Nalatria was still breathing heavily, though some of the tension had gone from her body. She pulled herself up to one knee and bowed her head to Chaya.
â€œI’d be lying if I said I was entirely happy, Lady Chaya,â€ she said. â€œYou remind me too much of my father, even though you aren’t like him. I’m happier with this situation than I was under his rule. I will support you, but…â€ She turned to look at Sonia. â€œI would have preferred Sonia-ida. I was trying to work out how to run to her.â€
Sonia stared at her. â€œI’m not ready yet.â€ She looked at Ebona. â€œIs she speaking the truth?â€
â€œShe is,â€ Ebona said.
â€œWhat happened to him?â€ Nalatria said. â€œObviously Sonia-ida didn’t challenge him.â€
â€œXantaria poisoned him,â€ Chaya said. â€œThey saved his life but obviously couldn’t let him go. He’s been put in permanent stasis.â€ She hesitated. â€œWould you like me to release you to Sonia-ida? I’m going to hand the court to her once she’s ready.â€
Nalatria looked tempted but shook her head. â€œYou’ll need my help, Lady Chaya. I know the court better than anyone.â€
â€œThank you,â€ Chaya said. â€œWhich brings us to the first question â€“ did Mitakrian have a heart friend hostage?â€
â€œThat poor girl.â€ Nalatria shuddered and nodded. â€œHe was going to kill her but Xantaria stopped him and tracked down her heart friend. Made her work for the two of them. I’ll take you to her, but first you should access the throne and lock us down to keep attackers out â€“ if it still works, that is. He never used it.â€
â€œNo, I imagine he didn’t,â€ Chaya said. â€œIt wouldn’t have tolerated him.â€ She closed her eyes and tilted her head. â€œBut it will work with me.â€ She was silent a moment longer. â€œIt’s locked us down â€“ let’s go see to the girl.â€
â€œShe’s rather broken, I’m afraid,â€ Nalatria said. â€œShe’s been in that room since she was eleven years old. I did my best to bring her some comfort and I know I wasn’t the only one, but against father using her as a whipping girl any time humans interfered with his plans, there was precious little we could do.â€ She rose to her feet and laid her hand on the wall behind the throne. A door sprang open. â€œThis is a short cut to the dungeon.â€
The room she led them to was not as dungeonlike as Lydia had been expecting from what Nalatria had said. It was small and had a secure door and bars on the window but the floor was covered with a rug and the stone walls were hidden by hangings, making it surprisingly cozy. A svart alfar girl dressed in black goblin silk was sat on the bed, hugging her knees and staring into space. She was thin, but not excessively so and didn’t seem to be injured.
â€œAsra,â€ Nalatria said gently. The girl looked at her with dark, frightened eyes. Nalatria knelt beside her and laid a hand on her shoulder. â€œMy father is gone, Asra. He can’t hurt you any more. These people are here to rescue you.â€
Asra looked more confused than anything at that.
Sonia knelt down in front of her. â€œIs your name Asra then?â€ she asked.
Asra nodded. â€œY-yes. Is he really gone? What about the other one?â€
â€œHe is,â€ Sonia said firmly. â€œAnd we won’t let her near you either. I’m sorry it took us so long to find out about you.â€ She took her hands. â€œBut we’ll need to make sure neither of them has booby trapped you.â€
â€œI don’t think he did but I’m pretty sure she did something to me. Possibly to my heart friend as well.â€
â€œYou’ve met her?â€ Julie asked.
â€œOnce,â€ she said. â€œTo prove they had me, but they can’t block our link so we dream talk a lot. You’re her Aunt Caroline, aren’t you? She told me about you turning up.â€
â€œAh, so it is Celeste,â€ Julie said. â€œAdrian, go fetch your cousin, please. Let’s get them both checked. And be careful in case she’s forced to attack you.â€
â€œGet Lucas as well,â€ Matthias said. â€œHalia can do the physical checks but we need mental checks as well.â€
â€œI will,â€ Adrian said. â€œMay I gate out, Lady Chaya?â€
â€œOf course,â€ she said. â€œHurry back.â€