Carl was waiting for them when they got back. He looked pale and tense and had obviously been pacing the gate room floor for some time.
“Thank goodness you’re back,” he exclaimed with evident relief. “The strangeness events are getting worse, and I think Marian found out that you weren’t here. I can sense something outside and it feels like family.”
“Sal?” Matthias looked over to where Sarah was helping Pensura’s mother through the portal.
“Give me a moment…” She helped the nymph sit down on one of the cream sofas, then closed her eyes and extended her hands palm out. “Yes, it’s them. They’re chipping away at the wards, but it’ll take them a while to get through. They’re probably planning an ambush and haven’t realised that we’re back yet.
“Hmm… Let’s keep it that way then,” Matthias said. “Spin a trap of our own. I doubt we can completely take them out but we might be able to make them retreat a while, which will give us time to look for Andrew.”
“Risky,” Sonia murmured. She turned to Sarah. “Do we still have the safe room?”
“Of course.” Sarah frowned at her. “Why wouldn’t we?”
“Well it’s been a while, who knew if you’d changed it for some reason. We should let the guest’s hide in there once the fight is going to start.”
“Not a bad idea,” Sarah agreed. “But we’ve got quite a bit of time, so you should go and nap. Collette and I will go and check on Catherine, then Matt and I will give the wards a going over. See if we can’t buy us a bit of extra time without them noticing.”
“I guess that means we’ll be going over everything at dinner,” Lucas said. “And I guess I’ll be the one cooking.” He gave a mock sigh.
“If you don’t mind,” Sarah said.
“Of course I don’t.”
The enticing smell of curry greeted Lydia as she entered the dining room, making her mouth water. Three different pots of curry, a large serving dish full of brown rice and various side dishes sat on the large oak table. There was also a large platter of grilled chicken fillets and beef steaks that she assumed was for the speakers, though Salia was poking at the curry pot nearest her seat curiously.
“I wasn’t sure how hot people like it,” he said as they sat down. “So I made a variety.”
“Very nice,” Sarah sat down at the head of the table and waved everyone to start eating. “Did you take some meat out to Ishleen, Ebona and Kenna?” she asked.
“Of course I did.” Lucas rolled his eyes at her. “I’m hardly going to forget to feed my own heart friend, am I?”
Sarah chuckled briefly and served herself, then looked around. “So where to start. What did you find out from the dwarf?”
“Him?” Lucas sounded disgusted. “Nothing much. I turned his brain inside out and he definitely knows something but we have no idea what. Nor, for that matter, does he. Nothing I got out of him – and I got everything – seems worth the Core’s while to kill him over. I dumped it all to Estara and Alaryia. They’re going to go over it and see if they can work out what that’s about.” He chewed on a mouthful of his curry and looked over at Matt. “So your mission was successful in spite of the fights you got into?”
“Yes,” Matthias said. “But we uncovered something disturbing during our confrontation with Laxmi.” He told them about her claws and how Alaryia believed she was tied to the lost ones, as well as who she now believed Emms was. “In the circumstances I’m inclined to think she’s right.”
“So she’s possessed?” Sarah asked. “Is that why they try and steal kids?”
“I’m not sure,” Matthias said. “I think so.”
“That’s certainly what my mother used to say about them,” Tarian said. “Be good or the Lost Ones will catch you and steal your body.” He shuddered. “I never thought they were real. I don’t think mother did either.”
“If he is Likadrian then we need to tread very carefully – but it’s equally imperative that we stop him,” Lyrrekka said. “We have to break his power and that means getting Andrew away from him. I think we’d better try Lydia’s idea as soon as we’ve dealt with the Lavernes.”
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