The garden turned out to be a large, plant-filled courtyard. It was surrounded on all sides by high crystal walls, which had obviously been polished to make them impossible to climb. Wind chimes hung from the branches of some of the trees and filled the air with soft music. Salia didnâ€™t want to relax, but there was something about the place that just drained the tension out of her.
â€œIsnâ€™t this nice?â€ Lyrekka said. â€œYou can come here whenever you wish in your free time.
Salia made a non-commital sound and stared upwards. It wouldnâ€™t be possible to climb the walls, but perhaps one of the trees was tall enough? She sighed as she realised that they werenâ€™t, and even if they were the patches of sky she could see looked odd. After a moment she realised that the entire courtyard was covered by a massive roof carved from a single transparent crystal. He shoulders slumped slightly and she couldnâ€™t repress an unhappy squeak. Her captors seemed to have thought of everything.
Lyrekka reached out and patted her head again. â€œYou can blame Foehn for the ceiling. He tried to escape twice in his first week here by flying out. Gerian-mirian wanted to declare it off limits to you, but I persuaded him to put a roof on it.â€
Salia frowned at that. Foehn must be one of the others that Lyrrekka had mentioned earlier.
â€œHe is indeed,â€ Lyrrekka said. â€œYouâ€™ll meet him and Yarara soon. They always come here after their lessons.” Salia came to an abrupt halt as the wind chimes stopped briefly and she realised something.
â€œGet out of my head!â€ Salia aimed a kick at Lyrrekkaâ€™s ankles. The dragon woman just stepped back out of her reach. Salia screamed in rage and tried to lunge at her but Lyrrekka held her at armâ€™s length easily. Salia struggled and tried to break free but the wind chimes tinkled again and her anger started to fade. Try as she might she couldnâ€™t seem to hold on to it. â€œThatâ€™s not fair!â€ She sank to her knees as great, heaving sobs overcame her. â€œI want to go home! I want my mummy!â€
â€œOh, Salia!â€ Lyrrekka sounded sympathetic as she knelt down and pulled her into a hug. â€œI know! I do know. But you canâ€™t, we need you too much.â€
Salia continued sobbing as Lyrrekka picked her up again and carried her further into the courtyard along the winding path. When she put her down again they were in a small clearing amidst the trees. The sound of bubbling water made Salia look up only to find a damp cloth gently pushed into her face to wipe the tears away.
â€œI wonâ€™t help you,â€ Salia said between sobs.
â€œOh, you will eventually,â€ Lyrrekka said softly. â€œOne way or another. Gerian-mirian doesnâ€™t take no for an answer.â€
â€œNo, I wonâ€™t! Why would I help kill my friends?â€ Salia closed her eyes and forced herself to think about Igniferâ€™s screams even though it made her feel sick. Lyrrekka might be pretending to be nice but sheâ€™d seen what dragons were really like with her own eyes and she wasnâ€™t going to forget.
Lyrekka made a hissing sound and her arms left Saliaâ€™s shoulders. Salia peeked up at her and saw the dragon woman had one hand over her eyes. She was shaking her head and muttering angrily to herself the same way mummy did when someone did something stupid – except mummy didnâ€™t swear in draconic. After a moment Lyrekka looked up at her and Salia flinched back from the fury in her eyes. The anger instantly drained from her face and she reached out to Salia who scooted back until her back met a tree. Lyrekka sighed and dropped her hand.
â€œOh no, Salia. Itâ€™s not you. Iâ€™m irritated with my Mirian. His temper and lack of self-control really doesnâ€™t make my job any easier.â€
â€œThatâ€™s because heâ€™s a bastard, Lyrekka-alra.â€
Saliaâ€™s head shot up to stare at the speaker. A teenage harpy was sitting among the branches of one of the trees. Salia blinked as she realised he was a boy. Male harpies were rare and their flocks never let them far from their villages. That wasnâ€™t the only thing that confused her, though.
â€œI-I didnâ€™t sense you.â€ Salia eyed the harpy boy nervously. Most harpy clans refused to live in civilised areas, because they still hunted other Speakers for meat. No wonder he hadnâ€™t cared about what the dragons fed him.
â€œItâ€™s the chimes,â€ he said. â€œThey interfere with our mental senses, isnâ€™t that right, Lyrekka-alra?â€
â€œIt is indeed, Foehn. Among other things.â€ Lyrekka smiled at him. â€œNow get yourself down here and meet your new friend. Whereâ€™s Yarara?â€
â€œHere!â€ A dark-haired naga girl who Salia guessed was a couple of years older than her slithered out from among the rocks. Her forked tongue flickered at Salia a couple of times, obviously taking in her taste. A moment later sheâ€˜d shifted her serpentâ€˜s tail into legs with theÂ same diamond pattern scales and was sitting on the rocks next to Salia. â€œHi! Iâ€™m Yarara!â€ she said brightly. â€œLetâ€™s be friends. Whatâ€™s your name?â€
â€œSalia?â€ Yarara stared at her. â€œIâ€™ve heard of you. Youâ€™re the Storm Queenâ€™s daughter!â€ She looked over at Lyrekka. â€œHeâ€™s gone mad, Lyr. Heâ€™s going to attract attention he doesnâ€™t need yet.â€
Lyrekka made an amused snorting sound but said nothing in response. Salia got the feeling she agreed with Yarara though.
Salia pulled her knees up to her chin and stared at the other two speakers with a frown. There was something about them and it took her a moment to place it. It was hard to tell with the hybrid sort of Speakers but then she realised that they were both using their resting forms and… oh!
â€œBut youâ€™re both like me!â€
â€œWell that took you rather a long time to work out, new girl,â€ Foehn said. â€œI guess Haltia arenâ€™t as bright as they say.â€
â€œLeave her alone, Foehn,â€ Yarara said. â€œI think sheâ€™s had a bad day and sheâ€™s just a kid.â€ The naga girl grinned at Salia, revealing her sharp fangs. â€œYouâ€™re right, your highness. Weâ€™re both heart friends as well. Thatâ€™s why weâ€™re here.â€