Mela wasnâ€™t sure which surprised her more: how awake she felt, the number of people staring at her, or the fact that there was a semi-conscious dragon slumped in Sarah Tylerâ€™s arms.
â€œYeah, Iâ€™ll explain that in a minute,â€ Lucas said, â€œBut we need to get your screen back up before you pass out again.â€ He sat on the edge of her bed and touched the tip of his fingers to her forehead. â€œYou do it like this.â€ An image of threads emerging from the centre of her being and weaving into a net around her dropped into her mind. â€œItâ€™s symbolic, of course, but do you understand?â€
â€œI-I think so.â€ Mela cast one more curious glance at whereÂ Halia was slumped. Sarah Tylerâ€™s expression was a mixture of confusion and concern. Mela frowned but turned her attention to trying to put up a screen.
â€œGood girl,â€ Lucas said. â€œThatâ€™s very good-â€ He broke off as a voice sounded in Melaâ€™s mind.
Please donâ€™t. I need your help. The voice was faint and weak. It was also the one from her dreams.
The stunned expression on Lucasâ€™ face and the startled squeak from Halia suggested the others could hear it as well.
â€œWho are you?â€ Lucas asked. â€œAnd why should she help you? Not that she can; all she can do is eat and sleep.â€
I canâ€™t tell you. It might hear… and Iâ€™m sorry. I didnâ€™t realise that would happen. The range must be too extreme. I guess I need her right here to do it.
â€œAnd why should we trust you when you wonâ€™t tell us who you are?â€ Matthias said.
â€œYouâ€™re the one who summoned us,â€ Karen said simultaneously. â€œI recognise your voice.â€
Yes. There was a long pause. And youâ€™re right, you shouldnâ€™t trust me. But I really canâ€™t explain. But ask the dragon – she knows what I am – or the wind warrior, she’s the one who accidentally woke me up. Thatâ€™s why it tried to kill her. But be careful where you talk about it. It paused again. Youâ€™d better put your screen, Mela. I donâ€™t want to influence you against your will, and I seem to be doing that.
Mela hesitated and then did as it said. Afterwards she slumped down on to her pillows. â€œIâ€™m tired and hungry again!â€ she complained. â€œAnd what was that?â€
â€œYouâ€™ll feel better soon now,â€ Lucas said. â€œAnd I donâ€™t know but it was influencing you and your shield blocks it.â€
â€œApparently Halia knows, though.â€ She looked down at the dragon who was clinging to her. â€œThis girl really is a healer.â€
â€œI told you that,â€ Matthias said. â€œIt ought to be impossible, but-â€
â€œBut she is and thatâ€™s uncomfortable. Yes,â€ Sarah interrupted. â€œBut youâ€™ve got to stop abusing her like this. Sheâ€™s been cannibalising her own body to prop up her essence.â€
â€œSheâ€™s been what?â€
â€œShe means that you donâ€™t feed me enough,â€ Halia said bitterly. â€œI know you donâ€™t mean to starve me, but you would have realised if you bothered to look. Iâ€™ve tried to tell you, but who listens to a dragon when they say they need to eat?â€ Her tone softened slightly. â€œI donâ€™t mind helping, but Iâ€™d rather not have to damage myself to do it.â€
Matthias frowned at her, obviously trying to see what Sarah was talking about. After a moment his eyes widened. â€œWhat the hell have you been doing to yourself? How have you- I would have looked if Iâ€™d known that was possible. Are you crazy? You could have killed yourself!â€
â€œNo,â€ she said softly. â€œThat wouldnâ€™t kill me. It might inconvenience me for a few years if I pushed it too far, but it wouldnâ€™t kill me. My essence is more important than my body, I can always make a new body. Doing the opposite is far more dangerous. You should be careful of that – youâ€™re far more like us than you realise.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Matthias shook his head. â€œI think that weâ€™re overdue a long talk. But more importantly, what was that thing? It said you knew it? And Sonia…â€
â€œI donâ€™t think your wife remembers it and I know of it, but we shouldnâ€™t discuss this here. The Core might be listening-â€ She broke off as Sarah Tyler swayed slightly. â€œOh, did I take too much? Iâ€™ll give some ba-â€
â€œYouâ€™ll do no such thing, you silly girl,â€ Sarah snapped. â€œIâ€™ll be okay.â€ She looked up at Matthias. â€œShe needs more, Matt, but Iâ€™m at my limit.â€
â€œIâ€™ll deal with it later,â€ he said. â€œI never thought Iâ€™d ever see you willingly feed a dragon.â€
â€œI never thought Iâ€™d meet one who deserved it,â€ she replied. â€œHow did you capture her?â€
â€œI got careless,â€ Halia said.
â€œShe was spying on Elapyron City when I sensed her. She got a bit too close and I grabbed her.â€ He sighed again. â€œWeâ€™re going to have to risk holding part of the conference on Earth, arenâ€™t we. We need to know what Halia knows, but we need to be somewhere out of the Coreâ€™s reach. Letâ€™s get everyone together.â€