Dariad stood in front of the two girls, holding the crowd back with his screen. “Get the warriors and your cousin out of here, Hreid!” He glanced over at the ice warrior and saw him passed out on the floor, his heart friend standing over him protectively in her full gryphon form.
“Damn. Here!” He pulled the bracelets from beneath his cloak and pushed the fire one at the Flame Warrior.
“Thanks!” The girl pushed the bracelet onto her wrist before holding it up to the phoenix. “Could we get some help here, Bennu?!”
“Of course!” There was a wooshing sound as Bennu burst into flames and came to hover over her.
“Take this to the Ice Warrior!” Dariad held out the ice bracelet to the phoenix. “I don’t think his gryphon can stay in full form much longer without harming him.”
Bennu grabbed it and darted towards the unconscious boy. One of the mob attacking Dariad’s shield noticed the phoenix flying past. She turned and fired a metal feather at him from her wings. Bennu dodged, but the feather followed him and pierced his wing. He gave a piercing scream, plummeting to the cavern floor. His assailant hovered over him, flexing her steel talons.
“Aurea! Don’t!” he yelled. She ignored him and raised her wings to shoot again. Hreid ran towards them as Aurea gave a triumphant cry, sending a rain of steel feathers down on the helpless phoenix.
There was a blur and a glow sprang up around the injured bird, vaporizing the feathers as they entered. One or two managed to penetrate the shield but were blocked by the goblin ambassador’s body, who had somehow made it from her seat to Bennu in the split second after Aurea fired. She gave a soft cry as one of the feathers impaled her shoulder and silvery blood spread out from the wound. Trembling in reaction, she continued holding fast.
As the rain of feathers stopped, the goblin spun around to face Aurea. She held the glowing shield in place until Hreid grabbed Bennu and the bracelet and make a dash for Andrew. Only then did she sink to her knees, clutching her shoulder.
Dariad watched Hreid run with a frown until the Light Warrior’s soft voice interrupted him.
“I don’t suppose that you have my bracelet hidden under there?” She was restraining the Flame warrior, who was attempting to dash to her heart friend. “He’ll be alright, Lyd. We need to get out of here.”
“No, but I’ve already sent someone I trust to fetch it. I was fairly sure you were innocent. He pointed to a carved stone near where Alaryia had been sitting.”Push that. There’s an emergency tunnel behind it. Hreid will lead you to safety.”
He surveyed the riot again. “You’d best take the goblin with you. I need to exert my authority and it would cause an incident if she were caught in the crossfire. You and she aren’t sworn to me, so there’s a grave danger it won’t exclude you if you stay.”
“That sound ominous,” Karen murmered as she pulled her sister towards the tunnel.
Dariad scanned the room for Hreid and saw him and Faf ushering Alaryia, the Ice Warrior and his heart friend towards the hidden tunnel. Good. He watched until they disappeared inside and counted ten breaths while waiting to be sure they were clear. Then he closed his eyes and gathered the heart of the dark mountain to himself. He took one more breath and then released a portion of it through his voice.
“Stop this now!”
The air took his words and carried them throughout the room, echoing and growing louder and louder until one by one those involved in the attack were incapacitated by the noise. Several of the whimpering rioters were bleeding from their ears, while those who had remained loyal were unaffected. Dariad released the rest of the power and sank into his throne, rubbing his forehead tiredly. “I hate doing that,” he muttered.
“What shall we do with them?” one of the unaffected guards asked.
“Confine them to their quarters. We’ll question managable groups before the mirror until we know who’s behind this and can free the ones under their influence. Until then we can’t have them wandering around.” He looked over at Brita. “Can you make sure the warriors get suitable accomodation now that they’ve been exonerated?”
The Oread cocked her head as she considered the question. “The only spare chambers are in the lower reaches, sire, near the goblins. They’re nice enough and safely out of the way, but do we want them so close to those creatures? The dragons might have sent them here to attack the warriors.”
“There’s nothing to be done, Brita. I don’t think the goblins will attack them. We have something they want. And if that was their purpose, why would the ambassador have saved the Ice Warrior?”
“I… you’re right, sire. I will prepare the chambers myself as I am unsure who to trust.”
“He said what?” Valeria stared at Tonara.
“That Prince Maran was plotting against you with individuals he believed came from the Mountain King but didn’t.” Tonara shifted her brightly coloured wings in obvious discomfort. “I’m afraid his unicorn confirmed it, your majesty, and the Prince’s behavior was certainly guilty.”
“Not that bit,” Valeria said. “The bit about him… the bane of Elapyron City.” She struggled to stop herself sparking everywhere. “Come with me!” She led Tonara to one of the pools. “I wish I had a blood and truth mirror, but this will have to do. Breathe on it and imagine what happened. I need to see it.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Tonara did as she asked. The water clouded and then reavealed the confrontation her troops had with the Dark Rider.
“I can’t believe he called a unicorn a liar!” Valeria said after it was done. “And it looks like Maran’s guilty.”
“You don’t seem that surprised,” Tonara noted.
Valeria gave her a sad smile. “I knew he was up to something. Alban saw him talking to Sirin and Huldre. “But I wasn’t expecting this.” She paused. “Core Guardians! But that human can fight. I don’t know how we’re going to stop him. I suppose we could wear him down, but if the rest of what he said was true I can’t spare the troops.”
“Not that they’d be much use if it is.” Tonara said. Valeria gave her a long thoughtful look.
“That’s a good point. But why did he and the traitor warn us? I’m missing something.” She paced up and down. “Maran and his known associates are confined until I can get to the bottom of this, but I’m worried he might have more followers in the woodwork. Maybe that’s why the Rider warned us, so this necessary paranoia would cripple us.”
“Well I’m certain of my convocation and Lextra is equally certain of his pack,” Tonara said.
I know, but that some of my own clan would turn against me, and worse plot sedition behind my back instead of challenging me!” She covered her face with her hands to hide her tears but knew her shaking shoulders betrayed her.
After a moment she looked up at Tonara again. The thunderbird was flapping her wings slightly in distress. “Can I ask you a favour, Ton? As a friend, not your queen?”
“Of course, Val.”
“Take Salia to your eyrie and keep her there until this is resolved. I’ll be happier if I know she’s away from here. You know how Maran feels about her, and she likes you.”
“I will treat your daughter like my own chick, your highness.”
“Thank you,” Valeria said. “Too many people think badly of her for her accident of birth.” She walked off to tell her daughter she had to go and stay with the thunderbirds for a while.