Karen poked her head around the door of Sarah Tylerâ€™s room and cleared her throat. “Aunt Sarah?â€ She hesitated and then added. â€œI can call you Aunt Sarah, canâ€™t I?â€
â€œOf course you can, Karen.” Sarah looked up from where she was sitting by Melaâ€™s bed. She looked pale and tired. She must have been draining her reserves to support the mergirl. â€œWhat is it?â€
â€œCould I have a word?â€
â€œOf course, but do you mind doing it here? I donâ€™t want to leave Mela unsupervised.â€
â€œYes, of course.â€ Karen stepped fully into the room. â€œHow is she?â€
â€œStable,â€ Sarah replied, â€œbut I still donâ€™t know whatâ€™s going on with her. Itâ€™s similar to what happens to us without our heart bracelets, but she isnâ€™t leaking energy and I have no idea what sheâ€™s using it for. She sleeps, wakes long enough to eat like a horse and then goes back to sleep. Thatâ€™s what Speakers do when they overstress themselves, but…â€
â€œBut sheâ€™s not recovering?â€ Karen sighed. â€œWhich means sheâ€™s still doing it. Even though sheâ€™s sleeping most of the time. What the hell?â€
â€œMy thoughts exactly,â€ Sarah said. â€œNow, what did you want?â€
Karen chewed on her lip. â€œIâ€™m worried about Hannah. She was behaving oddly just before school closed and her family have been getting closer to the Lavernes. If youâ€™re right about us, sheâ€™s in terrible danger.â€
â€œYes, Jayâ€™s mentioned that heâ€™s worried as well.â€ Sarah sighed heavily. â€œShe went through her maturity in May, so she knows and sheâ€™s kept her mouth shut.â€
â€œThat explains why she was behaving oddly,â€ Karen said. â€œAnd at least if she knows she can keep her head down, but…â€ She trailed off.
â€œIâ€™ve got people keeping an eye on her, but thereâ€™s only so much they can do given how vicious the Lavernes can be. We donâ€™t need a war-â€
â€œPerhaps we do,â€ Matthias said from the door. â€œWeâ€™ve been letting the hunter families get away with slaughtering us for too long.â€
â€œBut can we win?â€ Sarah said.
â€œI hope so. Iâ€™ve got some ideas.â€
â€œOh?â€ Sarah gave him a curious look.
â€œIâ€™ll tell you later. Do you mind if I let Halia take a look at Mela? She may have some ideas.â€
â€œYour supposed healer dragon?â€ Sarah asked. â€œSure, if you can keep her under control. I want to see how she does it anyway. If the council doesnâ€™t mind that is.â€
â€œOh, good. I already cleared it with them.â€ He shut the door behind him and closed his eyes. â€œHalia! Attend me!â€
There was a barely audible pop and then a collared dragon in human form appeared. She dropped to one knee in front of Matthias. â€œHow may I serve you, master?â€ Haliaâ€™s tone was utterly neutral, and yet Karen could sense her resentment.
â€œYou remember Mela, donâ€™t you? Something is wrong with her and we donâ€™t know what. Find out and fix it.â€
Halia turned towards the bed and Karen had to suppress a gasp at the dragonâ€™s startling resemblance to Alaryia. Then again the goblin was silver-eyed, so it was very possible they were related.
The dragon knelt down by Melaâ€™s head and placed a hand on her forehead. After a few moments she gave a puzzled frown. â€œIs her aunt around? Iâ€™d like to ask her a couple of questions.â€
â€œIâ€™ll send for her,â€ Matthias said.
Unsurprisingly, Lorelei eyed the dragon nervously when she came into the room.
Halia gave her a gentle smile. â€œDonâ€™t worry; even if I was inclined to eat you, the dragon lord would never let me.â€ She cocked her head. â€œBut your niece, did she have this tendency to alternate between sleeping and eating and not much else when she was younger?â€
â€œWhat?â€ Lorelei frowned at her and then looked startled. â€œYes, for a couple of weeks when she was small. The clan healer couldnâ€™t find anything wrong and Sirin refused to call in an outsider. I was about to insist when she got better on her own.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what I thought youâ€™d say.â€ Halia looked at Matthias. â€œIf I boost her up will you feed me afterwards?â€
â€œShe needs to get her screen back up, master, and she hasnâ€™t got enough energy. I can boost her energy levels so she can do it but Iâ€™m liable to collapse again and you ordered me to stop pushing myself that far.â€ She paused. â€œOnce her shield is back up, she should recover on her own. Sheâ€™s subconsciously trying to respond to something, and the effort is wearing her out. When her shield is up it canâ€™t reach her.â€
â€œI see. Well, I guess Iâ€™ll have to then. Do you know what sheâ€™s responding to?â€
Halia shook her head. â€œWhatever it was, it latched on to the changes in her essence as useful. When her shield went up it blocked it, but itâ€™s gone now.â€ She placed the tips of her fingers on Melaâ€™s temples and looked at Sarah. â€œIâ€™ll give her enough energy to function. Call your brother now to show her how to put the shield back up. Heâ€™ll only have a few minutes before she wears herself out again.â€