A SUDDEN TWANG that felt like it reverberated through her teeth shook Loi from her focus, her energy snapping back to the spot behind her heart. She opened her eyes and glared at Cat who lay on the ground panting, her face pale. 'Cat! What gives? I was just getting the hang of it.'

Sian and Kassie made noises of agreement.

'I'm sorry.' Cat pushed herself up to sitting with a guilty look. 'I went the next step and it's hard.'

'What next step? Elena didn't say anything else.' Loi shot an accusing look at Elena.

'No, I didn't, Cat chanced upon it. Now come and eat something. You will all be exhausted, it's hard work.' Elena began to unwrap the parcel she'd brought with her.

THE SIGHT OF the four women shocked Sabyn when he and Daron arrived for lunch. They all looked ages older and whiter than an ice sprite. He gave Elena a concerned look.

'They need to eat and rest, that's all,' Elena said reassuringly.

Sabyn nodded and hurried over to help Kassie to the cloth, then Loi, both gave him a brief nod in thanks and fell to eating.

DARON WATCHED, ASTONISHED by the amount of food the girls consumed. Elena must have expected it, he realized; she'd packed enough for at least twenty. The color came back to their faces and they started to look more alert. Cat seemed to take longer than the others to recover. Perhaps she's weaker than them, Daron thought, surprised. Or maybe it's the result of Alek's behavior toward her. He watched her and glanced at Sabyn who watched her too. They exchanged a concerned look.

IT TOOK A bewilderingly long time to feel normal again. Especially after the rush you got from first handling the energy. The food began to make me feel better, but I still had no strength when it came time to climb on Tomiar's back. Sabyn ended up tossing me up onto the saddle. What is it with these men, I grumbled to myself, tossing me about like I weigh nothing? I clutched at the saddle handles when Tomiar pushed off.

'I GUESS THE girls won't be training the guard today,' Daron called to Elena who sat behind him.

'No. I think I'll arrange for them to start that next week. By then they should be able to handle their energy without it exhausting them.'

YAKOV AND RUMAL waited at the Griffon quarters and smiled when they saw Nesha and Tomiar come into view. The two griffons dropped from the sky, landing in the courtyard and headed over to them. Rumal felt shocked at the sight of the women and heard Yakov's sharp intake of air behind him. They looked exhausted. Cat swayed in the saddle, and Kassie, in front of Sabyn, barely looked conscious.

'Can you hang on a moment longer, Cat?' Yakov called up.

She nodded blearily.

Sabyn passed Kassie down to Rumal then slid down from Tomiar. Rumal scooped the woman up and spoke to Elena, 'I'll take her to their room.'

'I'll get some food sent to them.' Elena headed off to the Generals office to inform them of the change of plans.

'OKAY, CAT, C'MON down.' Yakov stood by Kerak's side, his arms ready.

Right, okay then; I twisted out of the saddle. This is a lot harder when you can't think straight, I thought, frowning at the effort. Grasping tight to the saddle handles I meant to lower myself down. Unfortunately my strength failed and I started the beginning of a belly flop.

YAKOV SCRAMBLED TO grab Cat when she slipped off the side. She landed half on the floor and half in his arms. He froze, concerned she'd hurt herself until she began to laugh. Everyone joined in while Yakov helped her to her feet. 'And that,' he announced grandly with a cheeky smile. 'Is how it's done.'

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