mountains,” Collette said quietly. “Does this mean they work for a dragon?”
“Possibly, but if it is your heart friend â€“ and it sounds like it is â€“ then they are your age and likely don’t work for anyone yet. They’ll almost have to be from a renegade family, though, unless they are outlanders, of course. You really do not want your heart friend to be an outlander-” She saw the confused expression on Collette’s face.
“I can feel her and she seems to be able to hear you, because she’s mightily offended at any suggestion that she might be an outlander. It must be a real insult.”
“That’s a fair assessment,” Hannah said. “We encountered some last time we were here. They were…” she trailed off and shuddered. “Maddened, cannibalistic shadows of what a speaker should be.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Tara said.
“It isn’t. I really hope we don’t meet any.” She walked on for a few steps, watching the ground form beneath her feet, then paused and glanced back at the rocks. They had stopped growing since they left and the wavelets of Mabain splashing against them had already begun to dissolve them. It was a strange testament to a power over this world which she hadn’t known she had.
“She says to head straight for the highest peak of the range,” Collette said suddenly. “She’s coming to meet us.”
Hannah turned back towards the mountains and stared at the triple peak in question. It was hard to miss since it was much higher; unnaturally so, at least twice as high she thought. It looked like hand with three claws reaching for the sky and she had an inkling that it was the first blue dragon’s fortress.
“Yes, almost certainly a renegade then. I suppose that’s always happened and the Core just never called the Warriors in question,” Hannah mused out loud.
“That’s a problem for you, isn’t it?” Tara said.
Hannah studied the mountain for a few moments longer and then shrugged. “I don’t know any more. How much did Matthias tell you about what’s been happening?”
“Enough that I know that he and Sarah Tyler have been having second thoughts about the dragons,” she said. “And I doubt they’d do that without reason.”
“Doctor Tyler not kill a dragon on sight?” Collette said sceptically. “That’s about as likely as Aunt Marian deciding not to kill a resonant.”
Tara laughed. “I would have said so too, but it seems to have happened. Though Sarah is much more stable than Marian.”
“Ema has been having second thoughts about them as well,” Hannah said. “She’s even spoken with the first dragon and says she likes her. And she apparently helped Matthias and Sarah with something.”
“No, the first dragon. I haven’t got the details yet, but she helped them out with something. I’ve been meaning to talk to Matthias as soon as I could, but…”
“Things sort of got out of hand?” Tara gave a strained smile. “I kind of noticed that.”
Hannah continued staring at the mountains as she considered their options. It was a long way to the heart lands, too far, and she could feel Ema in her head telling her it was ok. Eventually she sighed. “Ema thinks that we can trust the blue dragon and there is no way we’re going to make it to the heart lands without help. I think we’ll have to do as Collette’s heart friend suggests.”
“Oh good!” Collette gave a little bounce which made Hannah smile â€“ albeit weakly â€“ in spite of the circumstances. How well she knew that yearning feeling. She’d had it her whole life until she met Ema.
“Come on, I want to reach permanently solid ground by the time it gets dark.” Hannah shifted her grip on the bag, glad for its surprising lightness given the contents, and they set off again.