Salia swallowed and clutched Lyrrekka’s hand tightly as she looked at the large building the dragon woman had brought her to. It was not far from the palace where she was prisoner and was built of the same beautiful crystal, but it gave off an ominous aura of despair.
“Yes, it gets me that way as well,” Lyrrekka said. “I always go to the villages to feed. It’s not like I can’t afford to pay and this place is horrible. They try to make it comfortable but they can’t make it anything other than what it is.”
“Pay?” Salia asked curiously. She didn’t want to think about what the place was, though she had a fair idea.
“I pay for the energy I eat,” Lyrrekka said. “This place…” She trailed off and scowled at it. “This place shouldn’t be necessary. It’s not like we don’t have more than enough willing people to feed everyone.”
“Do we have to go in there?” Karilya asked. “I hate this place. It makes me feel sad just standing here.”
“Not for long, Kari,” Lyrrekka said. “Just long enough to check on the prisoners that were captured at the same time Gerian-mirian collected Salia.”
She walked up to the door and pushed it open. “Come on then. Sooner in, sooner out.”
Inside it was just as pretty but the sense of despairÂ was even more palpable. Lyrrekka walked over to a counter, picked up a glowing crystal tablet and stared at it for a moment. Whatever she saw in it made her frown deepen.
“Oh joy, they’re in new arrivals wing. I suppose they would be. This way.” She led them them up some stairs and over a crystal bridge to a second building. “Let’s see, the thunderbirds will be in the aviary and there were some nymphs and haltia as well, they’ll have rooms. Right; aviary first.” She headed into a covered courtyard garden.
Salia looked around and spotted a small group of thunderbirds in resting form. They each had a small glowing crystal tag around one leg. One of them spotted her and gave a startled caw.
“Princess!” It flew over to her. “Are you well? We’ve been worried.”
“Better than you, I think,” she replied. “Are you okay?”
“We’re-” He gave Lyrrekka a look. “We’re as well as we can be when we’re being kept as food for dragons. They’re feeding us and don’t seemed inclined to kill us, so I suppose it could be worse.”
“You don’t have to mince your words for me,” Lyrrekka said. “I know this place is horrible and I’m not going to get angry if you say so. We’re here because Salia was worried about you all and I wanted to reassure her.”
“Is everyone who was captured still okay?” Salia asked.
“Well, all the flock who were captured are, and the others sometimes wander in and out of this garden, so I think so. It looks like most people got away though.”
“It wasn’t a hunting raid,” Lyrrekka said. “He was after Salia, you were more of a bonus. Let’s go and check on the others.” She took Salia’s hand and led her back towards the door.
The more humanoid speakers were being kept in small but comfortable cells which reminded Salia of the servant’s quarters at home, and the inmates did seem to be allowed to wander around the building freely and were all wearing pendants similar to the tags the thunderbird’s had worn. MostÂ of them did not seem inclined to make use of what freedom they had then. Salia looked around until she spotted a sylph child only a couple of years older than her who she had played with at the aerie.
“Coromel!” She called and hurried over to the open cell where the sylph was sitting.
Coromel looked up at her call and her mouth dropped open. “Princess Salia!” Her shoulders slumped. “So they did capture you? I hoped that they hadn’t.” She gave Lyrrekka a nervous look and clutched at the pendant around her neck. It was glowing a deep maroon colour.
“Don’t worry, dear, I’m not here to eat.” Lyrrekka frowned at the pendant. “But it looks like someone has taken a liking to you.” There was a flat anger in the dragon woman’s tone.
Coromel gave a violent shudder but didn’t reply. Lyrrekka hissed at that and swore in draconic. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.” She strode off leaving Salia and Karilya standing with Coromel.
“Mummy’s angry again,” Karilya murmered. “She always gets angry when she comes here.”
Coromel eyed Karilya nervously. “Y-you aren’t going to eat me either, are you?”
“No!” Karilya exclaimed. “I never feed here, and even if I did it would upset Salia.” She paused. “Anyway, your pendant’s darker than I’ve ever seen one. No one should be feeding onÂ you when it’s that colour.”
“I-I don’t think he cares about that,” Coromel looked down. “The goblins who feed us said that no one is supposed to be fed on every day, either, but the dragons don’t seem to care about that.”
“That’s… But it might…” Karilya trailed off and shook her head. “I think that’s why mummy’s mad this time.”
“Are your mothers and sister here too?” Salia asked.
Coromel shook her head and blinked back tears. “I couldn’t find them. I think they got away. I hope they got away, but I miss them-” She broke off and stared past Salia with a whimper. “Here he comes again.” She pulled up her knees and curled up on the bed, sobbing.