â€œDid Ema give you any idea where she was going?â€ Valeria asked later that evening. She was sitting next to the fire in Dariadâ€™s study, watching the flames dance.
â€œNot really, but sheâ€™d been very frustrated by not being able to explain what had happened. She started studying in the library at all hours, especially the oldest legends about the making of the Core, and took several trips out with merchants to question storytellers about alternative versions.â€
Valeria narrowed her eyes. â€œShe was trying to figure out what had gone wrong?â€
â€œI think so. I guess it helped her cope with her anger at not being able to do anything about it.â€ Dariad toyed with the stem of the goblet he was holding. â€œBut then, about a week before she left, she started having dreams. Not bond dreams either. From what she told me when she was leaving, she believed they were calling her, telling her to find something. If she knew more than that she wouldnâ€™t specify.â€
â€œDid you send anyone with her?â€
He snorted quietly at that. â€œI offered her a guard given the level of hostility to Heart Friends out there at the moment. She said she didnâ€™t need it. I did insist she took a goblin made sling as well as her hammer. Emaâ€™s surprisingly good in a fight even in resting form. If anyone does attack her, theyâ€™ll be in for a shock.â€
â€œGoblin weapons do even the playing field,â€ Valeria agreed. â€œI wonder what she was looking for?â€
â€œShe wouldnâ€™t say. I think she was going to, but after the Core – hum – closed her down so spectacularly when she tried to tell me about the traitor she seemed scared to. She said it was watching her and while it couldnâ€™t hear thoughts, it could hear words. Whatever sheâ€™s looking for, she didnâ€™t want it to know.â€
â€œThat sounds ominous… You donâ€™t think sheâ€™d turn traitor do you?â€ Valeria said.
â€œHonestly, Val? Iâ€™d say no. Ema would never risk the world disintegrating and no one hates dragons as much as she did. But I get the feeling the Core wouldnâ€™t see it that way. I think sheâ€™s looking for a way to fix it…â€
â€œAnd it probably thinks it doesnâ€™t need fixing.â€ Valeria rubbed at the bridge of her nose. â€œThis explains a lot you know. No wonder things seem so broken recently-â€ She broke off as two imps formed from sticks and leaves phased in through the walls. One of them flew to each of them. It was a cute thing but Valeria felt her guts tighten at the sight of it. â€œWaldhafen? I canâ€™t remember the last time I received an Imp from Waldhafen. I think it was just before they threw up all that security.â€
â€œSame here,â€ he agreed. â€œAnd now they send one to both of us on the same day. With everything thatâ€™s going on thatâ€™s ominous.â€ He held out his hand to the one hovering in front of him and absorbed it. â€œDamn!â€ Dariad gasped as the full import of the message hit him.
A frightened squeak from Valeria indicated she had absorbed the imp she had received as well. He opened his eyes and saw that her golden skin had paled to a sickly yellow colour.
â€œVal?â€ he asked softly.
â€œI should have realised!” she whispered. â€œKaren even looks a bit like Matthias. H-heâ€™s going to kill me for attacking his children, isnâ€™t he?â€
â€œI doubt that. Heâ€™d have already attacked you if he was going to. I imagine heâ€™s rather discontent with you though, and you should probably be glad you never came close to succeeding.â€ He paused. â€œAnd I guess there is a very slight resemblence, but only if youâ€™re looking for it. I imagine they made sure people werenâ€™t.â€
â€œI hope so. I wouldnâ€™t stand a chance if he attacked me.â€
â€œWell Karen doesnâ€™t seem mad at you.â€
â€œKarenâ€™s too forgiving for her own good.â€ She cringed again. â€œDamn, how am I supposed to tell that poor girl the the water warrior is still alive? Or that heâ€™s working for a dragon?â€
â€œCarefully,â€ he suggested. â€œPerhaps wait until sheâ€™s stronger. She still looked dreadful earlier.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think we can,â€ Valeria said. â€œWe need to go to Waldhafen quickly.â€
â€œHuh?!â€ That caught him off guard.
â€œYes. If nothing else little Mela is one of my citizens, her safety is at least partly my responsibility. I let Salia down-â€ She broke off with a strangled sob. A few deep breaths and she managed to continue. â€œAnyway with two of the first twelve moving so obviously how long can it be before the others do as well? As I was vividly reminded earlier, we canâ€™t fight dragons but we can inconvenience them in other ways.â€
â€œA council of war?â€ he mused. â€œThatâ€™s not a bad idea, and they certainly have the facilities to host one. Iâ€™ll send an Imp to the Waldhafen to ask if they will.â€
â€œI hope they agree,â€ she said. â€œBecause the Dark Warrior isnâ€™t the only person who would like to talk to my mother.â€