Mela lay in a large bath of spring water in the chambers which the Council had prepared for them. She ducked under the water for a few moments and then surfaced and looked at Daniel. He had removed his boots and was lying on the bed staring at the ceiling. It was still dark outside, which probably explained why he seemed in no hurry to sleep.
â€œWhat do you think?â€ he said after a moment.
Ebona raised her head from where she was lying on a bed of bracken and made a thoughtful sound.
â€œIâ€™m not sure,â€ she replied after a moment. â€œEverything she said was the truth, but Iâ€™m sureÂ she omitted a lot.â€
â€œUndoubtedly,â€ he agreed. â€œBut itâ€™s defintely true that we need to find a way to protect Mela.â€ He sighed heavily and looked over at Mela. â€œIâ€™m sorry. If Iâ€™d known dragging you into this would lead to this mess I would have found another way.â€
â€œI think if youâ€™d done that Iâ€™d be a â€˜guestâ€™ of one of the first twelve right now,â€ Mela said. â€œThey wanted the pendant anyway and would have come after it eventually. My family could hardly have protected me.â€
â€œThatâ€™s true, I suppose. Theyâ€™d certainly been watching you. Your cousin knew about me spearing your aunt in the shoulder. Doesnâ€™t help though. I have no idea where youâ€™d be safe.â€
â€œPerhaps I should have stayed with the Dragon Lord,â€ Mela said.
â€œNo! My father canâ€™t be trusted!â€ he snapped and then continued more calmly. â€œOr I thought he couldnâ€™t. I donâ€™t know any more. Heâ€™s managed to thoroughly confuse me. I thought I knew his plans. I know what his second told us when he-â€Â He broke off with a shudder. â€œBut somehow that doesnâ€™t fit with him saving us.â€
â€œAnd neither of them were lying,â€ Ebona said. â€œThough I think Jayden Emms was phrasing things very carefully at times, and your father didnâ€™t actually touch on his plans while we were on Gaia. Iâ€™m certain he wouldnâ€™t harm Mela, though. He really doesnâ€™t like dragons.â€
â€œProbably not,â€ he agreed. â€œBut-â€
â€œSometimes what side someone is on matters less than what side they arenâ€™t on, dark warrior.â€ A soft, feminine voice filled the room and a sphere of crackling lightning appeared hovering in the centre. â€œYou seek an audience with me, I believe?â€
â€œYouâ€™re she who was Elaranor?â€ Mela gasped.
â€œI am indeed,â€ she replied. â€œYou can call me Elaranor if you wish. I still answer to my formerÂ name and that title is really pretentious.â€ The sphere crackled and seemed on the verge of collapsing for a momentÂ before reforming slightly smaller. â€œI cannot hold this projection for much longer so listen carefully. Iâ€™ve asked the Council to provide you with a guide to my sanctuary, since the Water Warrior stole the Seekerâ€™s Pendant from you. It lies within Waldhafenâ€™s borders, so this unusual delegation is unlikely to object to your visiting me.â€
â€œItâ€™s so close?â€ Daniel asked in surprise. â€œBut-â€
â€œBut you thought it would be in a Storm Affinity zone?â€ she sounded amused.
â€œWell, I might have done. The stories said they were, but when I finally found it he who was Miridanâ€™s sanctuary it wasnâ€™t in a death affinity zone either. I was just surprised by how close to the key it was. Is that wise?â€
â€œPossibly not. Youâ€™d have to talk to Sarah and Birke about that. They fetched it from its hiding place and brought it here based on one of Sarahâ€™s visions,â€ she replied. â€œAs to the stories, they apply to our predecessorsâ€™ sanctuaries. We found out the hard way why having the guardians in an area with the same affinity was a bad idea thirty years ago. When the Warriors were forced to activate the full powers ofÂ the system to protect the Core, it did temporarily incapacitate all the attacking dragons, but it also destroyed all the Guardians. We were fortunate that your predecessor and Sarah were able to not only duplicate it, but improve on it before the black dragons woke up or any of the others made a move to take advantage of it.â€ The spheres gave off more sparks and began to shrink visibly. â€œI talk too much. I must go now. Weâ€™ll talk tomorrow night.â€ The sphere vanished with a pop.
â€œThat was … interesting,â€ Daniel said after a long moment. â€œShe seems more talkative than Miridan was, in any case.â€
â€œIndeed,â€ Ebona agreed. â€œAnd apparently sheâ€™s been paying attention to what happens in the forest as well. But what are you going to tell her?â€
â€œWhat Emms told me. Because even if itâ€™s not truly what my father intends itâ€™s what he intended me to think.â€ He stared out of the window at the stars. â€œBut Iâ€™d better tell her that Iâ€™m not sure itâ€™s what dadâ€™s really planning. And that Jayden Emms is clever enough to hide something from you.â€ He pulled his boots on and stood up. â€œItâ€™s at least a couple of hours until dawn and thereâ€™s no way Iâ€™ll sleep before then. Iâ€™m going for a walk. I need to clear my head so I can think about this. Look after Mela and call me if anything happens.â€