“Did Ema give you any idea where she was going?” Valeria asked later that evening. She was sitting next to the fire in Dariad’s study, watching the flames dance.
“Not really, but she’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.”
Valeria narrowed her eyes. “She was trying to figure out what had gone wrong?”
“I think so. I guess it helped her cope with her anger at not being able to do anything about it.” Dariad toyed with the stem of the goblet he was holding. “But 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 wouldn’t specify.”
“Did you send anyone with her?”
He snorted quietly at that. “I offered her a guard given the level of hostility to Heart Friends out there at the moment. She said she didn’t need it. I did insist she took a goblin made sling as well as her hammer. Ema’s surprisingly good in a fight even in resting form. If anyone does attack her, they’ll be in for a shock.”
“Goblin weapons do even the playing field,” Valeria agreed. “I wonder what she was looking for?”
“She wouldn’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 couldn’t hear thoughts, it could hear words. Whatever she’s looking for, she didn’t want it to know.”
“That sounds ominous… You don’t think she’d turn traitor do you?” Valeria said.
“Honestly, Val? I’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 wouldn’t see it that way. I think she’s looking for a way to fix it…”
“And it probably thinks it doesn’t need fixing.” Valeria rubbed at the bridge of her nose. “This explains a lot you know. No wonder things seem so broken recently-” 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. “Waldhafen? I can’t remember the last time I received an Imp from Waldhafen. I think it was just before they threw up all that security.”
“Same here,” he agreed. “And now they send one to both of us on the same day. With everything that’s going on that’s ominous.” He held out his hand to the one hovering in front of him and absorbed it. “Damn!” 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.
“Val?” he asked softly.
“I should have realised!” she whispered. “Karen even looks a bit like Matthias. H-he’s going to kill me for attacking his children, isn’t he?”
“I doubt that. He’d have already attacked you if he was going to. I imagine he’s rather discontent with you though, and you should probably be glad you never came close to succeeding.” He paused. “And I guess there is a very slight resemblence, but only if you’re looking for it. I imagine they made sure people weren’t.”
“I hope so. I wouldn’t stand a chance if he attacked me.”
“Well Karen doesn’t seem mad at you.”
“Karen’s too forgiving for her own good.” She cringed again. “Damn, how am I supposed to tell that poor girl the the water warrior is still alive? Or that he’s working for a dragon?”
“Carefully,” he suggested. “Perhaps wait until she’s stronger. She still looked dreadful earlier.”
“I don’t think we can,” Valeria said. “We need to go to Waldhafen quickly.”
“Huh?!” That caught him off guard.
“Yes. If nothing else little Mela is one of my citizens, her safety is at least partly my responsibility. I let Salia down-” She broke off with a strangled sob. A few deep breaths and she managed to continue. “Anyway 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 can’t fight dragons but we can inconvenience them in other ways.”
“A council of war?” he mused. “That’s not a bad idea, and they certainly have the facilities to host one. I’ll send an Imp to the Waldhafen to ask if they will.”
“I hope they agree,” she said. “Because the Dark Warrior isn’t the only person who would like to talk to my mother.”