The sound of something shattering below them made Mela jump. She looked across the bridge and saw that Ystelyan had tensed and was staring alertly down the stairs.
“W-was that–” she began.
“Mitakrian shattered the door wards,” Rilletta said before she could finish. “Lyrrekka-ida, will you defend the bridge in case he gets past Yst?”
“Of course.” Lyrrekka took up a sentinel position on the glowing bridge.
Rilletta turned to Karen, Alban and Daniel. “You three defend Sonia-ida and Nephele in the unlikely event he gets past Lyrrekka as well.”
They nodded and clustered around her.
“Kyle, Darya and I will guard Melusine until she can take the ward dow-” Rilletta broke off as a strange tearing sensation ripped though the air around them. It felt like some vital component of the atmosphere had been torn away. They’d said they’d know when the Core was locked away but Mela hadn’t expected it to feel so dramatic.
Now! the Heart said in her head. You can let me out now.
“Okay,” Mela replied even as Rilletta took her hand.
“Take your mental shield down and let your mind flow into the wards, Melusine,” she said.
“Flow into?” Mela tilted her head at that even as she took her screen down. “What does that mea-” As soon as her shield was fully down, her mind seemed to melt at the edges and flow into the wards. She swallowed the sudden nausea that comes with fear and tried not to whimper.
Rilletta reached out and squeezed her should. “It’ll be alright, Melusine.”
It won’t hurt you, little one, I promise, the Heart added. Once you dissolve the wards your mind will return to normal.
“I believe you but it feels creepy. And why me?” Mela asked.
“The wards require either Alaryia or someone with a very specific essence pattern to open them,” Rilletta said. “Somehow, your being forcibly attuned to the Seeker’s pendant made your essence fit. It’s theoretically possible it could be a coincidence, but so unlikely that I suspect someone interfered with your essence while the moulding process made it malleable.” The accusing look she cast at the silvery wards made it clear what she suspected. There was a guilty quality to the silence that followed which suggested she was right.
I’m sorry, I really needed a key and Mela was convenient, it said finally. I didn’t realise it would endanger her health or I would have found another way.
“You should have asked,” Mela said. “I know I was only small but I would have understood enough to say yes.”
There was another guilty pause. You’re right, of course. I should have. I’m sorry. I was desperate but that’s no excuse.
“No it’s not,” Rilletta agreed. “You can make it up to her later.” She gave Mela’s shoulder another squeeze. “And I think our distracting you worked. You’re nearly done.”
“Uh?” Mela turned her attention back to the wards in time to see them collapse. As the Heart had promised, she felt her mind flow back into her and return to its normal shape. But she was exhausted and slumped towards the floor, although Kyle caught her before she fell.
Ah! There was a world of relief in the Heart’s exclamation. It almost felt like someone stretching after being stuck in the same position for a long time. Now let me see how far I can reach before it hurts.
“I’ll give you a bit of a boost,” Kyle said. “It’s not a good time to collapse.” It was only when he said it that Mela realised that she could hear a fierce fight going on on the stairs.
“Indeed it isn’t,” Rilletta said. “And now that we’ve done what we came to, I think I’d better go and help Ystelyan.”
Even as she spoke, Ystelyan backed into the chamber under a fierce onslaught from his opponent. He was bleeding badly from several wounds, blue blood dripping onto the bridge as he was forced towards them. The raven-haired, black-eyed dragon who followed him in looked in just as bad a shape. His blood looked like black ink seeping from his wounds and stained his paper-pale skin.
Lyrrekka hissed, two flaming swords appearing in her hands even as Rilletta ran across the bridge to join her. Karen and Daniel positioned themselves between the bridge and their mother.
Mitakrian stopped and eyed the forces arrayed against him. “Where did you find so many idri, Ystelyan?” he asked. “Not that they’ll stop me, they aren’t experienced enough.” He turned a glare on Sonia. “You should have just had the sense to stay crippled, Sonia-ida,” he said. “I was content to let you live while you were no threat to me.” With that, he hurled a storm of black ice shards at her.