The room beyond the shattered door didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the building. The farmhouse had not been near any cliffs yet this windowless room was practically a cave. It seemed to be hewn out of rock, as if it had backed onto one.
There were cracks all through the ceiling and the walls and floor were splattered with multi-hued bloodstains. Around the room were five collared dragons lying sprawled on the floor â€“ whether dead or unconscious, Valeria couldn’t tell.
All of which made the island of calm at the centre stand out even more.
The untouched area was surrounded by a dozen crystal pillars, inside of which sat Jayden Emms. His hands were stretched towards another giant crystal, set in to the ceiling. Matthias started towards him immediately but Valeria hesitated. The trickles of blood trailing towards the center were stopping at an invisible boundary, piling up like water behind a dam.
“Matt, wait!” She grabbed his arm and pointed at the line in the blood before unhooking one of her earrings and tossing it. It flew through the air, hit some sort of invisible barrier and bounced with a loud crack.
“Woah! I’ve never seen a ward like that,” Matthias said.
“Well, no – it’s invisible,” Lydia said. She created a small pearl of fire and tossed it at the barrier. Rather than bouncing, it was absorbed and sucked into one of the crystals. Her eyes widened. “It’s not a ward. It’s a -” She scowled as if trying to think how to explain something. “It’s a net. It’s gathering energy into that.” She circled around and observed it with narrowed eyes. “We should destroy it, but we need to be careful. If we do it wrong we’ll play into his hands.”
“Oh, she’s very good,” Takilyan said. “No wonder Fellaria took her as an ilsra.” He stared up at the crystal and frowned, then looked over at Bennu. “We need to work out the extent of this thing and see if we can get at the top at all. I have an inkling that it may curve in at the top and if it does we can shatter it up there. Would you fly up take a look?”
“Of course,” Bennu said. He launched himself into the air.
“Be careful!” Lydia called after him.
“I’m always careful, Lyd!” He circled the barrier in an inward spiral, testing the barrier with tiny flames, and it quickly became apparent that Takilyan was right.
Bennu flew back down to Lydia. “There’s a small gap at the very top,” he said. “But I’m wondering if we’re being played. It feels like it may have been left deliberately.”
“You mean he wants us to shatter it?” Takilyan said. “Hmm… From what Alaryia and Ystelyan said, that’s possible. But it’s the only way past that barrier and if they’re right he’ll break it himself once it’s fully charged. Breaking it before that will at least give us the advantage of knowing it’s not at full power when it breaks.”
Lydia nodded. “This is true. The aim is going to have to be perfect, though, or we’ll just be helping it charge.”
“I know.” He looked around at the others. “But I don’t see any choice but to risk it.”
“I don’t either,” Matthias agreed. He looked over at Hannah and Ema. “You two are strong spatial secondaries right? Do you think you could guide out attacks in? Make sure they don’t hit the net thing?”
“I think I can do that, yes,” she said. “Am I right in thinking that if you have to miss, you’d rather hit the ceiling near the crystal rather than the barrier?”
Matthias gave her a surprised look and nodded. “Yes, that’s a good idea.”
“And if you can weaken the rock around it, Earth warrior, that would be even better,” Takylan said. “Perhaps we can make it fall without wasting our energy when we’re likely to need it later?”
Hannah nodded. “Yes! I can do that!” She knelt down and put her hand on the floor. “Ugh.” She flinched at the touch of the sticky blood. “Someone hold the rest of the roof up or I might bring it all down.”
Takilyan laughed, reached into a pocket and pulled out a handful of bone fragments, which he scattered around the room. A moment later vines of twisted flesh sprouted up from the rock floor and wove into the ceiling, holding it up.
“Ugh! Creepy!” Hannah shuddered, then returned to her concentration. Tiny cracks spread out from her hand and up the walls of the room, growing larger as they spread. When they reached the crystal embedded in the ceiling, they circled around it until, with a loud cracking sound, the entire crystal came crashing down. Emms gave a startle cry and barely scrambled out of the way before it crashed into the floor where he’d been kneeling and exploded in a shower of light and crystal shards.