“Lorelei?” Valeria said softly as she entered the bathing chamber. The mermaid was lying in the pool with her eyes closed, but the healer insisted that she was awake. “Lorelei, can you hear me?”
There was a long pause before Lorelei opened her eyes and looked up at Valeria. “My Queen!” She formed legs and began scrambling to get out of the water until the healer grabbed her and pulled her back. “My Queen! I tried to stop them, but there were too many of them.”
“It’s not your fault, Lorelei,” Valeria reassured her. “Sirin, Maran and their willing associates are to blame, not you.”
“And I failed you, I’m sorry,” Valeria said. “I knew that there was a plot against me and I still went rushing off.”
“In the circumstances you had no choice, my Queen. The eyrie was under attack, it was your duty.”
“True, but I should have realised that the same mind control that happened here could be happening at home as well, and that Maran was ruthless enough to torture you to release the lock. I should have organised the guard better before I left.”
“I didn’t break, my Queen. Xania grabbed me in time.” A faint hint of satisfaction entered Lorelei’s tone. “Your locks are still intact.”
Valeria snorted to herself at that. “I almost wish that they weren’t. It was mostly to protect him from the results of his own malice that I placed them. And it seems that he doesn’t deserve such consideration. The bindings on the Storm Throne are not gentle with tyrants.” She shook her head. “I could release them from here if I wanted. Core’s guardians know he’d deserve it. But the way things are at the moment, I’m afraid that they’ll have some ways to overcome the safeguards.”
“Whatever it would do to them, they’d deserve it,” Lorelei said softly. “They had these circlets they were putting on anyone who resisted them. Horrible things.” Lorelei shuddered. “The only reason they didn’t use one on me is they needed my mind intact to remove the block.”
Valeria cursed softly to herself. “Circlets?”
“Yes, they were like the ones they say the Dragon Lord uses, but…” Lorelei frowned to herself. “No one ever mentioned his circlets totally repressing thought and somthing that horrible would have come up.”
“From what I know, they don’t,” Valeria agreed. “We’ll have to ask him, but it wouldn’t be his style. I’m fairly certain now that Matthias only went after Elapyron City because they were using those things.”
“Ask hi-” Lorelei broke off and her turquoise eyes went wide. “Wait a minute, the Dragon Lord is Matthias Morgan – the former Dark Warrior?”
Valeria nodded and then sighed. “And it gets worse, I’m afraid.” She knelt down in the water by Lorelei and told her the rest. When she came to the bit about Kyle and Darya she broke it to her as gently as she could. Lorelei didn’t break down the way Karen had. Instead she sat up in the pool and stared at the carved stone of the walls in silence for a long time.
“I should be furious with him for going renegade, shouldnâ€™t I? But I’m more angry with the Core for provoking this mess, and part of me is happy heâ€™s alive. That’s wrong of me isn’t it? I-I don’t know what to feel.” She buried her face in her hands and finally began to sob.
Valeria put her arms around the mermaid’s shoulders. â€œI think it might be normal. I hope I never have to find out.” She tried not to think about the fact that since the dragon almost certainly hadnâ€™t stolen Salia just to eat her it was possible that she would have to do that.
“I think everyone who’s heard the story is furious with the Core,” the healer said blandly. “And having a relative go renegade is never easy.” There was a heaviness in his tone which spoke of experience. â€œItâ€™s another thing thatâ€™s happening more often recently.â€
â€œAm I allowed to smirk at him stabbing the Dark Rider in the shoulder?â€ Lorelei asked. â€œHe may not be the evil weâ€™ve believed, but damn it that hurt! Not as much as what Sirin and Maran did to me, but bad enough. I barely held it together for Mela.â€
â€œI think you can,” Valeria said. â€œI doubt anyone would begrudge you that.” She paused and frowned. â€œBut how did Darya know about it anyway?â€ She blinkedÂ a few times. â€œGuardians! Heâ€™s been watching you… in which case…â€ She trailed off. â€œOh dear.â€ She looked at the healer. â€œWhen will she be fit to leave the pool?â€
â€œTomorrow, I think.â€
â€œIâ€™d better go and get Dariad then. I need some advice.â€ Valeria sensed the puzzlement of the other two.
â€œI have a horrible feeling that the Storm Palace is about to be attacked by dragons. Iâ€™m trying to decide if thatâ€™s actually my problem at the moment.â€