Salia was too scared to take in her surroundings until they landed outside the huge building. As the dragon changed form, instinct took over and she used her moment of freedom from his grasp to bolt. She didnâ€™t getÂ two steps before he grabbed her armÂ and jerked her back. She yelled in pain, twisted around and sank her sharp teeth into his arm. He made a hissing noise but only tightened his grip on her arm until she let go. Then he gave a rumbling laugh and started dragging her towards the shining crystal edifice.
â€œWelcome to your new home, little princess. I think youâ€™ll like it here.â€
Salia shook her head and set her legs, refusing to walk. â€œThis isnâ€™t my home.â€
â€œOh, but it is now.â€ He turned and lifted her off the ground, neatly avoiding another attempt to bite him,Â and carried her kicking form under his arm the rest of the way.
Two dragons lounged on either side ofÂ the entrance. As he approached, they both shifted to human form and saluted before one of them reached out and rapped on the doors. He nodded to them as the doors swung inwards on their own and he carried her past them. The doors clanged shut behind them.
â€œHere we are.â€ He set he back on her feet in front of tall dragon woman, who had dropped to on knee in front of him. â€œThis is your new charge, Lyrekka-alra. Be careful with this one, she bites.â€
â€œThatâ€™s because sheâ€™s scared, my mirian,â€ Lyrekka said. â€œFear might taste wonderful, but itâ€™s a poor way to gain cooperation.â€
There was a long pause. Salia risked a glance up at her captor and saw that he was glaring angrily at Lyrekka.
She just stared back at him, apparenly unphased. â€œDonâ€™t look at me that way, Gerian-mirian. You gave me this particular job because Iâ€™m not in descent,â€ she said. â€œAnd you ordered me to speak my mind.â€
He glared at her a moment longer and then nodded slowly. â€œI did tell you that, didnâ€™t I?â€ He pushed Salia towards her. â€œLook after the girl, Lyrekka. I have other business to attend to.â€ He strode past her towards another set of double doors. They opened for him and Salia caught a glimpse of a throne room beyond them before they closed again, leaving her alone with Lyrekka.
The dragon woman was still kneeling, but now it seemed to be to put her vividÂ green eyes on a level with Saliaâ€™s rather than as a gesture of respect. She reached out and took Saliaâ€™s hands in hers.
â€œWhatâ€™s your name, little haltia?Â Gerian-mirian tends to forget such things are important.â€
â€œS-Salia,â€ she replied, then blinked. She hadnâ€™t meant to answer, but she didnâ€™t seem able not to.
â€œA pretty name.â€ Lyrekka rose to her feet still holding one of Saliaâ€™s hands. â€œCome on then, Salia. Iâ€™ll show you to your room. I hope you like it.â€
Salia shook her head and sat down on the marble floor.
â€œCome on, Salia. I know you donâ€™t want to be here, but this isnâ€™t helping.â€ Lyrekka sounded sympathetic.
Salia just shook her head and tried to pull her hand from the dragonâ€™s.
Lyrekka made a tutting noise and gathered Salia into her arms. She carried her up a sweeping staircase and along a long corridor. â€œHere we are!â€ The dragon deposited Salia onto something soft. â€œYou must have had a rough day. Weâ€™ll talk again after youâ€™ve slept.â€
â€œDonâ€™t want to sleep!â€ Salia said. â€œI want mummy!â€
â€œGo to sleep, Salia.â€ Lyrekka stroked her hair and a strange creeping fog filled her head and drew her down into a dreamless black.
Dariad was waiting with Alaryia as the thunderbird carrying Karen and Prince Alban came in to land. The ambassador was carrying the antidote sheâ€™d brewed in a clay flask. The bird had barely touched down before Alban leapt from her back with Karen in his arms and landed in front of them.
â€œYour majesty,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™d bow, but…â€ he trailed off and held Karen out. The Light Warrior was barely conscious and clearly not coherent. She was also pale and sweating. Alban didnâ€™t look too good himself; her condition must be starting to get to him. â€œMother sent an imp, I assume?â€
â€œShe did,â€ Dariad said.
â€œHere, let me.â€ Alaryia pushed past him, unsealed the flask and poured some of the contents into Karenâ€™s mouth. The girl choked and spluttered. Most of the liquid ran out of her mouth, but she must have managed to swallow some because her eyes cleared slightly and she focused on the ambassador.
â€œMore, please!â€ she croaked.
â€œIn a minute,â€Â Alaryia said. â€œLetâ€™s get you sat down so itâ€™s easierÂ for you to drink it.â€ She looked over at Dariad. â€œThey got here just in time, you know.â€
â€œI noticed,â€ he agreed as one of his servantsÂ brought a chair for Karen.
Once the girl was seated Alaryia fed her several more mouthfuls of the antidote. The colour gradually returned to her cheeks and she straightened up.
â€œThank you,â€ she said.
â€œYouâ€™re welcome,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™m afraid youâ€™re going to be sick for a few days though, and I need to check your back soon. If any of the attack is left in the wounds youâ€™ll get sick again as soon as the antidote wears off.â€ She looked over at Dariad. â€œYou have rooms ready for her?â€
â€œWe do.â€ He turned to Brita. â€œCan you take Karen and Prince Alban to their chambers? Iâ€™ll wait here for Valeria. At least I assume sheâ€™s not far behind you.â€ He looked down sadly. â€œSalia didnâ€™t make it through.â€
â€œI know. We saw what was left of her mount. Motherâ€™s trying to rescue the fire nymph who was accompanying her. She should be here soon.â€ Alban bit his lip and looked out into the dark outside.
â€œGo with Brita,â€ Dariad said. â€œIâ€™ll bring Valeria as soon as she lands.â€ He turned to Karen with a smile. â€œIâ€™ve sent a message to your brother and sister as well. I imagine theyâ€™ll be returning as well.â€
â€œThank you.â€ Karen tried to stand and immediately collapsed back into the chair. She was shivering. â€œUgh.â€
â€œHere, Iâ€™ll help.â€ Alban helped her up and when it became obvious her legs wouldnâ€™t support her at all, he lifted her into his arms and followed Brita from the chamber.